Cutting flooring costs can have long-term problems

Contaminants on a plant floor can result in uncontrolled bacteria and cause degradation in a product, particularly in food and beverage applications.

By Tom Rychlewski, CRB July 19, 2018

Owners who experience project failures and budget overruns are often forced to cut or modify scope to salvage their budgets. According to a 2015 survey, 53% of owners suffered one or more underperforming projects in the previous year, and only 31% of all respondents’ projects came within 10% of the budget in the past three years.

Based on these statistics, nearly every owner has searched for low-hanging fruit that could be cut from the project scope and have minimal impact on operations or the project. Floor coatings are often the victims of these cutbacks, but cutting costs on floor coatings could be a ticking time bomb. When that bomb goes off, it could more than double your initial capital investment on flooring and cripple your plant’s throughput while being repaired.

Uncoated concrete floors may be a perfectly acceptable choice in warehouses, light industrial areas or industries not involved with consumable products. But the floor in a food-processing facility is typically exposed to many types of food byproducts. Some of these substances can cause serious damage to concrete because of their corrosive nature. In addition, these contaminants can infiltrate uncoated concrete, resulting in uncontrolled growth of bacteria and ultimately degrading the processed food’s purity.

Knowing the costs

Floor coatings can vary greatly in cost depending on the application, but cost shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Using the wrong floor coating to save on cost could be a costly mistake. Consider the costs associated with different floor coating options:

  • Basic floor coating: As low as $1.50 per square foot
  • Special epoxy coatings: (Antimicrobial, texture, chemical exposure, etc.) could cost up to $5 per square foot
  • True urethane mortar system with topcoat: Could cost between $8.50 and $11 per square foot and is the preferred choice where thermal cycling and chemical resistivity are require

For a plant that requires a urethane mortar system with topcoat due to thermal cycling during wash down, chemical cleaning or even contact with food byproducts, switching to a basic floor coating could initially save significant money. In a 70,000-square-foot plant, it could mean saving half a million dollars, but it could fall within the first two years and often within the first year.

Common flooring failures

Thermal shock: Many food and beverage plants are subject to a punishing cleaning process that can involve very hot water or even steam to remove blood, grease and other contaminants from the surface. If the coating is not rated for thermal shock or thermal cycling, delamination or cracking of the floor coating product is often the result.
Chemical exposure: Organic acids, alkalis, salts, hot oils, blood, sugars, lubricants and fats that form part of the food and beverage industry processes will inevitably end up on the floor and could cause disintegration of an inadequate floor coating and then the concrete below.

Floor coating failures result in exposed and unprotected concrete 

Replacing a compromised floor coating systemthat can continue to erode. If not corrected in time, the concrete slab itself may have to be replaced. Floor coating failures can lead to pieces of the coating 

entering the product stream, ultimately adulterating the final product. As the floor cracks and starts to peel, it can create harborage points for bacteria, fungi, molds, mildew and pests to thrive. In extreme cases, this contamination could lead to an outbreak of foodborne illness that would cause irreversible damage to the brand reputation.

Owners might tell themselves that they will replace the inadequate floor coating when it fails in a year or two and that the cost savings on the capital project are worth it, but replacing a floor coating system once a plant is operational can prove to be difficult.

  • Prep floor: When a floor coating system fails in a food and beverage byproducts often get absorbed into the concrete slab. To ensure that the new floor adheres correctly, the previous coating must be removed, and the concrete must be steam cleaned and degreased. This floor preparation typically costs $3-$5 per square foot. In some cases, complete demolition of the concrete may be required if the flooring is no longer able to receive a new coating.
  • Install around existing equipment: Replacing a floor coating system around existing equipment and piping, etc. often takes considerably more time than an open space. Expect to pay an additional $3-$5 premium to install a new coating system around existing equipment and piping.
  • Battle humidity: Refrigerated facilities present unique challenges because the walls will continue to sweat and make it difficult to get the new coat to adhere correctly to the concrete.
  • Shut down production: Installing floor coating systems requires warm, dry conditions with no traffic. The installation of a floor coating system for a typical 70,000-square-foot facility could take five weeks and could devastate the plant’s ability to produce product during the process.

If the owner of a 70,000-square-foot food and beverage plant opted to use a basic floor coating system and then later replaced with a true urethane mortar system with topcoat, owners could expect to spend $800,000 more than if they had initially installed the correct floor coating. And this figure doesn’t include the loss of productivity that would occur during the installation.

Think twice

While attempting to save costs on floor coating systems may seem like a safe choice, it could result in a nightmare when forced to correct the issue later. The risks often outweigh the savings. Owners can expect to double their costs when they are forced to eventually install the correct floor coating system in their plants, not to mention the loss of production associated with shutting down parts of the plant during installation. If you are going through a value-engineering exercise on your project, think twice before cutting back on floor coating.

Tom Rychlewski, project manager, CRB. This article originally appeared on CRB’s website.

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