Designing Tomorrow’s Facility Today

A new report1 highlights that food processors are not just responsible for processing food. Today’s facility owners are now tasked with following stricter food safety requirements, employee welfare, and environmental operations—all of which will drive future facility design.

ESI Group USA is playing a vital role in that process.

“While designing for every future need is impossible, we typically design buildings to accommodate future expansions based on food safety and site constraints,” says Tim Gibbons, vice president of Design at ESI Design Services.  “These are not only property lines, easements, wetlands, utility restrictions, but cross contamination and expansion safety. Real estate limitations caused by bad planning can be very detrimental to the facility’s food safety. Understanding and designing with the idea that land is not only an opportunity cost, but a food safety issue is critical.”

Site Selection with an Eye on Expansion

ESI Group collects facts about properties and performs “due diligence” to determine the best sites for a project. This study ensures the site has an adequate supply of off-site utility capacity such as sewer, water, gas, and electrical for the future. The design team analyzes new or unique operation processes, along with current and future throughput. Additionally, knowing what raw materials are being stored, how many shifts the operation runs, and if any special labor requirements exist are critical components to consider, he says.

“Once the process engineer has all information on hand production lines for current and future capacities are designed,” Gibbons says. “Initially, a conceptual floor plan is created, along with a schematic design, to articulate current and future spatial elements to achieve the best site configuration while keeping food safety top of mind.  During facility additions and expansions, we can test the success of our initial design. This test occurs when you remove the wall to join a new area with an existing area.”

While it may seem logical to plan on upgrading an existing facility, if the current condition of the structure, for instance, will not allow for additional ceiling heights, and/or the property has constraints, ESI Group will recommend investing in a new build.

Balancing Employee Welfare and Costs

When designing for future use, taking special consideration for the ability to easily expand employee welfare areas is critical. Gibbons says owners should focus on break rooms designed to help with retention. ESI Group’s current designs have components dedicated explicitly to general employee welfare in the facility, focusing on impact-resistant yet pleasant finishes, traffic flow, ergonomics, and natural light. This movement includes personalized locker rooms, in-house daycare, dedicated nurses’ rooms, more training spaces, and upgraded outdoor employee picnic areas.

Another way to increase employee retention and safety is to introduce automation, but this can become expensive quickly.  Depending on clients’ budgets, ESI Group can design as much or as little automation to improve employee retention while leaving room for future upgrades.”While owners are willing to invest in these technologies for improved ergonomic design and employee welfare, we are careful to work through process and equipment requirements so as not to grow the footprint too large or put a financial burden on the project,” says Dan Rousseau, senior project engineer at ESI Group. “It is a fine balance.”

In addition to employee welfare, ESI Group must focus on facility safety and compliance with the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Code. Rousseau says, “All ESI Group’s facilities are built to code, accounting for proper materials for good sanitation practices, proper floor drainage, no voids within wall spaces, and accurate temperatures.”

Plan for Environmental Design

Gibbons says ESI Group designs facilities to conserve energy and natural resources to minimize the impact on the environment now and for the future This could include solar panels on rooftops or, at the least, the structure should be designed to support future installation of photovoltaics.   

Almost all facilities are now designed to maintain temperature in storage coolers and freezers with temporary backup power generation.  However, many states may require the refrigerated freight industry to adopt “shore power” for the reefer units so the diesel engines can shut down at the loading dock. Gibbons says: “The standard electrical service and generators do not accommodate for shore power, and some existing buildings may require a completely new electrical service.” He adds that greenfield projects designed with shore power will require exponentially more primary power to the site. 

Whether retrofitting an existing site or building a greenfield location, Gibbons says today’s sites must have the future in mind. “Through continuous feedback, we learn about a customer’s and the industry’s needs to develop current and future designs and upgrades.” 


  1. Food Processing Market: Technological Advancement and Opportunities: 2031, Industry Research Co., July 31, 2023.

Quick Facts

There are 36,000 food processing plants in America.

The average electric driving system is responsible for 15%-20% of energy loss compared to 64%-75% in gasoline engines. 

The lifespan of newly built food processing plants averages 20-30 years.

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