Plan your facility for the long term
As a new facility evolves, use a master plan to elimate surprises.
BakingBusiness.com, May 22, 2012
by Dan Surfus, project engineer, POWER Engineers
POWER Engineers

The facility manager wakes up one morning to discover that the boiler room they built two years ago is right where the new production room now belongs. How can this happen? And why does the working budget for an expansion so often threaten to reel out of control once the design process begins?

In many cases, it’s because there’s no long-term master plan for the facility. Simply put, a master plan is a guide for the evolution of a facility — the foundation upon which successful, efficient and versatile facilities are built. Planning for the future can pay dividends; lack of planning can cost more than you can afford.

If you know in advance, for example, that your planned dry-storage expansion may eventually become a production area, you can do much to minimize both the costs of conversion and the interruption of production during construction. These modifications will pay for themselves in the long run, and you’re free to assign future project funds to equipment rather than facility modification.

It’s also important to match an expansion’s design with the financial plan. Too often, a need for expansion arises, say, for more storage space, and the project scenario goes something like this: An off-the-cuff project cost is solicited. With nodding approval from all concerned, this ballpark estimate, with minor adjustments, becomes the working budget. The budget is submitted and approved, and the design process begins.

Sadly, this is often closely followed by the familiar “the budget isn’t big enough” lament, and the hunt is on to see how much can be squeezed out of the available money. Quality is usually the first thing to be sacrificed. Second-choice materials and smaller-than-desired areas are often part of the compromise. Since the project needs must be met, the only place to find the money is in the facility’s longevity. A facility originally intended to last 20 years lasts only 10 and is outgrown in five. The capital was not wisely invested.

What’s needed instead is a way to provide plant personnel with the information they need before they begin to feel the need to expand. The planning team should have adequate time to evaluate the expansion options and prepare an effective plan for future capital expenditures. If team members can do the research and compare all the alternatives, their recommendations will be based on facts, not guesses.

Don’t sacrifice quality to meet the budget; plan the expansions to work within it. It’s as important to use the proper approach to the budget as it is to use the best materials. By arranging for phased implementation of a quality design, you can match your facility modifications to your financial plan. Spend the time it takes to create a well-designed plan for the ultimate expansion of your facility and divide it into pieces that will fit into the budget process.

There’s no doubt that a master plan should also be flexible; it should be able to accommodate continual modification and updating. All things change — it’s a fundamental law of nature, and there can be no progress without it. In fact, when things don’t change, a decline eventually will follow — declining quality, declining productivity, declining profits.

Essentially, a master plan should state, “Until circumstances change, this is what we’re going to do.” And if you have a plan or design in place, you’ll be able to determine what effect changing circumstances will have on your facility’s development. A good master plan also encompasses all aspects of a business: management, sales, marketing, accounting, production and maintenance. The planning team chooses the direction and goals, and once the course is set, a master plan can be created.

Master planning has other benefits, too:

• Financing — If your request for funds for a specific project is part of a long-term plan for development and accompanied by an accurate, detailed cost estimate, you’ll be more likely to obtain financing. This is true whether the source of those funds is a bank or a board of directors.

• Productivity — People are more productive when a clearly defined goal is set. When everyone sees where the company is headed, a staff feels a sense of purpose. A business that may have been perceived as one that simply maintains the status quo is now viewed as one with a newly discovered potential and directed growth. It’s a better atmosphere in which to work, which leads to increased productivity and profit.

 • Day-to-day decision making — Having a plan in place can also help put the short-term decisions into perspective. People often try to measure progress by the short-term goals they achieve. But if they consider short-term choices with a specific long-term goal in mind, judgments can be made within a context of progressive development. When the time comes to add more space and determine where to build, cost estimates should already be calculated. Following such a strategy will create a benchmark against which to judge a proposed expansion to see if it meets long-term physical and fiscal goals.

It’s been said that success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. The master plan’s primary function is to prepare you to take advantage of those opportunities. Business often requires that you act quickly; preparation can help you act wisely. Remember, preparation is essential to success.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.