Rob Blythman shares the journey of Total Construction during the assembly of Illawarra Smallgoods’ auto freezer and explains how automation of the cold chain is lowering production costs.
Plant building and design – just like lean manufacturing, automation, and food safety – is critically important for food and beverage makers. Having a well-designed, well-functioning manufacturing plant can be paramount to the success or failure of a venture.
“When a business is looking to either construct a new facility or upgrade an existing one, it needs to find a good builder,” said to Rob Blythman, general manager – Engineering Construction Group at Total Construction (Total). “On top of that, it is important they find someone who is willing and able to work closely with them in the very early stages of any project.”
Total Construction likes to become part of the client’s project team as early as possible, and not be just be a supplier of services.
“We prides ourselves on the value add we can provide to the client, not only do we conduct construction and fit out services, we can provide full design and process engineering services to ensure the finished facility provides maximum efficiencies and yet minimise capital expenditure on building works,” said Blythman.
Who is Total Construction?
Total Constructions was established in 1995 by current directors Steve Taylor and Bill Franks. The company has grown to the point that it now has offices in NSW, VIC and QLD, employs up to 130 staff, and has an annual turnover in excess of $180 million.
The food and beverage sector accounts for about 20 per cent of the company’s work. Apart from this, it also operates in the aged care, hospital, industrial, manufacturing, renewable energy, and education sectors.
The company has extensive expertise in delivering food and beverage projects throughout Australia. Its capabilities in the industry include cost planning, design, construction, and fit-out.
One of its key assets is said in its name – total.
“Having in-house process engineering and design capability and experience in live environments, as well as the building capabilities, means that when it comes to those food and beverage, aged care, hospitals and manufacturing builds we are there at the beginning, from start to finish,” said Blythman.
The Total approach
Rather than taking a one size fits-all approach to building projects, Total Construction tailors a project to a client’s needs and offers a range of project delivery models.
“Our approach is to focus on what is/will be inside of the building, then wrap a building or fit out around it,” said Blythman. “This approach has served Total and its clients well.
Having gained years of experience working in live environments, the company knows how to take the necessary precautions to eliminate safety risks as well as minimise noise, dust and vibration.”
With every project, Total looks for innovations to improve buildability and offer value engineering solutions, where possible, to ensure the best possible outcome for the client.
As mentioned, one of the company’s specialties is being able to build a plant from concept through to the finished project. It does this by breaking the project down into stages to create check points to ensure the project continues in the right direction. This allows the client to clearly identify any potential issues in cost or operability of the proposed facility.
“The first stage involves us having a concept discussion with the client to ascertain the scope of the project, current and proposed processes and what the desired outcomes need to be. From this a high level square metre rate can be provided,” said Blythman.
“The next stage is to workshop with all stakeholders, including operations, from the client side to confirm all process flows, equipment, and operational requirements. From these we can develop design and layout options that allow for the client’s operational needs.”
Total will identify risks and cost implications associated with the buildability of each option and overlay the client’s process flows to check for any pinch points or efficiency issues.
The desired option is then selected to move into the design-development stage. Again, this is workshopped and tweaked with the client to establish the ideal mix of functionality and need with buildability, as well as cost to arrive at the ideal fit-out and building scope.
Once the process design and layout are nailed down, Total will then move to the final design stage and populate the design with all required services – power, drainage, water, hygiene stations, compressed air etc – and also the area finishes, such as flooring, walls, room, air conditioning etc, which will be suitable for live market costing.
“The live market cost and designs provided are sufficient to assist in obtaining finance, board approvals, or simply use to progress to construction and then you are on your way to getting your new building/plant and machinery up and running,” said Blythman.
Throughout the design process shown above, the key items to consider are:
- optimisation of plant and equipment layout;
- build and fit out cost reduction wherever possible;
- ensure authority codes and requirements are met;
- establish service requirements (power, gas waste);
- consider people movements and amenities;
- streamlining production and process flows;
- designing to SQF, WQA and BRC standards as required;
- minimise excessive conditioned air areas and refrigeration needs where possible; and
- maximise the available floor space.
Having completed this process a client can be assured they have thoroughly accounted for all functionality requirements and mitigated project risk by identifying any issues at each check point and covering them off.
Having a builder involved from the project concept stage that understands both the client’s operational needs and building cost implications can be invaluable in ensuring a project goes without a hitch from concept to completion.
Contracts are signed, tradies are ready to start, the building site is now open, and there are deadlines to meet. Then a once in a century event happens – the COVID-19 pandemic.
What happens now? Does the site close down? How long will government restrictions last? How will staff be looked after? What about penalty clauses in the contract if deadlines are missed? These and a dozen other questions go through the collective heads of many executive committee members at construction companies.
For food and beverage construction specialist, Total Construction, it was a matter of building on health and safety procedures it already had in place before COVID-19 struck and restrictions were enforced. The company’s CEO, Jeff Jones, said they were being proactive from the get-go.
“We adopted temperature testing before it was put out there by the government,” said Jones. “We were testing every single person who came onsite. We asked people to sign declarations about whether they had travelled overseas. We did all the virtualisation of the office space – less people on site where possible. We had project managers dialling in – all that sort of stuff.”
Throughout the first couple of weeks, the company did have a couple of scares, resulting in a site being shut down, and a hygienic clean of the whole area. However, there have been no reported cases on any of Total Construction’s worksites.
Procedures in place included the company’s Code Red process, which was part of its administration online tool. It lets Total Construction know it has a notification of an incident onsite and controls who communicates to the client and contractors. Because if it is not controlled properly, issues will arise, according to Jones.
“We decided early on there would be one source of information and that would be me for the vast majority of it,” he said. “There are updates for the staff throughout the process about an infected site or possible infected cases. They come to me and I was responsible for communicating to clients and subcontractors.”
One of the key ingredients to making sure operations ran smoothly was how staff reacted to the changes. Without their cooperation and buying into the new “normal”, it would have been harder to implement the new processes, said Jones.
“Our workers were amazing,” said Jones. “Two things – their willingness to adopt change was better than I thought it would be and we asked them to do a few more things outside the norm, such as asking them to take reduced pay or extra leave. I suppose this is where your work culture really sings true. The loyalty we have received from staff has been great.”
Jones said it wasn’t until the crisis came about that he saw the Total Construction workforce take initiative in its true sense, whether it was dislocated from a workplace, or dealing with a client’s needs remotely. As for the business itself, there was the expected downturn in terms of projects going ahead. Total Construction had almost 40 projects ready to go to tender at the beginning of the year, but when COVID came around, only eight actually came through. The good news is that another 10 have re-commenced the tender process since the beginning of June. However, some of the issues were not so much if the client was ready to green light the project, but whether supplies – especially those sourced from overseas – were available.
“We did have some early concerns about some supply items. We were caught short sometimes due to deliveries not arriving,” said Jones. “We were lucky. We didn’t suffer too much delay from that. We did see a little drop in productivity due to the social distancing. In its early stages, certain trades were finding it hard to get people to turn up to site if there was a concern about health. But by making our sites as healthy as we possibly could, we saw a swing around the other way, where we had contractors wanting to turn up to our site because they knew we protected their workforce better than some other contractors. It became an opportunity to have more resources on site.”
Then there was the issue of reassuring clients there were not going to be cost blowouts.
“We had some conservative clients that weren’t sure if the pandemic was going to increase the construction costs because the project got delayed ” said Jones. “Now, there is certainty and it doesn’t seem to have as much time impact as we first thought it might with supply items or productivity. I think a lot more is known now compared to two months ago and projects are starting up again.”
With the food and beverage industry, some builds have gotten underway while others have had to be put on hold, but not for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic itself, but peripheral issues, too.
“It’s been a mixed bag with food and bev builds,” said Rob Blythman, general manager for the company’s Engineering Construction Group. “When they are crucial projects, and when they are vital to their operation, time wise and production wise, they have all gone ahead. Whereas there have been others that have stalled because even though they’re sort of necessary works, they can wait. Some are sitting back and waiting for things to change in the general environment, particularly with regard to government stimulus and things of that nature before they push the go button.
“There was a food and bev project in Queensland we were set to start on in mid-March, but they had to shut it down before we began. This was because their particular product was deemed essential, and they didn’t want any potential risks to their production. Across our clients, there are some projects that have been delayed where they are not a priority and they can afford to push it back,” said Jones. “There are others that can’t afford it and we’ve had to start it straight away and there are a few in the middle that can’t risk disruption due to construction.”
Having food and beverage and aged care expertise it certainly meant that Total Construction was more cognisant to dealing with health issues across the whole spectrum because it was already working in high-risk live environments. It meant that its safety committee didn’t differentiate between an industrial sector project environment to any other project. Safety is safety, said Jones.
Jones finishes by stating that he believes that COVID-19 might even tweak the way some companies now do business.
“It might even change the long-term employment relationship,” he said. “This is because we’ve talked in the past about people used to work in one job for their whole life and how there is loyalty both ways. Over the last two decades this has deteriorated. As a result of the pandemic it has emphasised the value of loyalty going both ways as businesses work together with their staff to firstly survive and then thrive.”
Building a commercial freezer is no easy task. The amount of work and effort that goes into making sure all the specifications are met can be arduous. This is not lost on the team from Total Construction, a company that specialises in food and beverage builds.
In 2015, a baking company wanted to build a new freezer due to its business expanding and so began a consultation process with Total Construction’s Engineering Construction Group (ECG).
“We began talking with them five years ago about building a 500 sqm freezer on an adjoining site to its current plant,” said Rob Blythman, general manager for ECG. “The client makes par baked bakery products for the café market and their point of difference is that each individual product has its own unique shape and look – the real homemade appearance.”
It was for this reason that the bakery needed to expand. With orders up, and the uniqueness of some of its products, space was at a premium. The scope of the job was nothing new to ECG, so they started to scope the project with the client.
“The Total Construction team worked with the client’s operations staff extensively through workshops and discussions to develop a profile of what the client needed by way of a freezer build and how this could be achieved with maximum efficiency at the lowest cost,” said Blythman.
Total Construction was up for the challenge, and presented four design options to the client. The point of the four different options was to provide a variety of possibilities when it came to costings. This would allow the bakery to enable the best process flow while maximising the pallet capacity of the facility.
“After much discussion on the cost, the client decided to go it alone and manage the construction with his own team,” said Blythman.
“As you can imagine, we were extremely disappointed to have missed out on doing the build. However, we were quite philosophical about it too, as we well know, in the food and beverage market, this frequently happens. This is mainly due to many clients being privately owned medium-sized businesses that want to save money wherever they can. We respected the client’s decision and said if they needed any help at all to give us a call. Little did we know that a few years down the track we would get that call.”
Three years later Blythman was with some colleagues at a food and beverage trade show when they ran into the owner of the bakery. They talked about the state of the industry, but the discussion soon turned to the freezer project that had been on the cards back in 2015.
“It turned out the client was at his wit’s end with the project, as he had experienced nothing but trouble trying to get it started,” said Blythman. “To top it off, he had been pinged by council for conducting building works without approval.”
Blythman and the Total Construction team knew in the back of their minds that this kind of issue could come to the fore because Total Construction has had extensive experience in how councils work, due to being in continual contact with various councils on a weekly basis on many projects and fully understood what type of issues could arise going it alone. However, Total Construction wasn’t the type of company to bask in the misfortune of others, instead it saw an opportunity to help.
“Within a few weeks we had signed them up for design works, a DA submission and CM contract for the construction,” said Blythman.
The scope that the owner gave Total Construction was extensive. It was to construct a new freezer in the neighbouring building with all council approvals completed; make sure there was access from the existing premises through to the neighbouring premises; make sure there was a provision of an air lock ingress/egress in the new freezer; ensure that there was sufficient area allocated for the dispatch of receivables; provide a series of layout options for the freezer size and additional production locations; and makes sure that the freezer racking design could accommodate long-term and short-term pallet storage (400 pallets) within 500 sqm.
The biggest issue that needed solving was the final instruction in the scope – accommodating the pallet storage. Space was at a premium and they had to come up with a strategy to make sure it met the specifications. They did this using some lateral thinking.
“To maximise pallet space, we came up with a design that allowed the freezer space to follow the existing building roof line to allow sufficient space for the required evaporators. This posed a problem of potential issues with the EPS panel ceiling joints not sealing properly due to the acute angles involved,” said Blythman.
“To counter the potential of icing of the joints, particular attention was given to the over sealing done on each joint to ensure no air would penetrate, so the freezer would not only function properly, but provide room for more pallet space.”
In the end, the project was completed on time without a hitch and not only to the customer’s specifications but meeting all council and building standards.
“Needless to say, the client was impressed with the final build as were we,” said Blythman, “We found the project interesting from a build point of view – with regard to the acute angles – and the client ended up with a freezer that will help move the business forward.”
Most construction builds have challenges. But when there are a few hardcore caveats attached that will have an impact on getting the job completed on time and within budget, it is important to have people on the ground who are not only experts but can perform under pressure.
Food and beverage construction specialist Total Construction found this to be the case when it tendered and won a contract to complete a considerable alteration at an infant milk powder processing plant.
Total Construction’s national manager for food and beverage, Tony Tate, knew it would be a hard job, but one that the company and its staff would be up for. It would also prove that the commercial building specialist had what it took to turn a job around quickly and to the client’s specifications.
Tate and his team knew from the outset that if the job wasn’t finished on time, it would cost not only the client, but Total Construction, a lot of money. This was due to the penalty clauses in the contract. The main issue of concern was that the plant might become contaminated during the build, which means it would not meet Australian standards when it came to producing foodstuffs. This entailed a whole raft of restrictions to be put in place that meant Total Construction had to carefully plan and execute the build so as not to be liable for any overruns or contamination of the factory.
How does a company meet strict criteria, all the while completing a job to its own high standards?
Experience and planning were the two main components, according to Tate. They also had to persuade the milk powder manufacturer that Total’s methods of tackling the job were the best way forward.
“The plant had a shutdown period of only one month. For them to shut down for a month, meant they were losing a lot of revenue. It was a big deal for them,” said Tate. “The key driver for us was the plan of action. We had to incorporate building work, which can get messy, in a pharmaceutical area, which has to be spotless. The last thing that we want is any dust or contamination in a milk powder plant.”
There were five work zones at any one time with each of those work zones going from low to high care. Workers could walk around the low-care part of the facility – the warehouse – which was where the milk powder was already in sealed packaging, so there was little chance of contamination. It was the high-care areas where caution needed to be taken.
“Every day we were to make sure all the foreign matter – cable clips, cable ties, any debris that was left on the floor – was cleaned away thoroughly,” said Tate. “We had to captive vacuum every day and had to wear captive footwear. Even the builders had to change from safety boots to captive safety boots.”
When it came to making sure the project was going to come in on time some lateral thinking was required. Tate’s initial scope said the job would take 42 days. Even the independent design consultant could only see the job being completed within 46 days. The client initially thought that throwing more bodies into the project would help bring the alteration in on time. But as the Total Construction team pointed out, there were restrictions on space. Tate and his team came up with a solution that would make the job a little more costly, but not as costly to the client if they took an extra two weeks to complete.
“We started working with the design consultant and said we could expedite the process by putting two shifts on,” said Tate. “That is when we really started working with the client. You want to make sure you can take the client on the journey and build confidence with them. As you build confidence, you know what you are doing and you are then helping the client. So, we got the two shifts going as well as working Saturdays and Sundays.”
And while it was a precise process, there were a few issues that did arise along the way. At one stage, they managed to be three days ahead of schedule but the client delayed sign off on the HVAC installation, which put them back to the original schedules timeline. When the sign off was sorted out, there was an issue with the digger that was going to be used to dig out the new floor. It wasn’t cleared as a hygienic piece of equipment. It wasn’t until the Total team pointed out that the soil they would be removing would not be hygienic that it was decided that the digger – under amended conditions – could be used.
Another lesson learned was that even working under stringent conditions, the unexpected can occur. It pays to think laterally, and help the client out the best you can, said Tate.
“After we started, the client realised that once we finished up, they would only have five days to train on the new plant,” said Tate. “The staff not only had to be trained in the new equipment, but they had to validate the new equipment, too. They realised that the time they had allocated themselves to do this was not long enough. They then had to clean the facility and make it suitable to occupy.”
The client asked Total if they could use certain areas of the facility to do the training, but the penalty clauses in the contract made Total reluctant to do so. Total was within their rights to refuse but knew that it could cost the milk processing plant literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“So, we came up with a sequence on how to do the job and accommodate them,” said Tate. “First, we did the epoxy floors in the different areas on different dates. Once we completed certain areas, the hygiene teams went in and cleaned them up so they could be utilised. They then taped off the finished areas and they could go from there.”
And when it came to commitment, nobody was more invested in the project than site manager Craig Harkins.
“Craig lived and breathed it from six in the morning until eight at night,” said Tate. “There were times when we had to make sure that he was given time off because he was getting fatigued. When you’re struggling with fatigue, you get injuries and there are mistakes.”
It was a closely monitored build. The site manager knew at each stage exactly where the build was up to. If they weren’t up to where they should have been, all parties agreed on an action plan for the following day so they could catch up. They also had daily tool box talks to discuss contaminants and hygiene.
And the client’s reaction to the final product?
“If you look at the hygiene standards of the build, you could eat your dinner off the floor – it is that clean,” said Tate. “I think that because we have been retained for Stage 2 of the project means they were happy. It was a hard job, but we learned a lot from it. More importantly, we came in on time and on budget in what was a challenging build, so it was good news all around.
For food and beverage facility owners, navigating compliance requirements when building or renovating a new building can be tough at the best of times, especially in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Bill Franks is a founding shareholder of food and beverage construction specialist Total Construction and is also member of the Australian Institute of Building. He has been involved in the industry for more than 30 years, and has some interesting insights on how some of these pitfalls can be avoided, especially for some of the smaller, up-and-coming food and beverage enterprises.
“Whereas a big multinational company has a team of people checking compliance, if you’re a mum-and-dad business, or own an industrial unit where you want to produce food for sale, you don’t have access to that kind of resource,” he said. “For starters, it’s important to understand which regulations you need to comply with. A commercial building comes under the Building Act and National Construction Code (NCC); what was known as the Building Code of Australia.”
A couple of regulations in particular, can cause issues because people don’t know some of the minute details – the fine print – that can be hidden in the regulations.
“For example, Section J (energy efficiency) of the NCC, along with essential fire services, have been catching people out for a number of years now,” said Franks. “Plus, with the ‘Access to Premises’ standard, a minor addition or alteration to a commercial building can now involve some serious upgrades to services like water, electricity and insulation just to mention a few.”
Franks adds that, while a lot of people know that buildings require fire sprinklers, there are other accessories that need to be added, too. “For example, water pressures have changed, and sprinklers now require water storage tanks and a set of pumps, which can sometimes cost around a half a million dollars.”
Then there is disability that needs to be added to the mix of potential changes some sites that are being renovated. In some cases, councils will require a lift to be installed, doorways and corridors widened and disability amenities added to satisfy current building codes.
Other considerations that need to be considered when planning to convert a brownfield site into a food and beverage facility include the noise and odour impacts. Many councils insist on obtaining noise and odour statements as part of the any submission. Although the consultant fees to produce these statements can be relatively low, the resulting adaptions to the building can be significant. In one instance a client was required to install 6.2m high exhaust flues to ensure that odours from their cooking processes were dispersed effectively and not impinge on neighbouring residential properties.
“You may say that is fair enough,” said Franks, “however, the residential properties were almost a kilometre away, yet the odour report indicated that with the right conditions the cooking odours could travel that far.”
Any new facility in the industry will need to comply with a Council’s Health Department requirements, so this means effective drainage, washing and waste disposal areas need to be well-defined to comply. Generally, to accommodate new drainage runs and wash areas in brownfield sites, a company needs to cut into the slab. Also, depending on the amount of drainage required, the existing slab could end up looking like “swiss cheese”. These drainage runs will then need to be reinstated and pinned back into the existing slab. In some instances, combining this with set down areas for any freezers, it can be cheaper to lay an entire new slab.
Apart from Council and NCC requirements, brownfield sites can also have issues with the roof weight capacity, as the majority of industrial units available are only designed to support roofing sheets and not much else. To enable the roof to support numerous services and insulated panel ceilings etcetera, the roof structure generally needs to be strengthened – sometimes dramatically.
Then there is another set of key criteria in deciding on premises to convert – power and gas availability. Again, the majority of industrial units only have access to approximately 100amps supply and no gas feed. Food and beverage facilities can require in excess of 500amps and a reliable gas supply to effectively run their operations. The time and cost associated with upgrading and installing these feeds can be exorbitant, and have caught out many proponents, causing delays in establishing operations.
So, what can you do to make sure your building ticks all the boxes? “The first thing is to establish the scope of the development, then work out where it might be non-compliant and if your budget stretches to bringing it up to standard,” said Franks. “You can find a copy of NCC online, but it can be difficult to make sense of it if you’re not a lawyer or building professional. My advice would be to get a report from a building certifier and engage an appropriate food and beverage builder to advise. By enlisting theservices of professionals, you can avoid a host of problems in the future.
“The key to ensuring you mitigate risks in your project is to involve your builder early in the process commonly known in the construction game as early contractor involvement or ECI.”
According to Franks, having a builder involved during the scoping and design stage can allow critical cost items in any build/fit out be identified and alternatives discussed.
“For instance, you may have a plan to construct a mezzanine level in your operations, this although perfect for the intended process flows can be extremely costly to construct,” he said. “Sometimes, a client cannot see the forest for the trees so to speak – they are so intrenched in their business that they only see one aspect of the project – being to increase efficiencies in their production.”
Involving a builder with process engineering capability in the food and beverage industry, such as Total Construction, can allow a different set of eyes to see the requirements and suggest alternatives to the building layout that just don’t reduce the need for costly building works, but can improve the process flow overall.
How ECI works to develop an achievable budget.
First, a site investigation is carried out by the builder on the existing and proposed facilities to detail and identify all services required and what is available at the new site (power, gas capacities). It is important to note that to increase power or gas supply to a site can be very costly to the project and create delays. Another area that needs consideration in the case of an existing building to be fitted out is the structure’s integrity. Having to strengthen this to cope with the additional weight of fit out and services can often blow out project costs.
Then a workshop is carried out with all stakeholders to identify required efficiencies, confirm proposed outputs and flag any potential limitations. As part of this workshop, all production processes are mapped and detailed for both the existing and proposed operations.
A list is made of the capacities and dimensions of all equipment both existing and new is developed. This helps to identify all utilities and services that are required. It also sets the benchmark for power and gas requirements at the proposed site.
This process helps identify potential bottle necks in current processes and helps highlight any potential hygiene requirements in the new fit out. Getting all this data captured is critical in maximising efficiencies of the new facility.
A review of the buildability of the facility is done and sketch design layouts are completed to optimise process flows to best fit the client’s objectives. A building/fit out SWAT analysis is carried out and build/fit-out costs are derived. Through close consultation between the builder and client, this process allows savings to be identified early on in the design and layout of the facility.
A detailed design including all services and requirements is then developed and put to the market for live market costing. This will give the client a firm understanding of what they can get for their dollar.
Finally, this is where working to a budget comes in – once the ideal building and fit out costs are established it is possible to derive further reductions in the overall project spend through rationalising the design. This includes, but is not limited to, reducing the number and sizes of rooms, freezer/cool room capacities and locations, and finishes in the design. This can be done while keeping future expansion capability intact in the design and maintain the client’s required production output for the new facility.
Red tape, bureaucracy, standards and regulations – all can be a bugbear for any company thinking of building or expanding their food and beverage processing plant. Total Construction specialises in total builds – from the ground up and that includes getting all the right approvals.
Food and beverage processing factories especially have a range of rules that dictate what they can and can’t do due to food safety issues.
Problems arise when the correct planning hasn’t been taken into account, or even ignorance of what is required when building a premises. However, the latter is never an excuse for putting up a building without consent, although that doesn’t stop it from happening.
It’s not lost on Total Construction’s design operations team, who has have seen their fair share of projects go pear-shaped due to naivety, poor planning, or disregard for building and council regulations.
Total cites a recent example with a client that wanted to expand its premises and had done so already without getting the correct building consents. They were told to dismantle the illegal structures. The company came to Total Construction for help.
READ MORE: Total Tips – design and building advice
“The client had put an awning structure out at the back of the property to protect their roller shutter opening when they were loading and unloading food products,” said Rob Blythman business development manager F&B. “And then they built another structure to store equipment that needed to be protected from bad weather. You can typically put up a small tool shed in your back yard, but when it comes to a commercial enterprise, you can’t do that without the correct approvals.
“We understood what the issues that were raised by council and by the owner – what they needed to achieve and what they wanted from a building point of view,” he said. “To do that, they needed to amend the building considerably and make about a 30 per cent increase in the building footprint.”
The client used its own architects, who managed to get the necessary approvals. However, the client soon realised that it still wasn’t big enough for what they actually needed. The Total Construction team helped to get the amended development approval through. If the client had done it correctly the first time, they might have saved themselves the best part of $25,000, according to Blythman.
But it just wasn’t the footprint of the upgraded facility that needed attention. There were other aspects of the build that needed to be taken into consideration. For example, there needed to be enough room for trucks to turn around in while loading and unloading produce. That in itself holds a lesson for those looking at building or revamping a plant.
“The number of carpark spots that the original architect put onsite was over and above what the council minimum requirements were,” said Blythman. “Here’s a bit of advice – if the council says you only need 15 carparks, only provide 15. The reason being? If you provide 20 and you are going to do more works in the future, those 20 carparks can become your baseline. It is part of the development control plans that have been in play with any development project with councils.”
When a company decides to modify and carry out remedial works to buildings, they open themselves up to fire upgrades and compliance with current codes. The essential services for emergency requirements need to be upgraded as well. These are potential costs that clients may not be aware of that get triggered by council. Then there are the accessibility issues that able-bodied people forget about – planning authorities don’t.
“If there is an employee, employer or visitor in a wheelchair, you can’t discriminate against them according to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA),” said Blythman. “If you walk down the street and you see a vacant shop, and you go, ‘that’s a nice shop. I might rent that shop out and make it a café’, and the front door requires you to step up, then you have considerations to think of. If you took on that lease, straight away the council would very likely invoke that you need to put accessible ramp in that building to allow accessibility for all persons wishing to enter that business.”
Not to be overlooked, but often can be, are the issues of acoustic requirements for the reduction of noise transferring out of the factory to adjoining properties. Some industrial properties cut across residential boundaries.
When such a factory has hours of operation that can potentially go on 24/7, the sensitive nature of the equipment and the noise needs to be able to be retained within the industrial boundary. It is not allowed to creep over and impact on the sleep of the nearby residents.
“If you can imagine the amount of mechanical plant that’s needed to air-condition a large refrigerated space, then there is a lot of noise,” said Blythman. “There has to be acoustic screens specifically engineered by an acoustic engineer to make sure that the noise doesn’t leak out to disturb residents (i.e. sleep).
“Clients have to understand the legislation framework that goes around all projects.”
Blythman imparts a couple of pieces of advice to those that are thinking of upgrading or building a new facility. The very first port of call if they are unsure about anything, is to go and talk to the local authority on what is possible for the site and speak to the local planner for that council.
“You are a rate payer, so you are entitled to go and get help from your local authority,” he said. “Also, if you are unsure, or don’t know where to start, we can provide means to navigate you through all these issues. We can work in collaboration with a client’s architect or the clients can engage us directly and we can manage the process for them.”
One is quiet, the other gregarious. One is the numbers man, the other the details guy. One is an introvert, the other an extrovert. They are an unlikely duo, but over the past 25 years Steve Taylor and Bill Franks have taken a one-man band that is Total Construction and turned into a company that is turning over hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Specialising in self-storage, food and beverage, and aged care facilities, the company has navigated its way through the GFC, the odd grumpy client, and government bureaucracies to find their niche in what can be a very competitive market.
“We are complete opposites,” acknowledged Taylor. “Bill has never smoked or drank and partied hard, whereas I have taken all those things to the extreme. I live in the city and Bill lives in the mountains in Kurrajong. He lives on 35 acres and I live on 400sqm. We’re very different, but it works.”
Talking to them in the board room of the company’s beautifully detailed head office in Strathfield in Sydney’s inner west, you can hear the mutual respect when they speak about each other, and the pride with not only how they have built their business, but how they do business.
Taylor does most of the talking, and Franks doesn’t seem to mind. They met almost 30 years ago working for Donnelly Construction, based in Castle Hill in Sydney’s north west.
“We were building a school together up at Castle Hill and Bill was the foreman and I was the leading hand on the job,” said Taylor. “After work we’d take off in his ute to Wilberforce and build his house.”
Taylor then got an opportunity in his early years to work as a project manager under Nev Kennard, he of the hire and self-storage fame. The out-of-the-box-thinking Kennard gave the young Taylor a few insights into not only how to run a business, but how not be satisfied with second best. Franks had already left Donnelly’s and started his own company. Taylor quickly wrangled in Franks to become a subcontractor to him to help build Kennard’s facilities.
“That was when I had a building job in Wetherill Park and Kennards came to us and said, ‘Don’t take any more work on, we’re going to keep you busy for the next couple of years’,” said Franks. “Then the recession hit, and then Nev said there was no more work.”
“Nev predicted the recession. He was a visionary,” said Taylor. “He was a very forward thinking, entrepreneurial guy. That’s who I learned my business acumen from. He taught me to challenge everything. I was the sort of person that when they said, ‘Think outside the square’, I didn’t even see the square. I learned from him how to question and challenge everything with respect.” When the 1989 recession hit, Taylor went up to Cairns and then came back to Sydney to help run a joint venture for Kennards. Franks kept his business ticking over by helping out the hire/storage company when he could.
“I kept on doing maintenance and building work for Kennards during that whole recession period,” said Franks.
It was while Taylor was on a sabbatical that the idea of Total Construction really came into fruition.
“When I was in Europe, Bill saw that Nev was getting ready to take off again workwise,” said Taylor. “They thought they might start a company but would need me to run it. But I was having too good of a time in Europe. I was having the time of my life and didn’t want to come home. The reports from my dad were that the economy still wasn’t that great, so there was no need to rush home. Bill was badgering my dad about when I was coming back.”
“It was that 93/94 era. I always thought we should start a proper company,” said Franks. “We picked up a job for Rheem water heaters and we built their R&D lab.”
And how did what was literally a two-person operation come to be a company that now has 150 full-time staff and up to 400-500 sub-contractors working for it at any one time? According to Taylor, there was a moment in time when it all came together, and he took a punt.
“In 1994 Sam Kennard took over as CEO of Kennard Self Storage,” said Taylor. “He used to work for me when I ran his dad’s business. He was at university and used to work part time for me. Sam approached me to do some work. I’ll never forget him turning up at my office – I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years. My eyes lit up and the entrepreneurial spirit – which I didn’t know I had – went spinning into overdrive. They had a site in Goldburn. They invited me to go there. And I was just a young guy – 27/28 years old – and I knew a bit about business, but I was just a carpenter. They drove me down to the Goldburn site and they said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘You can do this, this and this.’ We got in the car and drove back. And while on our way, a little voice in my head said, ‘This is a make or break moment’. So, I said to them, ‘I’ve got a new business – how about we become your in-house contractor? We’d still be a sub-contractor but manage all your in-house properties’.
By the time we got back to Campbelltown we had a deal that unfolded 10 years’ worth of work. We then went and built the building for them for $1.2 million and 16 weeks later it was open.”
But their story isn’t just about taking a punt and luck, it was also about playing to their strengths.
“From the beginning, we decided that we weren’t going to be a residential builder because we knew it was a boom or bust industry,” said Taylor. “You have to have a crystal ball to know when the boom is going to happen. There is money in apartments if you are a developer, not a builder. That’s my theory. And to do residential you really have to deal with developers.” You get the impression from Taylor that developers are not his favourite people.
Another aspect to their success, they say, is how they treat their staff, not just in terms of remuneration, but in their development, too. Taylor believes that this is one of the reasons they get so much return business – their staff are invested in the outcome, just as much as he and Franks. Both men also believe a lot of their success is down to knowing the market and putting the right processes in place to make sure the business runs smoothly, and that staff are looked after.
“We have a cadet program and the KPI on that is that 10 percent of our workforce is cadets,” he said. “We’re just under that at the moment because some of them have just graduated. They’re still working for us, but they’ve just been promoted. That is a big mentorship. Every one of our staff here has free membership with Fitness First nationally. It costs us over $100,000 a year, but it means we get our staff visiting the gym 200 times a year.”
Plus, their attitude is different. Franks said it is all about respecting the customer. Something that not all companies think of. To some, it is about the here and now, and immediate results, without looking for the long-term prospects.
“Our KPI of return business is 75 per cent and we smash it every year,” said Taylor. “We had a lot of people come from the Tier One companies, and they’re not taught how to get repeat business. It’s ‘screw the client at all costs’. We needed to teach people that there is trust within the industry.”
Another aspect of the business is transparency. Both men are up front with their staff on the turnover and how much a project costs. They find that because they are talking 10s and sometimes 100s of millions of dollars in turnover, people think they are rolling in money. But people don’t seem to understand that there are lot of outgoings in such a big operation. Once Taylor and Franks put the project plan in front of their workers, it soon becomes apparent that neither will be challenging Jeff Bezos for the richest man in the world stakes. Transparency aside, being up front also creates trust that they are all in it together.
“When you’re pushing staff to give you transparency then we should be transparent, too,” said Taylor. “I tell them how we run the business and then they feel engaged because we are being transparent, and they are frank with us about the parts of the business they work in. People think you are a money-making machine; that’s because you turn over $200 million a year you must be a multi-millionaire. Transparency gives our employees a reality check.”
And when it comes to the business itself, there is a reason it is called Total Construction. It epitomises what the company has to offer, according to Taylor.
“We wanted to show a point of difference” he said. “For example, when it comes to our food and beverage division, we have an in-house engineering capability, as well as an in-house infrastructure business. Automatically, you are showing clients that you are a business that is diverse, that is thinking, that is capable. You’re not just a tendering machine in the construction industry. You can bring value.”
Both Franks and Taylor have brought the members of their respective families into the fold. Not that either man is looking to retire any time soon. But it’s comforting to see the next generation of Taylors and Franks showing interest in a business both men have built from the ground up.
“We’ve both got family in the business now,” said Taylor. “It’s owned by the two of us and our families. We see ourselves bringing more family in and maybe handing it on, but we don’t know yet. Bill and I are both young for our age and we think we’ll be here for a while yet, but maybe in a lesser capacity.”
And the key to their continual success and partnership? Taylor sums it up in two short sentences.
“We trust each other. Bill’s always been there for me through good times and bad and vice versa.”
Nominations for the 2019 Food & Beverage Industry Awards are still open. Proudly sponsored by Flavour Makers, Total Construction and Rockwell Automation, the awards are in their 16th year.
Last year the event was a sellout, and brought together the movers and shakers within this multi-billion dollar industry.
- Beverage of the Year sponsored by Rockwell Automation;
- Ingredient Innovation;
- Food & Safety Equipment and Materials sponsored by Total Construction;
- Packaging Innovation;
- Innovative Technology of the Year;
- Health Foods; Best in Design;
- Meat, Poultry and Smallgoods;
- Paddock to Plate; and
- the coveted Best of the Best sponsored by Flavour Makers.
If you have an innovative product or packaging that you think meets the criteria go to the nominations section of the awards website, here.
Nominations close at 5pm on Friday May 31, 2019.
Every three years, anyone who is anyone in the baking industry converges on Munich for the iba, the international bakery exhibition/conference. This year there were more than 1700 exhibitors, 76,000 visitors and about $3.4 billion in trade completed at the event.
One person hitting the stands and looking over the event was Total Construction’s general manager for its food and beverage division, Tony Tate. It’s an industry he’s been involved with for more than 30 years and is deft at spotting upcoming trends and where the industry is heading. He thinks the next big thing to hit the baking industry will be “Indulgence Individual Creation”. The Universal Bread production is focusing on sourdough long fermentation and process Quality.
Walking around the show clearly is showing Automation of artisan breads, is happing now which will mean they take the step from being a specialty product to becoming a commodity.
He believes that there will be an uptake in both national and multi-national bread bakers opening up new premises, or converting current ones into those that will meet the demands of consumers who no longer go after traditional white and brown breads – in other words, traditional tin-baked breads.
“In the 60s bakers were trying to get the baking of white loaves automated because white bread was part of the staple diet of Australians,” said Tate. “You look at it now, it is in decline. It is only added value breads like grain breads or low GI breaks that is keeping the tin bread market open. You look at the large bread companies who are shutting down bakeries and consolidating manufacturing to survive the large supermarkets low price strategy.
With artisan and sourdough loaves now becoming popular, bakers have to shift gear and start producing facilities that will cope with influx of demand.
“In the 1970s and 1980s they developed mechanisation and made white bread more competitive. The Chorleywood bread mixing process was invented and started bringing in 3000-loaves-an-hour lines, then 8000-loaves-an-hour lines. In the late 2000s they brought in 10,000-loaves-an-hour lines. Now everybody is going for the sourdough. If you go around the show it is all about artisan, sourdough and French baguettes, Vienna’s etc.”
And the building of plants based around these breads has already begun. French-based artisan bread specialist, Laurent, has just invested huge amounts of money on building an Artisan plant in Victoria. Their first plant in 2009 they could bake 3000 baguettes an hour now over 8000 baguettes an hour.
Early demand of Sourdough bread sold for premium $8.49 per loaf now they selling them in the supermarkets at $4.99.” per loaf.
Tate believes that baking will go through an interesting transition over the next 10 years due to the expectations of not only consumers, but what bakers will be capable of doing – the hard part is to gauge is what that will entail.
“White bread rose and then declined, sourdough will follow because of the automation of mechanised plant cable of mass producing Artisan bread available now but couldn’t do artisan 10 years ago.
Tate see an opportunity for individualised, indulgent artisan creations made to order same day. Order in morning pick up or get delivered the afternoon.
The process equipment automation will struggle to try and automate these kinds of products. But you have to start somewhere and start chipping away.
When it comes to automation, Tate said there was a demonstration at the event that could be a precursor to what the future holds for some fast-food outlets and how their food is served.
“There was a booth with a robot in it,” said Tate. “It grabbed a bun. The robot put a knife through it and sliced the bun. The robot turned the bun over, put butter on it, it then changed its arm to pick up a piece of salami, then put on some lettuce and then some cheese. It then put the bun into a wrapper station, folded it over, then put a stamp on it that said ‘freshly made for you’ or something like that. But it took 15 minutes. So somebody who works at McDonalds has still got a job at the moment, but the technology will eventually come through.”
One of the main drivers for attending the event was about building relationships, and taking those associations a step further.
“It was more than just about building relationships, it was about understanding the relationship all the way through,” said Tate. “It’s that relationship building and being consistent to the industry that means if anybody has a referral then people’s first port of call will be Total Construction. We have the knowledge. We know the industry. We know about bakeries and we can build it.”
One more key take out from the iba for Tate, was some of the oven technology coming through whereby several types of products can be baked at once.
“Mecatherm has designed an oven to encompass flexibility. The oven itself can cost up into the thousands depending on specification and flexabliity” said Tate. “This allows the entrepreneur baker to have the flexibility to take several format such as sourdough breads, tin breads, batch soft rolls or cakes. For this investment bakeries can get into the market and say, ‘by the way I have the flexibility to do my tin bread in the morning, I can do my artisan in the afternoon and do my cakes whenever.’”
With his final thoughts on the exhibition, Tate has some definitive ideas on where the baking industry is heading, but is a little unsure when it will get there.
“Is automation here? Yes, it is,” he said. “Artisan and sourdough are the main drivers going forward, and it is the level of automation as to whether it will become a commodity. The next phase I believe will be indulgent products that are being created whether it is chocolate, whether it is bread, whether it is a work of art and those processes will eventually become automated robots, but it’s a long time away.”
With another three years before the next iba comes around, it will be interesting to see if Tate’s predictions come true.
Hidden away on the top storey of an old brick building at the heart of North Strathfield, Sydney are the offices of Total Construction.
If a company ever wanted to show off its wares, then its own offices are a great advertisement.
Old cracked bricks surround the open-plan working space with modern furnishings, polished floors and designer furniture making it an inviting place to do business for potential clients.
Started almost 25 years ago by Steven Taylor (the number’s guy) and Bill Franks (the practical man), it has grown into a business that services many industries including food and beverage.
Heading that department is the affable Tony Tate, a Carlisle man from Cumbria in England’s north who had the distinction of playing against the likes of Alan Shearer, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley – not in the English Premier League, but at the more modest school boy level.
It is a memory that is bound to last a life time. However, Tate then went on to a career in the food industry. Starting out as an electrical engineer, you could almost call Tate the accidental tourist when he arrived on Australian shores.
He never intended to stay for long in Australia, but 20 years later, he is still here.
“I got headhunted from the UK to come to Australia to head up Top Notch, which was the first ready-meal, high-care facility in Australia, which was owned by Goodman Fielder,” said Tate.
“In the UK, the ready-meals industry was booming. Meals had a five- to seven-day shelf life. In Australia, we were trying to break into the market but the downside was that you could go to Darling Harbour and have a good meal for $20 instead of paying $9 for a butter chicken or lasagne from the supermarket shelf. Australia wasn’t ready, so it was probably 20 years too soon.”
When he left Top Notch, Tate started touring Australia with the intention of heading back to the UK, but then stayed when he got a job offer from Goodman Fielder.
After a couple of other roles, Tate started working for Total Construction in 2008, where his expertise in stringent hygiene standards needed for food processing factories came to the fore.
“The key was my food background – especially cutting my teeth on hygienic standards when supplying Marks and Spencers, which were world leaders in hygiene,” said Tate. “In England, 35 years ago, we were already building high-care facilities. They’ve only started putting high-care facilities in Australia over the past five years. In the last 20 years in Australia they only started doing HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point) systems. You get a lot of businesses coming to me who say, ‘we’ve got HACCP approval, aren’t we wonderful’. But to me, that is the minimum you need for food safety.”
Tate cannot reiterate enough how important food hygiene is when companies are looking at building a new food processing facility.
People can become complacent when it comes to instances of food poisoning and think that it is the purview of third-world countries.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As recently as April 2018, six people died from an outbreak of listeria that was traced back to a rock melon farm in New South Wales.
“Hygiene in Australia has been pretty low,” said Tate.
“It’s not being disrespectful. In England, people still die due to food poisoning. About 250,000 Americans die of food poisoning every year. So food safety is pretty critical. I always say people safety is synonymous with food safety.”
Tate knows Total Construction’s main job is to manage the build but believes his knowledge gives the company’s clients a head’s up on what is needed to build a facility to a certain standard.
“When I talk to the clients, they know nothing about building,” he said. “The key from our point of view is to support the client. The client has to put a roof over their head because they have to keep the rain out to protect the product. They’re interested in the process equipment, which can cost them $15 million from Europe. However, they don’t understand standards. We do. They don’t need to know the building codes of Australia. They don’t need to know the FM standards for insurances. That’s what we bring to the table. There are not many food literate builders or process engineers. We have that expertise here.”
Another key to Total Construction is that it offers an all-inclusive service – from design stage to project managing the build. And it is the extra things that it brings to the table that gives clients added value.
This can be anything from advising them whether to build up or out, through to how strong a roof needs to be on a food processing plant.
“You can’t hang your air conditioning, your pipes or other gear from the roof and its trusses if it has been designed to hold up just the tin roof,” said Tate. “I tell the story a couple of years ago when the roof on a retail warehouse collapsed. There was a huge hail storm and the hail blocked the gutters on the roof. It banked up the ice and water, which caused the roof to collapse because it was too heavy.
“Most developers build a warehouse at the cheapest and most economical cost. They don’t build a warehouse with the mind of, ‘Well, we better strengthen it just in case somebody wants to put a food facility inside of it’. With a lot of food processing plant, you could have up to 80 kilograms in various items hanging off the ceiling. This is the kind of thing we tell our clients at the scope stage.”
Another angle that is a little unusual in the building trade is that Total Construction has an open book policy whereby they will show clients how much something is going to cost. They have had issues in the past where some clients have taken a hard look at costings and not been too happy. However, Tate feels that the way they do things takes the sting out of the tail – people know what to expect.
“I have great coverage on the three major trades – hydraulic, mechanical and refrigeration,” he said. “We had one project where the price seemed a little steep for the client, but that was the market cost. All the subcontractors gave me a price based on the drawings. It was an open book to the client and we brought it under 20 per cent on what the price was. He was still a little cranky but deep down he was pleasantly pleased with the service he was getting.”
Another sticky situation arose when a client wanted to be in their facility by a certain month. However, in order to do so, Tate pointed out that the lead time was too short if they wanted to pour a concrete slab that was going to be affected by changes in temperature from 36°C to -18°C.
The temperature needed to come down gradually over a few weeks in order for the slab to retain its integrity. The client wanted it to happen over a period of days. Tate informed the client that the date had to be moved to a later time. The client was not happy and demanded that the facility be ready by the date he wanted to move in.
“I said to him that we could do what he wanted but we were not warranting the slab,” said Tate. “No cement can withstand that about of temperature range over a short space of time. I told him to hire freezer containers for $250 a week, put them in his yard and put the stock in them until we could bring the temperature down gradually. That is all he wanted. A solution. And we gave him one.”
And Tate says the payoff is tangible and can be measured by repeat business. “We get 80 percent repeat business with clients,” said Tate. “I have clients phoning me up that I haven’t spoken to for two years. They go, ‘Mate, I’ve got a problem, can you come down and give us advice?’ I go and help them and I don’t charge. But I know if they are going to build a facility – whether it be Melbourne or Sydney, or up in Queensland – their first port of call is going to be Total Construction.”
The leasing of industrial facilities has always been the domain of distribution operations and businesses that needed large off-site storage capacity.
Now however, many F&B businesses are opting to lease facilities rather than purchasing them. Today’s developers are happy to pay the fit out cost and have it included in the overall lease payments, which tends to suit both parties.
However, there are pros and cons when delving into buying or leasing premises. What are some of the advantages of leasing a warehouse, distribution centre or manufacturing building? Here’s a few tips from Total Construction.
Initial start-up costs. Investing in a building can be very costly, especially if you are an onshore manufacturer. While it is a fixed asset, money can be better spent on other more important things that can get a business up and running. This includes automated plant, which in turn saves on labour costs. Maybe the savings can be spent on research and development, and marketing and promoting the newly developed product.
Red tape. Getting compliance from councils can cause a lot of angst and also cost a lot of money. While a manufacturer will have to make sure they comply with their ongoing working conditions, making sure the building meets all the local body and environmental requirements will be up to the building owner.
Building upkeep. Buildings need to be kept up to scratch. Tenants don’t have to worry about repairs or any of the administration that goes into looking after the building – whether it be worrying about the rates bill, plumbing or electrics going haywire, or maintenance due to wear and tear.
Location, location, location. Leasing or renting means you can not only shop around for the best location, but you are not tied down to one place for a long time. This means if things change – whether it be a company’s need to expand, or clients moving to another part of the city, or even to a new city – it gives a manufacturer leeway to not renew the lease.
As with any decision made, there are also downsides to leasing a building and/or plant. These include:
Losing capital growth. This can be an issue if you live in a city where commercial space is at a premium. Cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are growing exponentially, and unless the world economy collapses, will be sought after places of business for a long time to come.
Locked in contract. Being locked into a contract means the tenant will have to stay where they are until the contract runs out or pay penalties if the lease is broken. When it comes to the fit out of the warehouse, the tenant has a limited say in how it will look.
Limited say. The owner of the building will have certain terms and conditions that have to be adhered to by the occupant.
Expansion. If your business takes off and you need to expand your operations the owner of the building can call the shots – whether this is allowing a tenant to extend the space available, or the accompanying increase in rent.