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Warehouse Designs Are Getting A Makeover

To the untrained eye, warehousing may not seem like an industry that is a hotbed of innovation. However, recent warehousing developments illustrate that, in fact, new storage trends are cropping up all over the country. Knowledge of such warehousing projects will serve MHEDA members well in future dealings with customers.

Kraft underground warehouse

The entrance to Kraft's underground warehouse in Springfield, Missouri (photo courtesy of Kraft Foods)

Taking It to the Underground
Kraft Foods is leasing 400,000 sq. ft. of underground storage in Springfield, Missouri, from Springfield Underground, a commercial and industrial real estate developer. The refrigerated underground space serves as a regional distribution center for Kraft. Logistics provider Exel is overseeing warehouse operations at the facility, which will be kept at 36 degrees Fahrenheit to store cheeses, meats and other perishables.

The underground design is projected to offer several energy-saving benefits, including decreased lighting costs of 28 percent to 48 percent and overall reduction of electricity demand by 65 percent. The facility is built in an active limestone mine to provide natural insulation and protection from sun and storm damage, and the use of recycled fill material reduced building costs.

Fishbone Aisle Design
Another trend that is beginning to catch on in the warehousing environment involves the design of the aisles. Two industrial engineering professors, Auburn University’s Kevin Gue and the University of Arkansas’ Russell Meller, proposed in a 2006 research paper that either of a “gull wing” or “fishbone” design, each featuring diagonal cross aisles through a traditional setup, could shorten travel times for order pickers and be as much as 20 percent more efficient for workers.

Generac warehouse

Diagonal cross rows in the fishbone design at this Generac warehouse reduce travel times between product for more efficient picking.

MHEDA members Wisconsin Lift Truck (Brookfield, WI) and Steel King Industries took this research to heart when helping construct a new warehouse for Generac, an industrial and residential power generator manufacturer in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “In the generator business, efficient logistics and delivery are especially important since spikes in demand can occur within 24 hours of severe weather,” explains Adam Barber, an industrial engineer at Generac. As such, Generac required more efficient storage, picking and shipping of its finished goods.

Industrial engineers at Wisconsin Lift Truck helped Barber and his team design a new warehouse using the innovative fishbone design with selective pallet racking. The fishbone aisles combine traditional parallel picking rows with V-shaped cross aisles, permitting forklift drivers to travel a more direct route to the necessary product. Steel King pallet rack was used in the installation. It is believed to be among the first fishbone-aisle implementations in the country, if not the world.

Embrace The Cube
One way companies are looking to cut costs through their warehouse design is by focusing on a facility’s cubic footprint rather than square footage. In other words, building owners are looking to expand upward rather than outward.

Sykes warehouse

The cubic footage of a warehouse is gaining in importance as land becomes more expensive. Developers are trending toward smaller footprints with taller clear heights.

A Charlotte-area real estate developer, Sykes Industrial Solutions, will complete a building in October that has 40-foot ceilings. No tenants have yet agreed to lease the more expensive storage space, though the Engineered Solutions division of MHEDA member LiftOne (Charlotte, NC) has been working to help promote the idea. Troy Garrison, sales manager for Engineered Solutions, is teaming with the project’s general contractor to educate real estate brokers on the benefits and advantages of buildings like Sykes, to understand the value proposition so that they will be able to pass this information along to their clients. “The contractor was aware that we were in the business of maximizing our customers’ available space,” Garrison says, “and he asked us to help him prove the concept.”

To do so, Garrison created some design layouts and real-world calculations showing how the cost-per pallet-position is decreased by using the cubic space more efficiently and utilizing narrow aisle or very narrow aisle equipment. Garrison’s presentation outlined that tenants could indeed pay higher per-square-foot lease payments, with the higher rate being offset by a higher number of available pallet positions. “The key challenge for material handling distributors is establishing the added value to the end-user of a 100,000 to 150,000 sq. ft. building with a 40-foot clear height versus a more standard 250,000 to 300,000 sq. ft. building with 24- to 30-foot clear height,” Garrison says. “End-users and real estate brokers are starting to think in terms of usable pallet positions (cubic feet) instead of square feet. The numbers have been scrutinized from many points of view. The value proposition offers considerable upside and gives the distribution center operator a competitive advantage. We feel that this concept will set a new standard in light industrial real estate and material handling that will appeal to a wide variety of end-users.”

Higher clear heights have been standard in European warehouses for many years due to the higher cost of land and the ever-increasing cost of construction. In the United States, warehouse expansion has traditionally taken place through increased square footage. “The future trend is a smaller warehouse footprint with taller clear heights,” says Garrison. “People are starting to move toward cubic feet instead of square feet in warehousing. We’re running into more interest and seeing expansion to utilize higher space (existing and to be built). If it hasn’t yet come to your town, it will.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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