Ensuring food quality and safety often means altering the physical space in plant or warehouse facilities, especially when temperature and humidity control are at stake. It’s an unfortunate prospect for many because, traditionally, this involves costly and time-consuming construction projects involving solid insulated walls or rigid panelized structures. But it’s time to move beyond traditional thinking and try fabric walls. And with good reason: Fabric walls save money and allow users to quickly get a handle on climate control issues that threaten food quality and safety.
Explore this issueApril/May 2009
Sometimes called “curtain walls” or “soft walls,” fabric wall systems are similar to solid walls in that they define and protect an area. As the name implies, however, fabric walls are very different from traditional solid walls or rigid panelized systems because they’re not permanent structures. They can be quickly and easily installed, dismantled, and re-installed, giving them a high degree of flexibility.
A fabric wall can be used in place of a conventional wall in virtually any non-load-bearing application. But fabric walls can do things traditional walls can’t. For example, the walls can be installed as stationary systems or sliding units. Stationary walls can be affixed to existing building structures like ceiling joists, or custom metal frameworks can be constructed. Sliding walls operate on a track and trolley system. The fabrics used to form the actual walls differ in materials and properties, allowing them to be precisely matched to the application. The operating environment and a host of site-specific factors dictate the type of fabric wall and the configuration best suited for a given situation.
The Basics and More
In the world of food quality and safety, fabric walls are ideal for temperature separation and humidity control, yet they’re equally well suited to address a number of other industry issues. Three basic types of fabric walls used to support food quality and safety initiatives include insulated walls, non-insulated units, and washdown curtains. The walls can be used either separately or together as a cohesive system.
Insulated fabric walls are designed for temperature separation. A variety of insulated fabric walls, each with specific insulating properties, are available to match the level of temperature separation needed. Technically advanced systems offer temperature separation up to 40°F (22°C). For example, items can be stored at 45°F on one side of the wall with ambient 85°F on the other; frozen products can be kept at -12°F on one side, while it is 28°F on the other side. The ability to achieve separation up to 40°F is a recent innovation that sets a new standard in fabric wall capabilities.
Non-insulated walls are used in situations that don’t call for temperature separation or heat containment. They’re typically used to separate the interiors of large processing operations and warehouses into smaller, separate zones and are ideal for addressing issues related to odor and contaminants.
On processing lines, washdown curtains isolate production lines during washdown procedures. The curtain itself is typically constructed with vinyl material in compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements. The vinyl material withstands harsh washdown detergents and chemicals. The wall systems use stainless steel tracks and trolley systems to slide the curtain in and out of position.
Aside from the types of fabric walls available, there are virtually no limits on how these systems can be configured. It’s just a matter of deciding the most appropriate design as well as where the walls will provide the most value.
Optimal Climate Control
Whether it’s a processing operation, cooler or freezer environment, or dry warehouse, the bottom line with flexible fabric walls is optimal climate control. The value of this feature cannot be overstated given the importance of closely regulating temperature and humidity levels in virtually any industrial food operation.