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Executives at Champion Petfoods, LP, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, did just that relative to their first U.S. facility, called DogStar Kitchens, in Auburn, Ky., which became operational Jan. 4, 2016. DogStar produces 220 million pounds annually of freeze-dried and kibble pet food under its Acana and Orijen brands.
Champion employed Gray Construction, Lexington, Ky., an integrated design-build firm, which provided engineering, architectural design, and construction for the project, a 371,000-square-foot state-of-the-art masterpiece on 85 acres of farm land.
While Gray Construction has been providing design-build and construction management services for the U.S. food and beverage market for nearly 60 years, DogStar Kitchens was its first pet food facility project, according to Stephen Gray, the firm’s president and CEO.
It was Gray Construction’s use of virtual reality (VR) that allowed Champion to “step into their facility” before it was finished. VR is a computer technology using head-mounted goggles with a screen in front of the eyes that generates realistic images to simulate one’s physical presence in a virtual environment. The Gray Construction design group utilizes Oculus VR goggles, Gray notes.
“Providing a fully immersive experience, the quality and accuracy of the virtual environment gave Champion an unprecedented understanding of what their kitchens would look and ‘feel’
like, even in the earliest phases of design,” Gray says. “VR is really an extension of building information modeling (BIM) to show customers how their facilities will function.”
According to the U.S. National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee, BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility, forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle, from earliest conception to demolition.
“By creating a VR walk-through of the proposed facility in the early stages of a project, manufacturers can engage with equipment suppliers and vendors, which allows them to better plan how operations will be conducted in the facility,” Gray elaborates. “VR also enables processors to prepare for food audits well in advance of the first one ever occurring, thus ensuring the highest level of food safety. By enabling the manufacturer to experience engineering functions firsthand in the design process, VR prompts a conversation between the manufacturer and engineer that previously didn’t exist.”
“The VR technology helped us visualize the layouts and the movement throughout the Kentucky kitchen so that adjustments could be made to accommodate people and product process flows,” says Frank Burdzy, Champion’s president and CEO. “It was also a powerful tool to engage our customers in envisioning our commitment to food safety and excellence in food making.”
“While still a relatively new technology, the visual enhancement to BIM that VR provides could become increasingly valuable in the food processing industry given the growing complexity of projects,” Gray adds.
For a tangible portrayal of DogStar Kitchens, Gray Construction also provided Champion with a 3-D print of the entire kitchen after the design phase. “This 3-D print served as a diagrammatic model to highlight the key architectural features and show the process flow from material storage to mixing, baking, coating, and then distribution,” Gray notes.
Built on Standards
Burdzy is quick to point out that DogStar Kitchens was designed and built to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act and to operate beyond the human food safety standards, and therefore beyond the European Pet Food Industry Federation standards. “We use the highest level of food safety practices in our kitchens, including zone controls to separate our fresh and cooked ingredients,” he relates. “Our vision to be trusted by pet lovers everywhere and to provide our pets with biologically appropriate food as Mother Nature intended drives our commitment to continually improve our systems and to go above and beyond the required international standards.” (Dog and cat foods high in animal proteins and fats and low in carbohydrates are referred to as biologically appropriate.)