Every day we juggle career obligations, family schedules and other responsibilities in an effort to keep our professional and personal lives humming along at peak efficiency. Juggling schedules is a concept Chad Allen, manager of the Milling and Grain Division for Allen’s Hatchery Inc., and Allen Family Foods, Seaford, DE, understands in spades.
“We had quite a lot to accomplish in a short period of time,” says Allen. “In order to take advantage of certain marketing opportunities, we had to get this facility up and running, and it would require we take an unconventional approach to make it work.”
How unconventional? Well, considering that the project had to be fully operational in less than 18 months, the grain receiving systems would be built before the mill, and actually taking grain in five months. During mill construction, the facility would be located on virgin ground with no access road and, to top it off, the water table on the site was roughly 6 feet below the soil surface; “unconventional” could be one of many words used to describe the project.
Why the rush?
When the management at Allen’s decided to build the new mill, it had done so with an eye toward future growth in supplying high-quality protein products to both domestic and global customers.
When it was founded by Charles and Nellie Allen in 1919 as a hatchery, the Allens probably couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams that their company would grow to become a fully integrated operation with more than 3,000 employees in North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland. Today Allen’s processes more than 2.5 million birds and packing roughly 12 million pounds of product weekly.
To satisfy demand takes a lot of chickens, and a lot of chicken feed. Chad Allen points out that the quality of the feed and feed ingredients has allowed the company to have great success and that commitment to producing a high-quality feed is the linchpin to growth now and in the future.
“We think we have set a high standard for the product we bring to the marketplace, and we are not interested in any shortcut or other practice that would result in any savings at the expense of our feed quality,” Allen states. “Our reputation and growth depends on the quality and we will not compromise that process in any way.”
However, as 2007 loomed, Allen’s made a conscious decision that in order to position itself for a better future and to maintain its competitive edge, it needed to relieve some of the stress on its aging milling operation. The best way to do that was to build a new facility to the same exacting standards it holds for its finished products.
“Our facility was running at six and a half days a week almost constantly, and we discovered that when we shut down to conduct routine maintenance we were losing time, efficiency and productivity,” says Scott Hevner, corporate engineering manager for Allen Family Foods. “In a highly competitive market, the downtime and operational inefficiencies proved unacceptable to the Allens and the decision to build a new facility became an obvious one.”
What was also obvious to Allen, Hevner and the rest of the management team was that in order to take advantage of market conditions and to secure a steady supply of locally produced corn they needed to have the receiving and storage capabilities to have large inventories of grain available when the mill came on line.
As a result, the first in what would prove to be several unconventional and challenging elements of this project would be set, as the first shovel of dirt would be turned in the spring of 2007 and grain receiving would begin later that year in time for the fall harvest. In a sense, the project was to be built in reverse, with the receiving and storage coming before the mill construction.