Foster Farms Egg Transport Trays
In the early days of DT Engineering, Foster Farms approached Dave Tostenson, hoping to find a solution for the transport of their eggs. Egg trays are critical in the incubation process. When an egg is going through the gestation process, it outgasses CO2. With hundreds of eggs contained in a small area, the eggs' own CO2 suffocates the growing chicks. To prevent this, incubation rooms need a constant flow of air circulating through the farm racks, containing the egg trays. The eggs also release heat, which is used to keep the eggs at the correct temperature with the circulating air. Given the delicate temperature balance, along with the race-tracking air to keep the CO2 from becoming stagnant, airflow through the trays is critical.
At the time, the major corporation’s laying hens were located in Colorado and Arkansas, while the incubation site was in Central California. Their then-current incubation trays held 80 eggs each. They were only strong enough to be stacked 4 high and were transported in cardboard boxes on pallets in delivery trucks. Because the cardboard could not be reused, Foster Farms was throwing away $70,000 - $80,000 a month in cardboard; they desperately needed a cheaper and easier way to transport the eggs.
During the kickoff meeting, Foster Farms presented Dave with an idea to solve their problems – they asked him to design a 5’ metal structure to transport the egg-loaded trays and be broken down so 4-5 structures could be shipped back from Central California for every 1 structure that was shipped from Colorado and Arkansas.
Given this criterion, Dave generated a few concepts but was unhappy with the designs. They were too complex, too much work, and involved too many parts. Instead, he took the initiative to redesign the egg tray that Foster Farms was buying from Jamesway, a farming equipment company.
While designing the new trays, Dave faced two significant challenges:
- The egg trays needed to be strong enough to support more weight. Foster Farms had a requirement for the trays to be stacked 24 high, and the current trays had only enough strength to support 4 high.
- Extra material was required for additional strength, and more material meant a reduction in airflow. As outlined above, airflow could not be compromised.
Using Finite Element Analysis software, Dave determined how to minimize the amount of material while maintaining optimal airflow, keeping the delicate balance of strength and airflow just right. He also added an interlocking feature to the trays, which were later patented.
Before approving the new design, Foster Farms wanted to ensure that Dave’s trays were structurally sound and allowed for proper airflow. The trays proved to be structurally bulletproof, as breakage never occurred. Their main concern, however, was a possible reduction in chicken yield due to the increase of material. A flow chamber was built for testing, and results showed a slightly higher resistance to airflow, but the difference was so minimal that Foster Farms decided that it would not cause any problems. They happily agreed with the new design, and began to mass-produce the product.
Despite the minor airflow resistance, Foster Farms actually saw an increase in hatch yields with Dave’s new egg tray design. The company was thrilled, and the egg trays are still being used today.