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Mezzanine Systems

Help customers solve the need for more space.

I joined the group proceeding through the material handling prospect’s manufacturing facility, a 12-year-old light manufacturing plant in anytown USA. When we arrived at the area in the west end of the production floor, we found ourselves surrounded by products and fixtures. A production line fed finished goods to shelving, carton flow racking and stretch wrappers. Lift trucks and carts transported products to and from the shipping doors. All seemed right in the world!

Most successful enterprises eventually grow out of space. As revenues expand, the need for space to accommodate inventory, equipment and personnel will grow as well. This creates the need for more efficient handling methods and more efficient space utilization.

“Things are running smoothly now. We have addressed our material handling requirements and have a great crew of employees. The problem is that we’re out of room. This is our slow season and, as you can see, we’re still completely out of space.”

“Go up, young man,” a voice was suggesting from somewhere, and I was reminded of the new frontier epitomized by Horace Greeley’s famous words to explorers moving out west. A quick survey of the floor space revealed that very little improvement could be achieved. A look up, however, revealed a 20 foot ceiling and an enormous opportunity.

The solution for this company and many others is found in the space available above their present operation. A second level created by way of mezzanine, catwalk or equipment platform can virtually double the available floor space through efficient use of the existing cube in the building. With the proper design, a system can be installed above the existing operation with very little impact or disruption.

Mezzanine System
A mezzanine system can be a very economical solution to a company’s growing pains. Initially, the purchase price is often as little as half the cost of offsite new construction or additional lease. Additional savings are realized by avoiding the need for basic services required in an additional facility such as phone, security, HVAC, office supplies and equipment and the like. Transportation between sites and additional employee hires is not necessary.

A typical free standing mezzanine can be treated as capital equipment. This allows for accelerated depreciation and property tax advantages in many cases. Financing is available for mezzanine systems via standard equipment lease programs. An additional consideration is that these systems are demountable and can be reconfigured or moved and reinstalled if needed.

Mezzanine systems come in a variety of formats, and careful consideration must be paid to current and future needs. Free standing mezzanines may be modular in design with pre-engineered configurations that can be assembled into different combinations. Custom mezzanines are designed for the user’s specific parameters for load and size. Column spacing is often a critical factor of design due to the need to interface with the existing building, fixtures and paths of travel. Rack and shelving-supported mezzanines depend on their upright posts for deck support and will be limited in bay width and depth.

Load consideration is essential to the proper design of framing members and deck, as well as the interface between column footplates and slab. Typical applications include general storage at 125 psf, heavy storage requirements at 200 psf, or office and assembly use at 70-100 psf. These are standards used by industry, but the actual load may also be determined by considering pallet landing areas, heavy machinery or storage in a certain area. This can be addressed in a custom mezzanine design. Total design load must also be supported by an adequate slab or footing. This can affect column spacing and footplate size.

Building Codes
Meeting the requirements of local building codes is also a consideration. In most cases, platforms exceed eight feet in height, which requires adherence to code and the application for permits. The seismic zone in which the project is located will affect design. A licensed engineer who works regularly with the mezzanine manufacturer will be the best resource for engineered calculations on an application. The permit process is the same as for most tenant improvements. Another consideration in design is to ensure adequate fire protection for all covered areas.

Storage Applications
Shelving and rack-supported mezzanines can be considered for many storage applications. If storage requirements include individual storage levels both below and above the deck level, a catwalk type system is often most efficient. The deck may be limited to the three or four foot aisle width and can be supported by the storage units themselves. A good example of this application would be the storage of parts bins, record storage boxes or tires. Design considerations should include catwalk load, access to upper levels, and the movement of products from one level to another. In all cases, the rack or shelving units should be anchored to the building floor. Shelving and rack may also be utilized to support a flat deck configuration, allowing for flexibility above.

Deck Surfaces
A variety of options is available for deck surfaces. Wood is perhaps the most common, ranging from plywood to special laminate. Steel flooring options include plank, grating and diamond plate styles. Permanent structures can utilize poured concrete floors typically on corrugated metal deck below. Deck selection should be made after careful consideration of strength requirements and intended use. Stairway access, handrail, gates and kickplate should be designed to meet OSHA safety and code requirements.

Additional design considerations will be required if the mezzanine system is to interface with other equipment or fixtures. A common example is to have a conveyor transport materials between levels. If the mezzanine is to be expanded in the future, this is best addressed in the original design.

Finding solutions to your material handling customers’ space problems may be just as important to their continued growth as meeting their material handling challenges. Mezzanine systems are a solution to many of these challenges and, as such, can be the “new frontier.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Jim Mierke Meet the Author
Jim Mierke is general manager, Industrial Structures Group, Western Pacific Storage Systems in Ventura, California.

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