No processor ever plans to run out of floor space. More often, space problems are the sign of a growing business. The addition of even a few primary processing machines, together with needed auxiliary equipment, material handling and feeding, robots, and perhaps some value-added assembly or packing operations can consume floor space quickly.
Before you look to expand floor space outward by expanding the footprint of your building, look upward to see if your building can accommodate a mezzanine space.
If your building offers at least 20 feet of internal clear height, adding a mezzanine may be the best way to get the additional equipment and operating space you need. Compared to the cost of expanding the footprint of a building through new ground-up construction, mezzanines offer ready-to use square footage at a fraction of the cost.
Mezzanine Considerations for Auxiliary Equipment
It won’t take an expert long to determine whether your plant can accommodate a mezzanine – or to consider whether an existing mezzanine space can be used or expanded to meet your needs. Here are some of the basic requirements and considerations:
- Can the proposed/existing mezzanine space offer the square footage needed to remove some auxiliary equipment and material storage and handling operations from the main floor? Can it do so while providing for safe access, required clearances for both equipment and building/structural elements, and efficient operations?
- Can the proposed/existing mezzanine offer the height and cubic space required to meet business needs?
Normally, mezzanines require a minimum of 7 ft of clear height, enough for a typical person to walk upright without being impeded by ceiling or roof structures, overhead ducts/air-handling equipment, or suspended lighting. Additional clear height may be desirable based on the access requirements for certain types of equipment (e.g. drying hoppers, feeding/blending operations, etc.) to be placed on the mezzanine.
- Will the load-bearing capacity of the existing or proposed mezzanine space be adequate to meet business needs?
Typical engineered mezzanines support loads of 125 lb/ft2, a figure that allows for considerable flexibility in terms of material storage, resin distribution, primary or secondary drying operations, feeding, blending, and the like. However, some light-capacity mezzanine structures, such as those built to accommodate offices, have considerably lower weight capacities, sometimes 60 lb/ft2 or less. These structures may be usable, but will require much more care in terms of equipment positioning and structural loading. And, should changes become necessary, you’ll have reduced flexibility for adjusting equipment mix and structural loading later on.
- Are there additional building or seismic requirements for mezzanine construction or loading?
If you’re in an active seismic zone, you’ll need to factor that in. Also, your existing main floors will need to have adequate weight-carrying capacity for a planned mezzanine and equipment. Larger base plates might help to distribute the bearing loads at the support legs if the floor is not sufficient to handle the loads.
A Mezzanine is Feasible…Now What?
If, after an initial consideration and structural assessment, your facility can accommodate a mezzanine, the cost side of the equation (compared to new construction) is likely to look good. But before you go any further, consider carefully just how you’re going to use that mezzanine—exactly where each piece of equipment, each Gaylord, and every electrical panel, railing, or safety device is going to go.
To do that, consult your auxiliary equipment supplier, who can help you consider options for equipment placement, then provide detailed plans for every inch of mezzanine space and equipment based on experience.
Potential Mezzanine Problems to Consider
Be sure that your mezzanine has – or can accommodate – everything you require before you decide to go ahead.
A mezzanine with a 125 lb/ft2capacity can accommodate a relatively wide range of materials and auxiliary equipment, so overall weight generally isn’t a problem. But here are some issues that can be problematic:
- Beam placement, spacing, and sizes. It is common to plan mezzanines that span overhead space between vertical roof-support beams. The horizontal measurements between these beams will provide a rough idea of square footage, but not all of that footage will be usable. Beams may vary in size as height increases, since some widen at the top to support extended roof spans. Or, the proposed mezzanine area may contain other vertical structures, such as air ducts, pipes or conduits, or conveying lines. Whatever the case, mezzanine equipment placement must provide adequate clearances for control, maintenance, and service in all dimensions to be successful. Check carefully—measure and consider the space from all angles.
- Height—Above and Below. While 7 ft of “clear” height is essential above a mezzanine installation, the vertical height of stored material and installed equipment can add up quickly, so the more clear height above the mezzanine, the better. It’s also important to determine whether there’s any change in roof height over the length of the planned mezzanine. Should roof clearances vary, it may be necessary to place the tall equipment in one area of the mezzanine, or in the open areas between roof trusses, provided these spaces aren’t already occupied by ventilation equipment, ducts, lighting or sprinkler lines.Height below the mezzanine is also essential to accommodate production operations on the main floor. Although you may not need additional height for infeed equipment, magnets, or equipment-mounted robots today, you may well wish that you had allowed vertical space for them in the future.
- Steps vs Ladders. There are two options for reaching a mezzanine level—steps and ladders. Whatever you choose, consider efficiency and convenience. Steps occupy more floor and mezzanine space than ladders, but are easy to navigate, even for multiple people, and keep the hands free for holding tools, paperwork, or electronic devices. Ladders can save space, but they make it difficult to carry tools or other items up and can only accommodate one person at a time. Savings in floor space may be consumed by the need for additional safety devices, such as swing gates, to reduce the risk of falling.
- Ease of Controlling Equipment. No matter how well “placed” a mezzanine might be, climbing up to work on mezzanine-level material and equipment takes a bit of time and effort. So, to reduce the need for repeat trips up and down to adjust systems or equipment, it is always wise to place a “remote” control or interface for key plant systems, such as your material conveying system, on the mezzanine level.
What processing equipment goes where?
Processors often use mezzanines to get bulky material storage, drying, blending, and feeding operations off the main floor, so overhead equipment may include everything from hoppers and bins to drying systems, multi-hopper drying carts, resin selection systems, and conveying lines, loaders, receivers, or pumps.
They tend to keep primary production machines, temperature control units, and certain large or frequently accessed items, such as dust collectors and Gaylords, on the main floor.
But these are only generalities—you can place anything on a mezzanine provided that it offers the required space and weight capacity.
Lean on Your Supplier for Help
We hope the above basic considerations help you in deciding if a mezzanine that adds production space at your facility is the right solution for you. And, although the basics of mezzanine technology haven’t changed much in the past 20 or 30 years, auxiliary equipment design, technology, and control have changed greatly.
So, it’s important to consult closely with your mezzanine and auxiliary equipment suppliers, especially as you consider mezzanine construction and equipment relocation and layout to mezzanine spaces. Of course, Conair employee experts are always on hand and can make that process easy.