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Plant Construction: New Vs. Retrofit (Part 2)

Bruce Beggs |

Your company is weighing its options for plant construction. Should you build new or retrofit?American Laundry News recently invited several engineering, construction and consulting firms with laundry services expertise to respond to some questions about this debate, and identify some of the factors in making the decision.Can the nature of the laundry/textile rental operation (types of goods to be processed, desired plant capacity, desired plant location, level of automation, etc.) impact the decision to choose new construction or retrofit? If so, how?Gerard O’Neill, president/CEO, American Laundry Systems, Haverhill, Mass.
The types of goods would not have a great influence on the decision to build or retrofit. Either way, you can wash anything in a new building or an existing one.
Plant capacity can have a great influence on the decision to build instead of retrofit. One issue with an existing building is that you may be limited “square footage wise” to a particular size and there is only so much capacity that can be absorbed. Now, if the building is new, there is theoretically no limit to the size and capacity of a given plant, as long as the acreage involved can handle the construction.
Location can also be a factor in deciding whether to build or retrofit. If the desired location of the new facility doesn’t have any existing buildings available, then the “green grass” scenario may be the only option. However, the same applies to building new. The desired location may have no vacant lots, therefore using/retrofitting an existing building may be required.
The desired level of automation influences the decision. A new building can be built to suit; we need heights of 20+ feet to incorporate the latest, greatest automation ideas. Not a lot of existing buildings can fulfill this requirement, but there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Using the “cube” (height as well as length and depth) is definitely preferred and most efficient when it comes to building a new plant and the associated layout. That is not to say that a customer cannot build a highly efficient plant without using the cube. The technology available to us today is flexible and can easily be applied to either scenario.Glen Phillips, president and senior associate, Phillips & Associates, Minneapolis, Minn.
Whether the project is a new design or a retrofit, one would be wise to judiciously analyze every aspect of the plant’s needs before embarking on such a project. This is the reason that the use of a seasoned laundry consultant makes the most sense. This is not an added burden to the project; rather, it can save a great deal of aggravation and added expense along the way.
It’s wise to always determine what the production task will be in the present tense and then project that volume out 10 years. Rarely is a plant built now that doesn’t grow from year to year. As growth takes place, many things morph from the reality of today to the remedial action needed for tomorrow.Elliot J. Mata, Laundry Division manager, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
Absolutely. In fact, the nature of the laundry/textile rental operation probably has the largest impact on the decision to pursue new construction or to retrofit an existing building or laundry. Several factors determine whether to build from the ground up or retrofit an existing building or laundry. Often, the client will ask us to investigate the options for a retrofit in an existing building or laundry and evaluate the feasibility of such an undertaking. Some questions we often consider are:

  • Are there existing buildings available that would meet the needs of a laundry in the market where you desire to build?
  • What are the economic trends of the local market? Are there buildings available at or below market costs that would meet your needs?
  • What type of laundry facility do you wish to retrofit? Typically, hospitality and industrial laundries provide more flexibility in regards to product flow and separation requirements often required in healthcare laundries. This flexibility may make it easier for one to retrofit an existing building or your existing laundry.
  • Does the building’s clear height satisfy the requirements for overhead rail systems and process automation?
  • Does the building’s square footage and plant layout give you ample production space for current volume and flexibility for possible growth?
  • Does the building’s shape lend itself to the design of the product flow that you are trying to achieve?
  • Does the building or laundry have the utility capacity that you need for your new laundry? Often, the utilities servicing a building that had a different use are inadequate for the laundry. If utilities are inadequate, will the utility companies’ and the city’s infrastructure be sufficient to upgrade the utility connection sizes?

If all options for a retrofit are exhausted, the answer becomes relatively clear: new construction may be the only solution.Doug Rose, business development manager, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va.
The types of goods processed won’t affect the decision as much, but the volume will impact the equipment needed and therefore the amount of space, personnel, and utility supply required. If the existing facility cannot be adequately upgraded, then new construction is needed. The same applies to the level of automation since the transition to more automated equipment may require more space.
If the existing space has columns 20 to 25 feet apart, you may not have enough room for new equipment. If the ceiling height is only 12 to 15 feet, then you will not have enough room for a rail system that could feed the equipment. If you have a building in good condition, with a good location in your target market, and room to expand on the property, then retrofitting may be your best bet. However, a location that is land-locked, has little room for expansion, or is in need of significant building repair would make a retrofit too costly or simply unfeasible.
Perhaps your market has changed over the years and you now find yourself delivering service to areas that are no longer in the immediate vicinity. It may be in your best interest to move to a location that will allow more effective service to your target customer base while also enabling you to gain space and more automation.Matt Alexander, president, Pertl & Alexander, Jamesville, N.Y.
Clearly, location preference and related logistics concerns can have a large impact on the decision. In some cases, the current location is so attractive due to logistics considerations that it can demand extra cost associated with retrofitting. Conversely, the opportunity to locate a facility closer to the available labor force, within economic development zones, within a particular utility grid, or in closer proximity to customers can point to building new.
In general, desired plant capacity has a larger impact on the decision than the types of goods processed. While we continue to push the envelope relative to pounds processed per square foot, in some cases, the desired throughout dictates new construction when the client wishes to operate a consolidated facility. In other cases, a combination of retrofit of existing and new construction – thereby operating multiple facilities – is an elected option.
In some cases, existing facilities lack the clear ceiling height needed for monorail systems. The desire for this automation can steer a client to a new facility.
Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 3.
Click here for Part 4.
Click here for Part 5.
Click here for Part 6.Matt Alexander, Pertl & Alexander, can be reached at 888-419-3444, matt.alexander@pertl-alexander.com.Elliot J. Mata, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co., can be reached at 630-599-9100, emata@arcomurray.com.Gerard O’Neill, American Laundry Systems, can be reached at 978-373-1883, goneill@eomech.com.Glen Phillips, Phillips & Associates, can be reached at 763-231-9950, gpp@phillipsandassociates.com.Doug Rose, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, can be reached at 434-227-2613, drose@turnkeyengineering.com.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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