What Lies Beneath
by Lynn Petrak

Flooring in dairy plants must endure the elements and stand the test of time.

It’s arguably the greatest point of impact in a dairy plant. It’s in use every day, every shift, virtually every minute when a facility is up and running. It is one of those elements that interact with equipment, products, personnel and sanitizers.
Indeed, the floor in a dairy processing facility is just as important as what’s going on top of it. The fact that flooring is used from receiving to the shipping loading dock and all points in between also means that durability and performance is crucial, since any downtime in any of those areas results in losses of some kind.
Ask a construction professional, and he or she will likely underscore the pivotal role that flooring plays in day-to-day operations. “The selection of the flooring system is one of the most critical items in the success of the project,” says Forrest McNabb, senior vice president, dairy and food group/operations for Big-D Construction Corp., Salt Lake City.
Floors in dairy plants are not only all encompassing, but are somewhat distinctive from surfaces in other food and beverage facilities. “Dairy is even tougher than meat and poultry not just because of the frequency of washdowns and use but because they are usually very cold and then you hit them with hot water. And it’s almost continuous,” notes Scott Gallagher, marketing manager for Atlas Minerals & Chemicals Inc., Mertztown, Pa., a provider of corrosion-resistant mortars and grouts, floorings and linings.
Steve Lipman, urethane product manager for Dur-a-Flex Inc., an East Hartford, Conn.-based supplier of commerical and industrial flooring systems and polymer components like epoxies, urethanes and methyl methacrylates, shares that assessment. “Dairies are an especially harsh environment,” he says, noting that those who help dairies put in the appropriate surface for their plants must understand the daily effects of production. “You have to be aware of the surroundings and the parameters you get when you are in a dairy plant. It can be totally alien to someone working in restaurant kitchens, for example.”
As one who has overseen the installation of several types of floors in dairy facilities, McNabb agrees that understanding the operation in a dairy plant cannot be overemphasized. “Too often a flooring system is specified without taking into consideration all of the specific performance requirements. One specific flooring system cannot be installed that meets all the variable conditions in a plant,” he says. “Plant operations of each area in the facility need to be fully understood, as items such use of the room, chemical used for cleaning, temperature ranges including heat during CIP along with other items will greatly affect the flooring systems’ performance.”
Keeping up with the production realities in dairy plants also means recognizing the results of various cleaning treatments, which are changing regularly as dairies look to keep their plants clean and free from bacteria growth. “Suppliers are coming out with new cleaning compounds constantly, and we have to check them to make sure that our materials are not chemically restaurant to them,” Gallagher says.
Meanwhile, the function of a space or room has a bearing on proper surface. In those areas with frequent washdowns and stringent chemicals, for instance, more rugged, slip-resistant types of floors and coatings are recommended, while in office space, packaging areas or warehousing spots, other types of surfaces may be used.
Dur-a-Flex, for one, installs more durable surfaces in production floors than in areas with less harsh conditions, Lipman says. “In dry holding areas we have thinner system and can go down to 3/16 of an inch, for example,” he says.
Likewise, Atlas often suggests materials that work well for a particular setting. “It should be different surfaces for different areas. Production is more brick and tile, packaging is sometimes monolithic, and warehousing areas can be concrete,” Gallagher says, citing some examples that are common but not necessarily universal due to the distinct needs of each facility.
Ground-Up Innovations
As dairy facilities evolve in what they produce and how they produce it, those that supply flooring and floor treatments also continue to upgrade their surfaces and materials. Dairies can choose from a host of flooring and accompanying coatings and primers, all of which offer distinctive features and advantages, depending on the plant, product and process.
For those looking for floors for production areas, Gallagher says Atlas recommends its brick and tile flooring system. “It’s the most durable and it lasts by far the longest. Also, aesthetically brick and tile floors are more attractive,” he says, adding that the choice of jointing material affects the performance of the floor, due to the impact from various sanitation compounds.
Atlas, which also offers various mortars and grouts, linings and primers, is using a new generation of epoxies as well. One is a carbon-filled Novolac epoxy for various floor surfaces that is more chemically resistant and moisture tolerant. The company’s series of moisture tolerant products also includes its Atlas CG Primer used on green concrete, Rezklad® E-Concrete Primer NT that can be used on damp or new concrete, and Red Furnane® Setting Bed MT, a trowel applied setting bed or bond coat for floor tile, pavers and brick and for application on new or damp concrete.
Dur-a-Flex also continually upgrades its flooring materials and systems. In recent years, Lipman says, the company has seen greater applications for its version of cementitious urethane, known as Poly-Crete.
Because it is a monolithic system, the heavy duty Poly-Create flooring system doesn’t require any coatings or primers and can also be installed on a substrate with a high moisture level, Lipman explains. Among other versions, Dur-a-Flex offers Poly-Crete HF™, a trowel-applied cementitious urethane designed for abusive environments and Poly-Crete MDB™ (Maximum Duty Broadcast), with the added slip resistance of a natural quartz aggregate.
The advantage of Poly-Crete in a dairy facility, Lipman says, is its ability to withstand the industry’s notoriously tough environment. “When the floor is subjected to hot and cold thermal transition, which it does in dairy plants with steam cleaning and freezers and coolers, this product will expand and contract at a similar rate. So we have no issues with disbonding,” he says, adding that the cementitious urethane floor can take a good beating, too. “This floor has impact resistance and it dissipates shock through the system. It’s hard but it’s not brittle, even with lots of items dropping on the floor.”
Nor, Lipman notes, is Poly-Crete affected by high levels of lactic acid, which can cause grout degradation in other floor types.
Other flooring companies that service the dairy industry have come out with new flooring geared to withstand the elements. Kwasny Flooring and Lining Systems, Farmington Hills, Mich., for example, recently launched SaniCrete, a heavy-duty polyurethane flooring system designed for food and beverage plants that offers resistance to impact, abrasion, chemical attack and thermal shock. The flooring system is also touted as non-slip and odor free and can be installed over damp or dry concrete, with rapid cure time.
Meantime, Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Rust-Oleum Corp. has introduced its version of a durable urethane based system. Rust-Oleum’s ThermaKrete urethane concrete coating protects concrete, expands and contracts to resist cracking and is well suited for heavy traffic areas.
Finally, for those weighing what type of flooring best suits their operations, McNabb recommends careful research and regular interaction with suppliers and installers. “If an owner has a current facility which will be upgraded or replicated, the project team should visit the existing facility and meet with operations personnel to understand what they like or don’t like about flooring system they currently use or have used in the past,” he advises, adding that additional measures once a manufacturer and installer are chosen should include pre-installation conferences, proper floor preparation, inspections during installations and a careful check of details around spots floor drains and equipment.  
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.