Rich Marker, president of SMACNA contractor All Metals Fabrication, advises specialty contractors looking to diversify to consider the food processing market.
All Metals Fabrication (AMF), Ogden, Utah, has found that diversification is a key component in mitigating the risk of an economic downturn.
“Food processing work is subject to normal ebbs and flows,” he said, “but it has shown resilience even when other market sectors are plummeting. We think it is because people always want to eat!”
In good times and bad, market keeps on cooking
Food processing is a market sector that shows continual growth as new products, such as Clif Bars and other protein-enhanced products, are developed. There is also growth in the demand to maintain and service equipment already in place.
Although food grade fabrication is technical and safety requirements are often very stringent for on-site installation, it is not an impossible market to enter. The payoff can be significant because both capital improvement projects and service work can often be performed within the same plant.
AMF has been able to capitalize on the food service market, performing work such for companies as Dannon, Malt-o-Meal, Frito Lay, West Liberty Foods, Hershey’s, Kroger, Kellogg’s, Utah Onion, and Sweet Candy Company.
For one national yogurt company, AMF spent more than a year and nearly 10,000 man-hours on a large capital improvement project. The contractor installed a Greek-style yogurt processing line that included several processing tanks, platforms, guard rails, safety guards and equipment modifications.
Knowing food-quality welding is crucial
Being familiar with food-quality welding is one of the ingredients for success when fabricating food service projects. “Bacteria is the enemy of food processing.” Mr. Marker advised. “No cracks, crevices, holes, stops or starts are tolerable!”
“Forget about stitch welding anything and remember that continuous welding can create other problems like warping. Materials have to be selected with those constraints and challenges in mind,” he added.
Other ingredients contractors in this market must consider are the type and grade of materials, finish on materials, cross contamination of metals, durability, clean-ability, and design-ability.
According to Mr. Marker, customers and engineering often specify items that will not actually work for the specific application.
He said that in one case, project specifications required a platform with a non-slip surface 0.25-inches thick. “Although it was heavy enough for the structural intent, we knew that the continuous welding of the sheet to the support structure would cause the stainless sheet to warp and create small craters—or ‘bird baths’—along the walking surface. That doesn’t work because those small (bird) baths are bacteria collectors,” he noted. AMF had to be prepared to offer a better solution.
Contractors who are interested getting involved in food processing work, he said, should first crawl, then walk, then run.
Now is the time to add food processing to your new markets
“Just like when entering any new industry, don’t try to start too fast,” he said. “Begin with a smaller project—or even service work—so that you can get the experience you need before jumping into something that might swallow you up.”
With that in mind, he advised that now is the time to add entry into new markets in any business plan despite—or perhaps because—the economy is picking up in many areas across the country.
All Metals Fabrication