Flexibility, Whiteboarding & Safety First at a Minnesota Project

When Perham, MN-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Inc., wanted to expand its business with a new pet treat facility, it looked towards Interstates with its national pet care experience for their design-build electrical engineering and electrical construction. Having worked with Tuffy’s previously on its Perham processing plant, Interstates leveraged their vendor contacts and staff located in Brainerd, MN for the seamless execution in building the new process facility located in Delano, MN.

Though Interstates worked under Kansas City-based CRB, the project’s general contractor, its history with Tuffy’s was useful. “Having an established relationship with Tuffy’s and the crews from Perham helped make installs go smoothly. When our workers in the field know everyone well, it’s easy to ask questions and get the straightforward answers you need,” says Jordan Thomas, Project Manager at Interstates. Understanding the client’s processes and having established trust only benefited the project. “Tuffy’s knows we have seen these systems before. They know we are knowledgeable and can create the same results as before,” adds Drew Anderson, Project Coordinator at Interstates.

The schedule was already tight when the COVID-19 pandemic became increasingly severe. “We spent a lot of time developing and implementing our COVID-19 plan, which took away from time that could be spent working,” says Anderson. The health and safety of its workers have always been paramount for Interstates, and this was a time to prove it.

Gary Funke, CRB’s Senior Project Director, says, “Interstates has a similar safety culture to CRB’s, which resulted in zero incidences – even though they had the most personnel on site and had the most effort hours expended. When COVID-19 peaked the first time, Interstates implemented a 100% mask policy while on site, which remains today.”

At the start of the project, wet weather delayed work on the foundations; this, coupled with the site being shut down for a few weeks for COVID-19 precautions, compressed the schedule further. To get all the work done in a reduced timeframe, Interstates used its resources to pull together “quite the mix of subcontractors,” according to Anderson. Getting everyone on the same page concerning safety and production was challenging at times.

Interstates solved this problem with extra planning and communication, utilizing extensive whiteboarding techniques to ensure each site leader’s effective time management. “We made it habit to have site leaders go over what they did each day and what their plan was for the next day, week or three weeks. This instills a firm sense of the plan and makes them more confident about how that plan will come to life,” says Anderson. He adds that whiteboarding also makes obvious any issues or dilemmas that need to be addressed, especially when changes are made.

Tom Rychlewski, Design Project Manager at CRB, says, “The Interstates team adapted well to the changes that were occurring on the project, and they were able to accommodate most changes without change orders. The project overall benefited from their design and construction input on costs and helped drive us to a more efficient, cost-effective design.”

Prefabricating cable tray, rollout lighting and various brackets saved time in the field, and Interstates’ procurement team was essential for battling long lead times for equipment. Interstates adapted work out of sequence and even provided temporary measures to ensure the plant could be operational on time.

Lance Thayer was Interstates’ Superintendent on this project, and his skills directly impacted its success. “He put together end-of-shift meetings that turned out to be crucial in getting everyone on the same page,” says Anderson. A combination of subcontractors, temp labor employees, and Interstates regional and national travelers – at one point over 70 workers – needed to understand the way forward. “Lance had a plan in place that helped us cross the finish line and get production rolling,” says Thomas, “and he kept all levels organized and marching to the same beat.”

The flexibility and creativity in scheduling and communication demonstrated by Thayer and the Interstates crew as a whole led to a satisfied client and an operational facility. Mark Sailer, Director of Engineering at Tuffy’s, says, “Overall, the project was very successful, especially taking into account the complexity of custom process equipment controls on top of a state-of-the-art building infrastructure. The many things that went well were due to the people involved. A special thanks to the Interstates team for its continued communication and customer support.”