By Lynn Petrak,
Special Projects Editor
Durable flooring makes a difference in safety, efficiency, and capital spending.
When it comes to a processing facility’s bottom line, the bottom itself can be crucial. Flooring, literally the bedrock of a plant, is one of those pivotal systems that can sometimes be overlooked—but can pose major problems if not properly chosen, installed, or maintained.
“Floors are the most abused surface in a food plant. I’ve been preaching that for years,” points out Don Graham, president of Graham Sanitary Design Consulting Ltd., Chesterfield, MO. Those who supply flooring materials agree that processing facilities pose unique challenges. “This is one of the most abusive environments in terms of flooring,” notes Mark Paggioli, marketing director, East Hartford, CT-based Dur-a-Flex Inc.
Is it tough enough?
A variety of factors contribute to the need for durable flooring in processing plants. “Thermal shock is the biggest issue, which can cause the floor to de-laminate. Thermal shock is caused by changes in temperatures, and existing epoxy and vinyl floor systems can’t handle those temperatures,” says Paul Patuka, president of Advanced Surfaces Corp., Douglasville, GA.
Susan Barish, marketing manager for Stonhard Floor Systems Inc., Maple Shade, NJ, agrees that environmental conditions are a primary consideration for the maintenance of existing floors as well as the installation of new systems.
“Due to the nature of these processing environments and the need for sanitary conditions, extremely hot-water washdowns are used on a regular basis, creating a thermal shock scenario that can quickly deteriorate many flooring products through cracking and disbanding,” she says.
Paggioli adds that the thermal issue is commonly cited by processors looking to install or renovate their facility floors. “They are looking for floors that can take the thermal shock when washing them down with hot water and the general cold environment,” he reports.
In addition to thermal effects, the nature of slaughter and further-processing operations means that surfaces are exposed to substances not common in other manufacturing settings.
“There is fat, grease, and blood. I think that is a complication for meat plants because there is no kill step in the fresh-food industry,” observes Graham.
Barish says that such substances can, in turn, cause other problems. “The processing areas are typically cold and wet, which when combined with meat, fat, and blood, can pose serious slip-and-fall hazards,” she remarks. “They also are subject to organic acid exposure as the food by-products break down. These acids compromise the integrity of many materials resulting in costly repairs and shut-down time.”
Addressing worker safety
The fact that floors are being washed down and cleaned more than ever has led to the development of surfaces designed to address worker safety. “Floors that were once okay are now a problem. Plants need rougher surfaces, and anti-skid surfaces using silicas and aluminum oxide aggregates,” Patuka says.
Beyond worker safety, food safety is a paramount consideration. Graham points out that floors are susceptible to contamination in a host of ways. “If a monolithic floor gets a hole or chip in it in a wet environment, you can get moisture under it and it develops into a microbiological soup. All the microbes can then squirt out with any liquid, get on forklift wheels and boots, and are tracked through the plant,” he says. “The other thing I am battling is the effect of high-pressure hoses in meat plants. There is work out now that shows if you hit a floor with a high-pressure hose, the aerosols will stay in the air for hours, and that can contain pathogens.”
Finally, wear and tear caused by the continual running of heavy machinery and use of equipment like forklifts takes its toll, as well. To accommodate such impact, some plants use more durable surfaces in heavy traffic areas and other types of flooring in other sections.
“If you have heavy mechanical abuse on a floor, then you may take a look at brick. If you don’t and just have foot traffic, for example, you can put down a little less expensive monolithic,” Graham says.
Flooring the competition
Today’s flooring options truly run the gamut.
“Making a decision on which product is right for a food-processing environment is dependent upon the application conditions, like environment, chemical exposure, cleanability, texture, and the engineering details that must be considered, like isolation of drains, integral coves, integral wall systems, and isolation joints. One product does not fit all,” Barish points out.
Although there are many options on the marketplace, the type of appropriate floor for a particular facility gets down to the specifics of an operation. In Graham’s consulting business, he works with processors to help them make a choice that ultimately will help their profitability in terms of longevity and costs associated with maintenance.
“Over the years, I’ve developed a questionnaire, which makes you answer questions on what will happen to the floor. Then, you give that to a flooring specialist, who has a range of different flooring applications,” he notes.
Flooring companies also suggest assessing needs in detail. “When deciding to install a new flooring system, I strongly recommend that you do your homework up front. Get with your sales rep weeks in advance to determine your needs, the schedule, and all aspects of the project. Communication up front goes a long way in making sure that you have a good flooring system installed,” Patuka recommends.
Generally speaking, brick surfaces remain a popular type of floor in meat and poultry plants. “Epoxies, resins, and urethanes all have their place, but personally, I like brick the best. It has the lowest maintenance, lasts the longest, and repairs are simple — if you break a brick, you just remove it and put in another one,” Graham says.
Bill Varra, chief executive officer of brick flooring supplier Drehmann Paving and Flooring, Pennsauken, NJ, says that much of his company’s business comes from meat and poultry plants. “While some areas may utilize a more economic floor, such as seamless or monolithic topping, the proven, best floor for overall production areas is still a brick floor. Brick floors, if properly installed, have a longevity period of twenty to forty years and are impervious to most acids, and they can withstand forklift traffic and severe abuse,” Varra points out.
Beyond brick, several types of effective monolithic flooring systems are available, from epoxies to specialty resins to aggregates. Advanced Surfaces Corp., for example, recommends Aro-Surf for many of its meat and poultry customers, an epoxy floor that is skid-resistant, odorless, and designed to withstand frequent washdowns.
The durability and ease of use of monolithic flooring is also a selling point used by Stonhard.
“Seamless flooring is now recognized as the best long-term solution in the meat processing industry — for cleanability, chemical resistance, impact resistance, and durability in thermal shock conditions,” notes Barish, adding that moisture and dirt that can lead to bacteria growth or premature disbanding are trapped with this system. Barish adds that Stonhard products are offered in a wide variety of textures that, in turn, feature different levels of cleanability —from a simple mop and bucket for low-texture options to daily scrub-downs for high-texture options.
Traditional vinyl and ester flooring systems have served many in the industry well over the years. Gentry, AR-based Tufco International Inc., for example, has successfully marketed its TFXL vinyl and epoxy-based flooring with aluminum oxide built in for extra wear and skid resistence. "We like to think of our systems as 3/8" flooring as opposed to just floor coverings -- most of ours are 3/8" inch, as opposed to the common 1/4" (thickness)," explains president Brent Mills, adding that that higher resin levels also make a difference in floor performance. "We use 33 percent resin, as opposed to 10 or 15 percent. That is where a chemcial attack can come in and where people can have problems with disbonding."
Meanwhile, urethane surfaces are used in many facilities to protect concrete substrates. Advanced Surfaces, for example, offers UCRETE®, a polyurethane concrete floor system designed by Shakopee, MN-based Degussa Building Systems to withstand high temperatures and heavy traffic. It’s a system that Patuka often recommends for meat and poultry facilities that are exposed to extreme thermal shock.
Rob Justus, national sales manager, flooring, for Degussa, relays that UCRETE HF is Degussa's most commonly-used system for meatpacking facilities. “The beauty of UCRETE is that is such a resin rich system — it's a slurry — that it is a consistently seamless surface throughout. Even if you were to scratch or gouge it, it wouldn't react like a trowel-down would,” he explains.
Degussa’s specialty resin offerings also include a high-tech seamless floor, a methacrylate material called Dagadur® that is designed to essentially meld with the substrate. “Degussa has a system that actually bonds with the concrete — you put it over the old concrete and it bonds with it. This stuff is almost indestructible,” Graham observes.
Justus says that the addition of Dagadur to the Degussa’s other line of floors helps the company offer a breadth of flooring options. “All situations are different, and allowing the situation that exists in any individual plant to dictate the solution is the right way to go,” he notes.
New urethane technology has also been pursued by General Polymers, a division of Sherwin-Williams Company, Cleveland, OH. "Sherwin-Williams has added fast-setting and cold-setting patching urethane and polyurea systems as well as chemical resistant polyaspartic coating systems," says Gina Atzinger, focus brand manager, food and beverage, adding that the company recommends its FasTop Urethane System for wet environments like meat processing floors that also must withstand thermal shock and chemical attack. General Polymers offers other materials as well, including EPO-FLEX®, a 100-percent solids elastomeric epoxy used as a crack bridging membrane, and POLY-COTE 4685W, a 100-percent solids urethane coating, designed to resist standard cleaning compounds and maintain a white-white appearance over time.
Meanwhile, among its other flooring options, Dur-a-Flex markets a line of urethane-based Poly-Crete floors created to minimize corrosion and thermal shock on concrete and wood substrates. Recently, the company introduced a new type of Poly-Crete that can be trowel applied for easier installation.
“Troweling is a kind of art — so a self-leveling type makes it easier for people to put it down and achieve results,” Paggioli explains.
No matter what type of flooring material is chosen, suppliers are keenly aware of the need to install surfaces quickly. “We can get a lot done in a thirty-six-hour to forty-eight-hour window of time,” says Patuka, adding that floors from Advanced Surfaces do not contain any odors or carcinogens. Paggioli relays that Dur-a-Flex tries to work around processor’s busy schedules. “Typically, our people go in and work with clients, asking how much of their floor they can give up at a time and what their overall timeline is,” he says.
Maintenance is a major factor in the longevity of floors, and, in turn, a processors’ investment in surfaces. Maintenance products range from surface treatments and sealants to available patch kits for monolithic floors.
“Proper maintenance is the key to long-lasting product performance.” Barish says. “Standard cleaning procedures and recommendations are available for each of Stonhard's products and should be followed in conjunction with the facility regulations.”
Patuka recommends monthly or quarterly surface examinations as part of an ongoing maintenance routine. “Inspecting where equipment has been moved or relocated and voids have been left in the floor are good preventive measures. These areas should be addressed as soon as possible,” he advises.