Closing a food factory - how to manage your risks

Bill Treddenick, operations director at Lorien Engineering Solutions, has acted as the director responsible in the rationalisation of manufacturing operations, and the subsequent closure of a number of food factories over the past 5 years. In this article, he reviews some of the key the drivers and considerations. 

“The ongoing consolidation of smaller food production plants into higher-volume, more economical facilities has brought the issue of factory decommissioning into sharp focus. 

Dismantling a food and drink production site might make commercial sense in terms of removing cost from the supply chain; but it’s not as simple as lifting and shifting production to the new location. Decommissioning a facility presents a number of challenges and risks, many of which can be missed at the planning stage. 

It is essential to recognise, assess and plan actions against these business risks before work begins on the facility being dismantled, demolished, sold or returned to a landlord for future use. 

Lorien has considerable experience of managing site decommissioning projects, especially in the food and drink sector. This has accelerated over the past two years, with a number of large projects in the food sector. Some of this work, for the same client, has led to a well-worked methodology being developed, capturing best practice. 

We advise companies to conduct a comprehensive review of everything associated with a building well ahead of decommissioning, to ensure the correct resources are identified and data is retained.  For example, have you properly documented all of your assets? Have the assets got their essential spare parts, change parts and operating manuals available? Those companies looking to dispose of their plant and machinery need to realise the full value of these assets. If planned and handled well, this can cover the costs of decommissioning the site, making the overall project cost neutral. 

If the plant is being relocated as part of the site clearance, there needs to be a robust, well-communicated and safe plan for dismantling and transportation. 

Occupiers must also analyse the risk of residual chemicals that could have leaked into the ground, and identify hazardous materials such as asbestos. If necessary, licensed experts should be brought in to dispose of hazardous waste. 

A vacated site can be a magnet for criminals, especially if it still contains valuable assets such as production line machinery. It can also become an attractive “playground”.  There is a duty of care to prevent anyone accessing the site, including trespassers, from sustaining injury.

For these reasons, whilst speed can be of the essence, thorough planning must be a top priority. A well planned site decommissioning should prevent a business from being lumbered with expensive maintenance bills and other liabilities for a site that is no longer in use.”

Lorien provides engineering design, project management and technical consulting services to customers in food and drink, brewing, life sciences and manufacturing. It also assists companies in developing low-carbon strategies and implement waste-to-wealth, sustainable energy, and waste-to-energy schemes.

In 2012 it became part of GP Strategies Corp., a global organisation delivering performance change to its customers through technical leadership, engineering projects and people development.