Flooring is a subject that is often overlooked by the food and beverage industry, however, it is an increasingly important part of safety and overall hygene. In particular polyurethane flooring has become an accepted benchmark for many of the leading players, but awareness of its benefits is still not very widespread.
The technology was conceived by the world's most successful exploiter of polymer technology, ICI chemicals, in excess of twenty years ago. Typically, they tailored and engineered a perfect seamless technology to provide impact, chemical and thermal shock resistant industrial floor coatings that were non-toxic, odourless and rapid to install.
Unlike epoxy systems, the traditional and most common of all flooring materials, this technology was designed to be non-porous and its structure closely matched the same co-efficient of expansion as concrete. This has obvious and unmatched benefits well over and above that of other systems.
While bacteriological issues are of greater concern than ever before, and while porosity or the lack of it is a key feature of this technology, few food safety decision makers, look beyond that which they can see with the naked eye. It is rare, if ever, that the microscopy of cross-sectional samples of pre-existing flooring is analysed to establish the true picture of a floor's potential for harbouring bacteria in minute pores and fissures.
A rudimentary and visual examination of cracks and fissures is generally all that is carried out and the obvious realisation that bacteria are indeed microscopic is strangely ignored.
Initially, at the birth of this technology, it suffered from three fundamental problems. It was more difficult to install by technicians, the skills and controls required even now are far higher than other systems. It was unproven and while all new materials are treated with suspicion in the construction business, a floor which was supposed to guarantee longevity and an escape from the custom and practice of annual repair and unforeseen breakdown was at a great disadvantage when, naturally, no floor existed which had aged sufficiently to reinforce such claims.
Finally, despite the loyalty of an ever-decreasing band of highly professional polyurethane applicators, the average floor contractor had little enthusiasm for a process that inhibited his commercial potential by reducing his opportunity to routinely re-coat his client's premises. However, great strides were and have been made to promote this technology to the leading corporations, architectural bodies and facility designers over the years.
Now, there are few in the top echelon of the food and beverage industry that do not specify polyurethane systems but the progress has been slow and the years have drifted by.
Sadly, the inertia was lost and major investors in the technology saw little purpose in promoting or investing in the marketing of a material which was not only troublesome and still new but harder to sell than easy, over-the-counter, well proven construction commodities.
Now, there is a very different scenario, which enormously benefits a tiny proportion of the most discerning and aware of the food and beverage corporations but inhibits the much larger overall percentage of facility decision makers. The producers of polyurethane flooring technology have aggressively competed over the small pocket of awareness available to them over the years and the marketing resources and funds which every product requires in any industry, have never been available.
As a result of this competition prices became lower within this small pool of clients and although there was still some natural and organic movement through inter-company dialogue, in general there was little dynamic growth to change the status quo. With prices remaining low or indeed reducing further, this technology has become closer in applied price to that of epoxy systems rather than the tile and acid brick it was designed to replace.
If the contractor was less than enthusiastic before, with higher material costs than epoxy he was even more disinclined to promote a material where his losses would be immense if he made mistakes.
Now the years have passed and this "new" technology is no longer unproven. The portfolio of success has grown, the properties well established and acknowledged and there are millions of square feet which are still performing exactly as they were designed to do, for the likes of Stouffer's, Nestle', Kraft, Parmalat, Heinz, Nabisco, Cargill, Coca-Cola and others.
But still, this awareness is found in the most part only among the leaders and the fortunate, the bulk of the industry is still oblivious to this technology. Is it time for the other players to start paying more attention to their flooring?