If the design phase of the MRF is not handled properly, you may encounter many difficulties during permitting, construction, and operations, which can lead to years of escalated operations costs and loss of revenue. Make sure you ask the right questions.
By Jeff Eriks and Evan Williams

The most critical time in the lifespan of a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) is during the design phase when incorporating the equipment into the building plan and designing the site for proper access around the facility. If this stage of the project is not handled properly, you may encounter many difficulties during permitting, construction, and operations, which can lead to years of escalated operations costs and loss of revenue. In this article, we will touch on some of the most common challenges we run into when hired to build a MRF designed by a firm that may have the experience to ask the right questions.

When working on an existing recycling facility, there must be a heightened awareness of existing utilities when cutting through slabs. Just because you have existing building drawings, do not assume that they are correct. Discovering this issue during construction results in re-design, demolition, schedule delays, removal, and replacements of slab areas. This is costly from a time and money perspective

Structural Engineering and Coordination
Recycling equipment has very specific requirements when it comes to foundations, pits, thickened slabs, embed placement, and other structural requirements. During the process of putting the equipment out for bid, award of contract, and then working through the final design, these items all go through a myriad of changes. Each change affects the final building design for the project and, therefore, affects construction as well. Even in final design, pits and foundations may shift a couple inches, which could lead to huge problems in the field as the equipment may not fit if the pit is wrong and those take time and money to rip out and replace. You must be sure to have the design team and the equipment supplier do a final plan review to overlay the equipment and foundations to ensure they are in alignment before allowing the construction team to start the work in those areas.

If you are working in an existing building, it is important to do a proper and detailed structural analysis of the existing slab, sub-grade, building frame, electrical service, fire sprinkler capacity, and other features onsite. Just because you have existing building drawings, do not assume that they are correct. We have seen scenarios where the slab was shown as 8” or 10”, but when we cut into it, we find 4” to 6”. The previous contractor either cut corners or the owner decided to VE concrete out of the project to save money. Finding out something like this during construction results in redesign, demolition, schedule delays, removal, and replacement of slab areas if the equipment needs something more than what is there. This is costly from a time and money perspective.

It is essential to order critical path equipment early, and plan to store them onsite if needed.

Power Requirements
The next big item is related to the electrical service requirements for the system and the “drops” or power connection locations. In the current market, electrical gear is one of the longest lead time items. We are routinely hearing and seeing 35 to 60 weeks lead time from date of submittal approval (which is often three to four weeks after the order is placed) for delivery and then we have to install, connect, and test the equipment, which is another couple of weeks. If you cannot get the power requirements for the system dialed in early, you are at risk of serious delays for your project. The other piece to this is the electrical drops or connection points. These can be overhead or under slab and vary based on equipment type, manufacturer, and other factors. You want to get these locations into your electrical drawings early enough so you can get accurate pricing from subcontractors because running dozens of feeders to locations is not cheap and getting them in the wrong location or the wrong type of feeder is costly and time consuming. Pay attention to the elevation(s) of the power feeds as well. Many times, the electrician will assume all panels are at floor level and price accordingly, but many MCC and other equipment connections are on raised platforms or other non-typical location. Coordination with your electrical engineer, architect, structural engineer, and equipment supplier is paramount in having a successful project. I mention structural engineering because you need to make sure that your building is designed to carry the weight of these electrical feeds if they are run overhead. If not, you may be required to add additional structure to your building, which again, can lead to additional costs.

Building Shell
The building structure itself is a key component to having an efficient, durable, and safely operating MRF. Much like the electrical gear, if you are going ground-up and ordering a pre-engineered metal building (PEMB), precast, or tilt-up building, then the lead time must be factored into the project early. Including the RFP process with your suppliers, from date of RFP to delivery onsite, is likely in the seven-to-10-month range. If you do not order the building early in the design process, you may be waiting for the building during construction, which will delay your opening. Along with that, the PEMB supplier must provide structural reactions and anchor bolt layouts that need to be incorporated into the “for construction” set of drawings for the project. In addition, they need to supply engineered drawings for permitting in the local jurisdiction. From the date of order to when these are ready is usually in the two-to-four-month range, depending on the complexity of the project. Once the structural engineer receives these drawings and reactions, they need two to three weeks to incorporate them into the project design. If the PEMB is not ordered until after the “bid and award” it may delay the start of the project several months as you wait for all the required designs and incorporation as well as permit review comments. Oftentimes, we will order the PEMB after completion of our 30 percent drawings so we can time the completion of the design phase with the receipt of the drawings from the manufacturer, so they can all be incorporated early and then we can set a delivery date of the building right when it is needed during the construction phase, if not a little earlier. We would rather store a building than stop construction and wait for it to show up.

If you are working within an existing building, you want to get the building completely modeled by a 3D program such as Revit or Navisworks. This model will help the design team and the equipment supplier better work within the spaces, identify structural conflicts, and work around columns, door locations, and other items that could be in the way. These models are much better than “field documenting” because they give you a fully detailed and accurate model showing current lights, sprinklers, columns, beams, openings, and many other features that are often missed during a standard field documentation process.


Plan for ample space when sizing your building to ensure sufficient vertical clearance above the equipment and horizontal space for maintenance access.
Photos courtesy of Cambridge Companies.

Under Equipment Fire Sprinkler and Electrical
Under equipment coverage is different everywhere you go, but critical to the opening of the facility and safe and effective operations. Almost every project designed by a firm that does not know recycling equipment fails to account for the fact that you must have sprinkler coverage under the equipment itself. If it is not shown on the drawings and you go out to bid, your bidders will not include it in their price proposal, leaving you with a risk item and scope gap that needs to be addressed later. Adding all the sprinkler heads under equipment is not cheap and could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars if not properly planned for. A similar item is under equipment lighting and convenience outlets. These are often needed in areas for employee access, equipment traffic, maintenance areas for equipment, and others as required by each owner’s standard operation policy. Understanding these and making sure they are incorporated into the design before construction will lead to better pricing, better sequencing, and better operations down the road.

Equipment Maintenance
As an owner, you need to analyze your equipment maintenance plan and work with the equipment supplier to clearly write down that plan and work on foot paths, access locations, equipment access points, areas needed for overhead access, safe walking paths, and under equipment access. Once that plan is identified, you need to work with the design team to ensure you have safe and proper access to each of those areas of the building and sometimes it requires you to add overhead doors or man doors to access those areas as well. Depending on the system and its components, an overhead crane or structural anchor points overhead to pull motors and other equipment out for servicing may be a worthwhile consideration. Incorporating these into the design before bidding will help you avoid changes to the building structure or equipment down the road. This also helps ensure safe operations because you are not requiring employees to climb up, through or over equipment to do their maintenance if this is all planned out properly.
Here is a list of some additional areas to watch out for when designing a MRF:
1. Site access, queuing, parking, and drives
2. Traffic patterns on the aprons at the tipping doors
3. How to handle residual materials
4. Bale storage requirements and quantity of dock doors
5. Tipping floor size, quantity of doors, and storage space
6. Safe access walkways from the equipment to employee break areas and bathrooms
7. Trailer parking and storage areas onsite
8. Access for fire department and other emergency vehicles

Streamlining Your Project
While we have identified five important considerations to include in the design phase, and eight additional, there are many other issues that can arise during construction when the facility is designed by a company that does not understand the equipment, the process or the operations of a MRF. Having an experienced design firm or design/build firm can help you through this process and ensure a better project in the short and long term because they can apply lessons learned from previous projects to help streamline yours as well as make it most cost-effective to build and operate. As you go through the process of selecting the right partners, get with your equipment suppliers and ask them if they have any recommendations of companies they have worked with before that they liked or did not like. They can provide a lot of helpful feedback and recommendations to you as you go through the project design and construction. | WA

Jeff Eriks is President at Cambridge Companies. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Evan Williams is a Design Project Manager at Cambridge Companies. He can be reached at [email protected].
Cambridge Companies, Inc is a design-build firm, working with the environmental, waste and trucking industries for more than 30 years. During this time, more than 200 solid waste design-build projects have been completed for transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, hauling companies, maintenance facilities, landfill support facilities, office buildings, and more. Cambridge Companies continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes, or improvements that will benefit their clients and improve their design-build solutions. For more information, visit www.CambridgeCoInc.com.