Extreme makeover: Warehouses get a fresh new look

December 01, 2016
Gone are the days where warehouses were perceived as dark, dank storerooms that existed simply to store excess inventory.

Thanks to ever growing e-commerce demand, warehouses are going through a dramatic redesign process including the walls, ceilings and floors themselves to maximize storage space, improve their performance and create energy efficient and environmentally-friendly facilities.

Brian Smith, JLL Managing Director, South Florida, has seen a number of big changes to industrial space which have brought significant benefits for businesses and their employees. “These changes all play a huge role in helping companies make the most of their available space while also providing employees with a healthy and productive work environment,” he observes. “Companies can no longer afford to simply house goods and materials long-term. If cargo sits too long in one place, the logistics provider loses money.”

Moving on up

In the past decade the average ceiling height for a Class A distribution center has soared from 24 feet to as high as 36 feet. Maximizing total cube space (length, width and height) ensures that capacity isn’t reached too quickly. Higher ceilings allow for more volume in cubic feet, meaning more pallets can be stored in less square footage, offsetting the costs involved in building these higher ceilings.

Column spacing is also getting wider. Traditionally, it averaged 30 feet whereas today it stands at 54-foot, allowing for more narrow aisles and denser racking while adding even more storage potential.

Higher ceilings and wider column spacing also allow for what Smith counts as the third critical redesign element: additional loading doors. “Running at optimal level is every company’s ultimate goal,” says Smith. “Adding more ways for delivery trucks and other vehicles to enter and exit the space allows companies to maximize the effective and efficient flow of goods.”

Lighting the way to increase productivity

Optimizing the lighting system within warehouses has dramatically improved visibility levels in the workplace, enabling employees to clearly see their surroundings. Research shows it also increases employee productivity and attendance.

Simple features such as glass windows on top of loading docks allow for natural light, called “daylighting”. A growing number of warehouse redesign projects, opting for natural light, energy-efficient LED lighting or compact fluorescent lamps, take it one step further with the installation of both daylighting and occupancy sensors. With this infrastructure in place, affordable smart control systems allow buildings to operate without any artificial lighting, significantly reducing energy usage.

Given that the U.S. manufacturing industry is responsible for 30 percent of U.S. energy consumption, with lighting comprising about 30 percent of energy usage in distribution facilities, reducing lighting energy usage is a win-win, cutting both cost and carbon footprint.

Taking the LEED

Environmental sustainability used to be considered a luxury that industrial real estate owners simply couldn’t afford—but times have changed. As Smith says: “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is absolutely essential in today’s commercial culture.”

“Allowing for the design, operation, and construction of high-performance green buildings, there is nothing more significant than the elements of sustainability, which often incorporate advanced technology. Switching from paper to digital track-and-trace methods, bar coding and sortation systems are just a few innovations paving the way for the modern warehouse and the 2050 goal of net zero for all U.S. commercial buildings,” he adds.

As more warehouses now implement changes to their internal and external designs, they’re rapidly evolving from old-school holding facilities to e-commerce friendly anchors of the global supply chain. As they do so, companies are not just getting more from the available space – they’re also creating a more productive work environment for warehouse employees and improving their corporate social responsibility.