Plate Steel Sanitary Decking: Save Yourself From A Nasty Surprise
May 23, 2018
By Brian Rausch
Civil/Structural Department Manager, Facilities Division
I have never met a food manufacturer that wasn’t interested in a plant that’s cleaner, easier to maintain, and more affordable to update. The ever-increasing pressure from corporate leadership to reduce capital costs and improve production margins is difficult to balance with the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Hence, cost-effective projects that improve sanitary environments are front-of-mind for plant managers, corporate engineers, and operations and maintenance managers.
Considering those factors, I wonder why more facilities don’t implement flat-plate steel decks instead of using tubular steel sections? In the past, flat-plate steel decks may have been more cumbersome and expensive to design and install, but now, due to better design tools and fabricator efficiencies, these structures are becoming more cost effective to design, install, and are significantly more sanitary in food production environments.
What’s wrong with tubular steel?
Tubular steel frames are fine when they’re newly installed. However, anyone who’s spent time in a manufacturing plant understands that things don’t stay the same for long.
A colleague of mine recently expressed his anxiety about tubular steel: “Whenever we have to cut into one of those frames to mount or add something, we all get tense: you never know WHAT you’re going to find or what’s going to come spilling out.” Tubular steel can be a breeding ground for some of the nastiest pathogens out there, including listeria, salmonella, shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), vibrio vulnificus, or clostridium botulinum. Together, these five foodborne pathogens are responsible for roughly 1.26 million illnesses (primarily from salmonella and E. coli) and nearly 700 deaths.¹
In the break-neck pace of food production, line reconfigurations and equipment upgrades often dictate that a structural frame be modified. As soon as someone drills a hole in a tubular steel frame to modify it or attach something to it, its sanitary integrity is lost. Whether you’re dealing with legs, handrails, or horizontal supports, once the seal is broken, the hollow space inside your tubular steel structure is vulnerable to bacteria, putting your product at risk of contamination.
What’s the alternative?
Plate steel structures and frames are growing increasingly more popular and cost-effective as a viable alternative to tubular steel. Structural beams are scalloped at the top to significantly reduce welding (and associated cost).
Manufacturers benefit directly across the lifecycle of the structure: from ease of design and fabrication through ongoing, in-plant maintenance.
Consider the following benefits to plate steel structures and frames:
- Computer-aided design and reusable engineering help reduce the time and costs required to develop fabrication drawings. A skilled team is able to leverage past experience and quickly deliver drawings that enable a fabricator to readily manufacture the parts so that they can easily be assembled on site.
- Most large fabrication shops are equipped to manufacture plate steel structures and have the experience necessary to quickly deliver what you need – there shouldn’t be a “custom premium” to work with plate steel.
- Fewer welds result in reduced fabrication time.
- Plate steel structures reduce the overall amount of materials used, reducing the steel cost and the weight of the structure.
- Structures can be picked up easier: they can be fabricated in the shop in advance, and then can be set up in your plant in a day, “Erector Set” style.
- Welding needs are reduced and the need for seals is eliminated: this reduces the labor time required for assembly and installation.
- Plate steel decks and frames are easier to maintain: a scalloped plate design improves cleaning, washdown, and the overall lifecycle of the structure. This results in reduced maintenance time and improved sanitary conditions. Plates have essentially no horizontal surfaces; hence, there is no place for standing water, a key contributor to bacteria growth, to collect.
- Fewer welds and seals reduce or eliminate locations that can either fail or harbor bacteria.
Five years ago, the up-front cost for incorporating plate steel decking and structures into your facility may have been cost prohibitive; however, with the new advancements in technology, and the cost-savings possible throughout the design, fabrication, and overall lifecycle of the structure, today, prices are becoming competitive with tubular steel. This factor, combined with the sanitary and maintenance benefits offered by plate steel, makes the decision simple in my mind. I expect we’ll see more and more plate steel installations from industry-leading manufacturers designing state-of-the art plants across all product types in the months and years to come.
¹ “The Five Most Dangerous Foodborne Pathogens” Food Safety News, September, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2018.
About the Author:
Brian leads POWER’s Facilities Civil/Structural team. He thrives on projects that mix new design technology, complex features, and engaged stakeholders. Brian has worked across a variety of industries and projects (from manufacturing, to government buildings, to wind turbines and transmission lines) and brings what he’s learned on each of these projects, applying them in creative, often unconventional ways. Do you have questions for Brian? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.