July 28, 2016 | Steven Kilger
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Opportunity Rises From Tragedy

International Nutrition built itself back up from facility collapse, better than ever

Opportunity Rises From Tragedy

Equipment failure, a single spark or a distracted employee can instantly turn a normal working day into an ordeal a company will be recovering from for months to years. No facility can totally prepare for an explosion or collapse. Though steps can be taken to mitigate the chance, it can never be completely eliminated.  

“No company has a contingency plan on the books for a complete collapse of their facility,” said Reid Adkins, general manager of International Nutrition. “People might have protocols for this and that, but ultimately, I don’t think any company … can pull a file out of the filing cabinet and say, ‘Yep, OK, here is what we’re going to do.’”

International Nutrition is a feed premix company founded in Omaha, NE, in 1971 and purchased by its current owner Steve Silver in 1976. During that 40-year history the company has grown to employ around 75 people and produce both medicated and nonmedicated feed premix products for customers around the world.  On Jan. 20, 2014, the company experienced the unthinkable, as the bins on top of the Omaha facility collapsed. The falling bins ripped through the building, injuring nine and killing two.

The steps a company takes after suffering from a catastrophe, from immediate actions to the rebuilding process, determine whether it will be able push through the adversity and move forward. Quick action, solid leadership and one of the most supportive industries in America allowed International Nutrition to rise up and meet the challenge — and come out stronger than before. 

Keeping up supply

After the dust settled from the bin collapse, International Nutrition had to make other arrangements to continue the flow of products to their customers. Tragedy does not bring the feed supply chain to a halt, and International Nutrition had to fill its obligations to their customers.

“Luckily the warehouse holding all the materials we were selling wasn’t impacted by the collapse,” Adkins explained. “Basically, the collapse happened on a Monday, we took the rest of that week to straighten things out, and we were back in operations — selling, running our trucks, doing our business — that next Monday. We were operational in basically a week.”

Transferring manufacturing 

International Nutrition reached out to customers along with others in the industry, including some that could be considered competitors, to meet production order requirements. In some cases, this included finding facilities with specialty equipment in order to comply with special requirements.

“We had some manufacturing customers that were able to come through for us,” Adkins said. “For instance, a customer in Nebraska who is involved in manufacturing food grade premixes helped us with some small volume water soluble products. They were only able to make 500 pounds at a time, but they had stainless steel mixers and the quality assurance processes in place that allowed us to quickly transfer certain business to them.”

It took International Nutrition just 45 days to vet other suppliers and transfer manufacturing to them. This allowed the management to focus on the long process of rebuilding in the heart of one of the Midwest’s biggest cities.

“We have other dimensions, like our distribution business, and were able to bring some limited production back to our own site within six to eight months” Silver explained.  “Our distribution and limited production here in Omaha, plus all the help we got from the industry, got us through those two and a half years.”

Precast pieces

After the initial shock had subsided, and arrangements had been made to outsource production, the long process of rebuilding the site itself began. Once the OSHA investigation was completed, International Nutrition decided to rebuild in Omaha, contracting Younglove Construction, LLC as the builder. 

Adkins explained that once the site was prepared the building construction went smoothly, with sections of the building precast at an off-site location, then brought in and assembled on-site. Using precast concrete removed many of the variables that on-site pours must contend with, including the weather, and allowed crews to quickly assemble the building.   

“The precast pieces were brought in on trucks and attached together like a giant erector set basically,” Adkins said. “Our new equipment arrived pretty much when we expected it. Regulatory and insurance issues were the kinds of things that caused the project to drag on a bit.” 

Regulatory hurdles 

One bit of unexpected collateral damage from having an industrial accident that claimed lives was an increased level of scrutiny on the new project. 

The initial OSHA investigation took six months and nothing could be disposed of until it was completed. Building in a city like Omaha created additional delays as local regulators, most of whom were unfamiliar with the operations of a concentrated premix manufacturing plant, reviewed and approved based as much on fear of dust explosions as any other factor. 

“We knew this had nothing to do with grain dust,” Adkins said. “But the people who were regulating the situation had this in their mind, so we were constantly bombarded with what ifs — ‘What if, what about this, what about that?’ The inspectors here to approve various parts of the building wanted to keep bringing up ‘What about another grain dust explosion?’ I don’t know how many times we corrected people and said, ‘This didn’t happen because of an explosion.’” 

It took an extra month for International Nutrition to get the electrical approved by the city due to concern over sparks, despite the new packaging equipment being wired and cleared for their specific application. 

Silver added, “Even though each component was cleared, [the regulators] wanted to know about the whole system, if that would be cleared, so an independent inspection agency had to certify it and that caused a delay in time and additional costs.”

Though the building went up relatively quickly, regulatory delays pushed the opening of the facility back. When International Nutrition finally opened its cutting edge facility for full production, it had been two and a half years since the collapse.

Up and running  

Unlike large batch feed manufacturers, who often produce a few blends in massive quantities, International Nutrition’s premix facility focuses on smaller batches of custom manufactured products. They produce 400-plus types of premixes, both medicated and nonmedicated, and need the ability to change formulas based on their costumers’ needs. 

Though International Nutrition salvaged what they could from the collapse, they recognized this was an opportunity to improve on what they had been capable of before.  

“We had a chance to build a new premix facility that is — with all the current safety codes, and also the current technology that’s available — as much a food plant as a premix plant,” Adkins said.

One of the key areas International Nutrition focused on was the mixing and bagging operations. There are four bagging lines featuring technology from Premier Tech — each one unique in what it can handle. The same is true of the Scott Equipment Co. mixers.

“It’s not just four mixers and four packaging lines and they’re all the same,” Adkins explained. “Each packaging line is designed and developed so that it is capable of bagging a certain type of product where one of the other lines may not be.”

The complicated ever-changing mixing process is automated by a Beta Raven process control system, which operates the inflow of ingredients from the 19 steel bins.  Each of the four bagging systems has its own computer system controlling it. An operator sets the weight and tare. 

Another key factor in the ability to effectively manufacture so many different blends, and a point of focus during the planning, was the water soluble manufacturing rooms. 

“We have a dedicated HVAC system to control the temperature and humidity in that area,” Adkins said. “We use stainless steel mixing equipment so everything is cleanly washed out. I think it’s probably the finest water soluble manufacturing system in the country.”

That statement is echoed throughout the facility, as everything down to the LED lighting was upgraded to state-of-the-art technology. 

Industry support

At International Nutrition’s open house in June, they unveiled a plaque honoring the two employees who died during the old facility’s collapse, remembering those they had lost even as they looked ahead to a shining future. The process has been hard but throughout it the response from the industry has been identical both in message and deed — continuous support.

Adkins said if a company does experience a tragedy, look to others in the industry for help, guidance and support. Plenty are willing to give it.

“You always hear about ag and people in ag,” Adkins said. “The farmer who gets hurt and their neighbors come out to harvest crops and help out. That idea is true. It is definitely a part of our industry that when people are in need, others come to their aid.”

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