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Back to Basics: Know Your Drains

Understanding specific drain needs in a processing plant can save money, labor, and help futureproof a facility for advanced technology.

Viking Kristjansson FoodSafe Drains Pack Expo Las Vegas
“If you don’t think about drains when designing facilities, you could later be dealing with failed audits, plant shutdowns, and possibly people getting hurt,” says Viking Kristjansson from FoodSafe Drains.
Michael Costa

It’s easy to overlook the importance of properly functioning facility drains. After all, they’re in the floor, walked over daily, and not at eye level where most manufacturing work takes place. However, if drains back up or break they’ll command everyone’s attention, stopping production and costing thousands of dollars to repair or replace. 

At the recent PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Viking Kristjansson, vice president of sales at FoodSafe Drains, offered advice for matching the right drain to specific processing and cleaning operations, and also detailed how robots and UV cleaning will impact drains in the future.

“If you don’t think about drains when designing facilities, you could later be dealing with failed audits, plant shutdowns, and possibly people getting hurt,” Kristjansson says. “You need to look at which drains fit the right spaces when designing a facility, and not just put area drains everywhere, for example, because they’re easy to specify on CAD and Revit files. A well-placed drain is easily cleanable, won’t fall apart, and people can’t tamper with it.”

Speaking of people, Kristjansson says poor employee training and oversight regarding drains can pose a consistent risk to an operation.

“Does anyone have staff that puts things down the drain that they shouldn’t, like whole chickens, glasses, shoes, shirts, and underwear? I’ve seen it all, and I’m sure you have too,” says Kristjansson. “At a recent presentation, we asked attendees what their biggest issue was, and they said [employees] are the biggest issue. It’s people going to work every day and not doing what they’re supposed to do [around drains].

Drain definitions

Kristjansson says there are three main types of drains used in food processing facilities: trench, slotted, and area drains. Trench drains are true to their name as long, linear channels with a heavy grate cover, and are the widest of the three. Slotted drains are also linear but slimmer than trench drains and don’t require a grate, so they’re easier to clean and have less surface to potentially harbor bacteria. Area drains are smaller square or circular drains that require floor slopes—usually 1% to 2% graded—surrounding the drain to guide liquids into the pipes. 

“Area drains work really well in smaller rooms,” Kristjansson says. “You can put them all over your plant if you like, but that can create a different set of problems. They require a complex underground infrastructure and floor slopes on the surface.Dirty Drains Quote FoodSafe DrainsWhole chickens, glasses, shoes, and underwear are just some of the items Viking Kristjansson at FoodSafe Drains has seen in food facility drains while visiting clients.Michael Costa

“Slot drains are ideal for high traffic and stand up to a lot of cleaning, and can be cleaned all day, safely,” he continues. “Trench drains are great if you want to collect solids, like feathers or debris from animals, or if you’re dumping kettles. You don’t want to dump a kettle into an area or slot drain because it will splash. Understanding where to use a trench drain is important. You have to look at the whole facility and understand what works best, and why it works in certain places.”

Kristjansson adds that no matter which drain is chosen, sanitation should be a top priority, even if the upfront costs are higher for materials like stainless steel. “It has to be a food-safe design, and cleaned easily, quickly, effectively, and safely,” he says. “Many plants have a cleaning crew that come in the evening, and they used to get eight hours, then they got six hours, and now they get two hours to do their job. The faster you can clean drains effectively, the better it is for your company.”

Drains for processing

The evolution of facility drains, according to Kristjansson, starts with concrete drains. “In the early days, concrete trench drains were all we saw. Then it became modular trench drains. Then, the industry looked for an alternative to trench drains because they can be difficult to clean properly. So, the focus was putting area drains everywhere, which created a whole other set of issues with complex floor slopes and underground connections. Instead of one or two trench drains in a facility, now you’ve got 20 area drains with 20 underground connections, and 20 P-traps that can be a nightmare to maintain,” he says.

   Watch Viking Kristjansson detail the future of facility drains in this video from PACK EXPO Las Vegas.

Kristjansson relayed a story about a client who was a CPG waffle maker in a new facility that had several area drains and an uneven surface due to multiple floor slopes throughout the production room. “Everything there had area drains and complex floor slopes. So when they tried to install their waffle maker, it didn’t fit,” explains Kristjansson. “None of the legs [on the machine] could fit evenly on the floor, so they spent a lot of time adjusting the legs for different heights to accommodate the slopes. When they finally got the machine installed and working, employees had to roll totes of waffle batter up to the machine. Staff went up and down slopes with these totes, waffle batter was spilling everywhere, and people were slipping and falling in waffle batter, so it was a safety problem as well.”

Kristjansson says one solution where there are too many area drains is to install slotted drains because they require fewer floor slopes and are easier to clean than trench drains. He adds that it doesn’t mean putting slot drains everywhere, it means every room should be assessed before installing a specific type of drain to handle the type of work done in those rooms.

Load ratings

Another potentially overlooked element regarding drains is the load rating for weight, especially in rooms with consistent forklift and heavy foot traffic. “If a drain can’t handle the load ratings, the drains will flex and pull away from the concrete and your floor, and you’ll have a much bigger problem than if it was designed effectively in the first place,” Kristjansson explains. Drains that have pulled away from floors also have more cracks and spaces for bacteria to harbor and grow.

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“Beyond that,” says Kristjansson, “stainless steel has a nanoscale oxygen layer on it that prevents anything from sticking to it. So, when a floor coating is put on, it adheres to the concrete but it doesn’t adhere to the stainless [drains]. If that nanoscale oxygen layer isn’t removed beforehand, it’s never going to stick, and that becomes a big issue for floor coatings.”

Floors of the future

Looking ahead, Kristjansson is forecasting two areas—mobile robotics and advanced sanitation—that will have a direct impact on facility drains in the future.

“We’re working with a plant that is all robots,” Kristjansson says. “For some reason the robots they’re using can’t drive over any floor that has more than a 1% slope. You’re probably not going to find a concrete professional that can pour a 1% slope accurately across an entire floor every time, and your minimum floor slope should really be 2%. We’re working with a company right now that might have to do flat floors everywhere except around their slotted drains because of their robots in house. So keep this in mind if you’re counting on robots in your facility.”

FoodSafe Drains Future ForecastThe future of floor drains will require floor slopes that can accommodate mobile robots, and UV cleaning as a finishing touch to neutralize bacteria in and around drains.Michael Costa

Advanced sanitation is another area evolving for drains, and Kristjansson says it’s the result of companies taking extra precautions to eliminate bacteria in and around drains that a standard cleaning process might miss.

“UV cleaning [for drains] is a new technology and there are several companies working on this,” says Kristjansson. “This doesn’t mean an employee walks through with a UV light and waves it over the chicken bones on the drains, but it’s the last step taken after a thorough cleaning process. So, after you clear and clean your drains, you can use UV light to make sure you neutralize any bacteria that’s left.”

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