Protein Plant Built On Fast Track

Story by Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

Consolidated Construction Co., Inc., Appleton, WI, was the general contractor overseeing construction of the country's first plant that can process many types of whey into concentrated protein for use in specialty products like animal food, pill and candy coatings, nutrition bars, protein shakes, and infant formula.

The new plant sits in the south-central Wisconsin city of Reedsburg and is owned by Wisconsin Specialty Protein (WiSP), which will seek LEED Silver certification under the United States Green Building Council's Green Building Rating System.

It is the first — and so far, only — facility in the United States set up to process the different kinds of whey (a protein-rich liquid left over from cheese making) that come from making cheese with cow, sheep and goat milk.

The other processing plants in the country have each been constructed to handle a single kind of whey. The WiSP plant can handle all three.

When fully operational, the plant will be able to take in 25 tanker loads (about 1.5 million pounds) of whey per day.

The plant filters out the protein, cleans it with water, concentrates it, dries it to powder, and bags it for sale to companies that make products ranging from pill coatings to diet supplements and infant formula.

It can produce about 30,000 pounds of finished protein per hour.

"Green" Features Abound

A few of the green features designed into the new plant include:

  • Flue gas captured from the boiler preheats the spray-dryer air, saving about 40 percent in natural gas use.
  • The site has vegetated open spaces and preserves DNR wetlands on and next to the site.
  • Reflective roof material reduces the need for cooling, saving energy cost.
  • Recycled flyash was used in all concrete and pre-cast materials.
  • Recycling and re-using production water cuts consumption by 50 percent.
  • Efficient plumbing fixtures reduce water use by 20 percent.
  • Use of daylight in offices and production areas reduces energy consumption.

Aggressive Schedule Presents Challenges

WiSP management selected Consolidated Construction as the project's designer/builder and McMahon Group, Neenah, WI, as its architect/engineer because both companies understand the importance that WiSP places on ecological sustainability and because they could meet the aggressive seven-month construction schedule.

Consolidated Construction's Senior Superintendent John Meulemans noted, "This type of project would normally take well over a year to complete. We did it in a little more than half that time."

Site prep started in July 2008, the building was enclosed by the end of October, and the plant was operational by early March 2009.

Building Blends Three Structural Systems

The plant covers just over 21,000 square feet, including laboratory, process areas, a warehouse, and offices.

It is equipped with 19 miles of stainless-steel pipe, a variety of processing and packaging equipment, six 30,000-gallon whey-storage silos, and one 40,000-gallon waste-storage silo.

To make the building as cost-effective as possible, its designers matched the structure of each major area to the work performed there.

To meet the stringent cleanliness standards of the U.S. and Wisconsin departments of agriculture, the plant's processing area is constructed of cement-block walls and a membrane-covered precast concrete roof. The interiors of these areas are finished with durable epoxy paint to permit easy cleaning.

The drying and bagging area is constructed of welded-steel framing that has the strength to support 30- and 40-foot dry-product hoppers, pumps, filter units, and other heavy equipment. That section of the building is enclosed with insulated metal panels.

The office area is constructed of lighter pre-engineered steel.

Says Meulemans, "Matching the various types of structure to the needs of each area helped the owner to get the best combination of performance and cost. Aesthetically, they all blend well, too."

Coordination And Timing Vital

To meet the fast-track schedule, many of the project's 17 subcontractors worked simultaneously, particularly during the latter stages.

Plumbers, pipefitters, painters, electricians, machinery installers, and HVAC contractors often worked near each other in a well-orchestrated sequence that required careful coordination and scheduling by Consolidated Construction.

Says Meulemans, "Many days, 38 tradespeople using 22 scissor lifts worked at the same time in about 18,000 square feet of the building. One of our jobs as general contractor was making sure the subcontractors stayed coordinated so the project kept on pace. Everyone worked together well, so the project ran pretty smoothly."

Safety Success Important

In spite of the fast pace and close quarters, the project maintained a spotless safety record and finished without a single major injury.

That's due largely to Consolidated Construction's emphasis on safety.

Meulemans, who also is Consolidated's safety manager, says that each of the company's projects is required to have a site-specific safety plan that identifies risks and how to minimize or remove them.

Silo Installation Impressive

One of the more impressive segments of construction was installation of the six 42-foot-tall whey-storage silos and one 57-foot-tall waste-storage silo that stand side-by-side and tower over the south end of the plant.

All measure 12 feet in diameter and are made of stainless steel. The six whey-storage silos each weigh 22,500 pounds. The lone waste silo weights 30,400 pounds.

Fabricated in Elroy, WI, the silos were trucked to the project site, where they were uprighted, swung into position, and mounted over anchor bolts by a crew from Allstates Rigging, Manitowoc, WI, and a pair of hydraulic-boom truck cranes from Ideal Crane Rental, Inc., Madison, WI.

The main lifting was done by a 200-ton-capacity Liebherr, while a 75-ton-capacity Terex hydraulic boom crane handled tailing work and a personnel basket.

Summing up the project, Meulemans said, "This has been a great project. To build something that's the first of its kind, and to have the project go so well says a lot about the quality of the subcontractors and everyone's willingness to work as a team. I'm proud to have been part of this."