October 9, 2014
Column | problem solved

Problem: Turning a hot, dusty warehouse into a cool, clean work environment

At M. Block & Sons' warehouse, high temperatures and humidity were slowing down the Keurig K-Cup packaging process, which requires a temperature-controlled environment. An insulated modular wall system turned the sweltering space into a clean and cool environment.

By Kelsey Bedard

The Problem: When M. Block & Sons Inc. began packaging products for its client Green Mountain Coffee Brewers Inc., it found that conditions in its Bedford Park, Ill., warehouse were less than ideal for the task. Among other services performed at the multiclient facility, M. Block packages Green Mountain's Keurig K-Cups for retail sale, a process that requires a sanitary, temperature-controlled environment. Problem was, Midwestern heat and humidity as well as dust were threatening the cleanliness and efficiency of the operation.

To understand the problem, it helps to know a little about the K-Cup packaging process. The individual-serving cups arrive at the warehouse from the roaster in bulk. The coffee cups go into a hopper device that arranges the K-Cup configurations for packaging. A packaging machine picks up the arranged K-Cups, constructs the appropriately sized retail box, and places the cups into the box. (M. Block & Sons has three of these machines: one manufactured by Schneider Packaging Co. and two by Schubert Packaging.) The packages are palletized and then sent to other distribution centers to be packaged with Keurig brewers before shipping to retailers.

M. Block's challenge involved improving the space utilized for this specific process. Corporate Facilities Manager Don Ward describes the 209,000-square-foot warehouse as a "very old environment. [It was] a typical Midwest warehouse: hot and dusty, and not lit well." The combination of the relentlessly high humidity of Illinois summers and the heat emitted by the packaging equipment was problematic. For one thing, it made the temperature in that part of the warehouse uncomfortable for employees. For another, the heat sometimes disrupted the functioning of the computers that control the equipment.

M. Block's packaging process was also challenged by problems that are common in warehouse environments, like dust and other contaminants that threatened the cleanliness of the area. Cleanliness is crucial to the handling of food products and so needed to be maintained consistently.

Along with M. Block's need for a cleaner and better temperature-controlled environment, the company also needed to prepare for expected business expansion. There was a clear need for a remodel at the site. But, Ward explains, M. Block was hesitant about making permanent changes to this specific part of the warehouse that might make future alterations expensive and difficult.

The Solution: After evaluating possible remodeling options, such as hard wall, drywall, and lumber, M. Block decided that a modular wall system would be the most cost-effective and efficient. The solution was InsulWall from Randall Manufacturing.

InsulWall is an insulated curtain-wall system. It is installed in panels that are customized to fit the space. They are constructed with a vinyl exterior, which is easy to keep clean. The panels are connected with Velcro, sealing the space between them to create a tight, insulated barrier. They can be customized to fit around doors and cutouts as well as any other protrusion into the space.

According to Randall Manufacturing, the InsulWall system installed quickly. It was hung from the ceiling joists and worked around ventilation systems. The panels easily framed out a series of roll-up doors. Within two weeks, the renovated warehouse space was operational, with relatively little interruption to business.

Installing InsulWall in the Keurig part of the warehouse gave the space new utility. The new clean room occupies 20,000 of the total 209,000 square feet. The InsulWall system turned the dusty, hot, and humid space into a clean and cool environment.

The temperature of the space changed dramatically after the installation. According to Ward, "It can be a balmy 95 degrees outside and 80 degrees in the warehouse. With InsulWall and the new HVAC system, the clean room is kept at a constant 73 degrees." This improvement has resulted in a more comfortable working environment for employees, and there is less concern about the temperature of the machinery.

On top of that, the curtain-wall system has made cleaning a simple matter. According to Ward, cleaning the InsulWall itself is easy and takes very little time. "We [recently] went through a whole cleaning process; we just had to use a dust mop to wipe down the panels," he says.

Noise control was another employee-pleasing benefit of the new wall system. "We didn't realize it would actually absorb sound, [and] we now have a quieter environment," Ward reports.

The transformation of the Keurig packaging space was part of a $4 million remodel of the entire warehouse that will improve the current space and allow for expansion. A movable soft-wall solution "made perfect sense" in light of the company's plans to add more machines to the packaging area, Ward says. M. Block & Sons is so satisfied with the new setup that it plans to use more InsulWall to expand the clean room as its business grows.

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