10 Critical Steps to Futureproof Your Food Factory

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In a rapidly evolving food industry, where consumer demands and safety regulations shift with increasing frequency, the need to future-proof manufacturing facilities has never been more critical.

But what exactly does 'futureproofing' entail in the context of food factories?

In this interview with Wouter Burggraaf, a seasoned expert in hygienic factory design, we discover what ‘futureproofing’ means, and what steps you need to take, to ensure a factory is ready for not just tomorrow, but for the next decades.

In this article, we’ve put together 10 of the most important considerations, you must have when designing a hygienic food factory.

But hang tight – the considerations extend beyond simple infrastructure; it's a holistic approach that encompasses everything from the drainage systems to stakeholder management. It’s a strategic investment in your factory’s longevity, ensuring that your operations remain efficient, compliant, and competitive in the long run.

Let’s dive in.


Step 1: Conduct a Water Management Audit

Begin with an in-depth analysis of your facility’s water usage and drainage systems. Water, while essential in food processing, can be a conduit for contaminants if not properly managed. Burggraaf explains:

"Microorganisms are the biggest threat to food hygiene, so we have to get rid of the water where they live as quickly as possible. There can be no stagnant water. If there is no water, there's no microbiological growth."


By identifying areas where water may pool or stagnate, you can implement design changes that improve drainage and reduce the risk of microbial growth. This proactive step not only boosts your facility’s hygiene but also aligns with sustainable water use practices, a key factor in futureproofing.


Step 2: Design Flexible Floor Plans

In the design phase, think versatility. Your floor plan should be a flexible, capable of adapting to new equipment or production lines without extensive modifications.

"A factory is typically built to last 40 years, but with the production line it’s different. Here you see an average lifetime of about seven years. So, to develop a flooring plan that is future-proof, you must think ahead, not only about what you're going to produce in the coming years but also what you think will come after that,” Burggraaf explains.

Consider using modular designs that allow for easy reconfiguration as production needs change. By creating spaces that can serve multiple purposes you will prevent bottlenecks in production and eliminate the need for costly downtime during transitions when you want to introduce new equipment.


Step 3: Invest in Versatile Drainage Systems

The drainage system is the unsung hero of any food factory. Opt for systems that are easy to clean, can be expanded, or reconfigured with minimal effort.

Futureproofing here means selecting materials and designs that withstand the test of time and use, while being easily adjustable to future needs or regulations without tearing apart your floor.

While your drainage systems are often expensive—sometimes near impossible—to relocate once they have been installed and production is running, designing the flooring and drainage plan with future changes in mind will ensure the longevity of your factory building.


Step 4: Incorporate Hygienic Design from the Whenever You have the Chance

When you purchase new equipment or upgrade existing ones, prioritize hygienic design principles. This means smooth surfaces, minimal crevices, and ease of access for cleaning.

Equipment designed with hygiene in mind reduces contamination risks and maintenance costs. Moreover, it ensures compliance with ever-tightening food safety regulations, securing your factory's operational future.

In other words, investing in hygienic design whenever you have the chance may increase the upfront cost, but most often the investment will pay off rapidly in operational savings.


Step 5: Calculate the Cost of Inaction

And speaking of cost: futureproofing is an investment! And like any investment, it needs a clear financial justification.

Calculate the potential costs of not implementing these changes now, such as the expense of future retrofits or lost productivity due to outdated processes.

“Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish!” Burggraaf says.

“Imagine having a production line that is fully running and suddenly you want to expand? And why do you want to expand? Because the line is busy—maybe earning 3,000 to 5,000 euros per hour. And if you stop that line because you have to overhaul equipment or have to change something on the flooring system, every hour you lose 3,000 to 5,000 euros.”

Now this scenario is not unusual at all. In fact, we see it all the time, and is something that must be taken into careful consideration. By presenting a clear comparison between the cost of action and inaction, you can sway decision-makers and secure the necessary funding for a futureproof factory layout.


Step 6: Plan for Easy and Effective Cleaning

Design your factory with cleanability as a priority. This means considering the flow of cleaning crews, the accessibility of high-touch areas, and the materials used in construction.

Simplifying the cleaning process reduces the time and resources spent on maintenance, thereby lowering operational costs, and ensuring a consistent standard of hygiene.

"Remember, cleaning is often more difficult than operating the production line. Cleaning involves a lot of manual work, so for cleaning, you need your brains, where running a production line most often is fully automized. If something goes wrong in production, you get an alarm, but with proper cleaning, you don't get an alarm. It's a manual activity."


Step 7: Leverage Modern Technology

Embrace the technological advancements that can streamline your operations. Incorporate smart sensors to monitor production processes, invest in automated cleaning systems, or explore robotics for repetitive tasks.

It’s really about performing a solid due diligence and tech-stack assessment. Every missed technology that could either automate a process or raise the quality of your product, your cleaning, or your marketability can quite literally cost you a fortune.

And with most modern technologies you not only improve efficiency but also help collect data that can drive future improvements. Something that becomes increasingly important.


Step 8: Engage in Cross-Departmental Planning

Futureproofing should be a collaborative effort. Involve every department— from engineering to quality control, to finance — in the planning process.

With a cross-functional approach you ensure that all aspects of futureproofing are considered from different perspectives, leading to a more cohesive and effective strategy.

"Have all the stakeholders involved and looking at all the activities and how people do the activities [...] So everything you make better, more efficient or easier to clean will save your time in the longer run," Burggraaf explains.


Step 9: Schedule Regular Training Sessions

Ongoing education for staff at all levels ensures everyone is up-to-date with best practices, emerging technologies, and regulatory changes.

Regular training reinforces the importance of food safety, fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and equips your team to handle the future complexities of food production.

When considering training, remember all staff groups. While this may sound trivial, often we see that supporting staff not involved in the primary operation are overlooked when it comes to training.

Again, an example of this would be the cleaning staff. Often, we see cleaning staff that is not properly trained and educated in contamination risks, Burggraaf explains, and underscores the gravity of the issue, because an improper cleaning raises risks of serious contamination of the food – consequently closing the entire factory.


Step 10: Review and Revise Facilities Regularly

Finally, commit to a schedule of regular reviews and revisions of your facility’s design and processes.

Futureproofing your facility is not a one-and-done operation; it's a continuous cycle of improvement. By keeping pace with technological advancements and industry standards you’ll ensure your factory remains at the forefront of efficiency and compliance.

"Look, if you're going to expand, think ahead and don't limit yourself to the factory you're building now, or what you have now. Think about it for the future,” Wouter Burggraaf concludes.


Set Yourself Up for Success

Building a futureproof food factory is not a trivial task. It never will be.

And we know that the steps and considerations in this article can only serve as a reminder of the complexities entailed. As a sort of simple sketch or blueprint for innovation, sustainability, and strategic foresight.

But by acting now, you can lay a foundation that is both robust and adaptable to future changes in equipment, production flow and technology.

It’s about embracing a mindset of continuous improvement and proactivity. Futureproofing is more than a buzzword; it's a commitment to excellence and flexibility in an industry that is constantly evolving.

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See Full Interview with Wouter Burggraaf (Part 2)


Mr. Burggraaf is an expert in hygienic design and owner of the hygienic design consultancy, Burggraaf & Partners.




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