The Planning Step of Building a Warehouse

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Here are 20 step by step tips and ideas to help you create the warehouse you need at a price you can justify. From industrial tents which retract, through to portal frame structures with loading docks and conveyors to fully equipped and racked out facilities.  This is the place to start your successful design and build warehouse project. Building a warehouse that works for you requires thought and experience for the best results. There are huge choices in warehouse design and construction with a range of models and equipment, one of which will be right for you. This step by step outline guide will alert you to some of the fundamentals to ensure you manage your warehouse project effectively right from the first step you take.

10 warehouse disasters to avoid

  1. Plan: The Professionals will keep you right? – Wrong, wrong, wrong! The professionals are not here to keep you right, they are here to carry out instructions and to take instructions – your instructions and then follow procedures that they have learned. Rule 1 know what you want or take what you are given.
  2. Read the small Print: Just because it is concrete it does not mean it is load  bearing. Beware of clauses that state that it is up to you to ensure your structures are suitable for the installation. That means if it fails it is your fault. They mean it!
  3. Know the Regulations: You are very unlikely to be able to see your foundations.  If you think you can you are probably looking at a floor. A concrete floor is about 250mm thick, it is the ground bearing pressure that makes the difference. You won’t get this information by guessing but you will be required to account for it.
  4. Ignorance is Expensive: A foundation is up to 300mm below the floor, usually at the base of a major load bearing member like the frame of a building. They are up to 1500mm cubed and weigh over 1000kgs each, for an average warehouse.
  5. Don’t make Assumptions: Don’t presume that because it is a big steel column or quarter of a meter of concrete that it will take anything you want to hang or stand on it, it won’t. So don’t have afterthoughts about suspended gas fired heaters, cranes or mezzanine floors – after thoughts are expensive. Remember people who quote will normally put the lowest price in to get the work, with a specification that matches.  The only thing you can safely assume is if it is not specifically mentioned it is specifically excluded. You should assume architects will have very limited knowledge of technical equipment, they are good with materials and creating attractive space, they don’t spend 10 years qualifying to design a standard portal frame building, but they will make it look a little more pleasing on the eye and design fish ponds in the reception or decide to route assembly conveyors through the administration offices, they are full of creative ideas (BMW)!
  6. Understand the People Limitations: Be sure you know what you are going to put in this building. You may not need an architect at all, a structural engineer will provide the right materials and advice to achieve the creation, a builder will erect it and none of these people are specialists in industrial applications. They are specialists in only their respective work.  You need a materials handling engineer or a specialist in your industry, or both. In other words pick an appropriate project leader.
  7. What you get for your Money: The cheapest steel building will last 10 to 15 years before it needs attention    Even modern cladding won’t last forever, refurbishment is never cheap.  Single skinned buildings are for sheep or goods which don’t mind damp. PVC clad buildings will last 50 years with up to 4 cheap skin changes and still be in good condition – much cheaper than several coats of paint and a completely new outer steel insulated skin. Marquees are for parties or weddings. Industrial quality steel framed independent structures are the lowest cost, highest value asset you can own, you can take them with you and put them up anywhere. Think through what you want to do. Steel buildings can actually devalue your site.  Be careful.
  8. Check things out properly: Don’t use low budget builders or cheap buildings for high profile work that must comply to statutes, you won’t have enough information to get it through building regulations and you might finish up paying for a great deal of unbudgeted and hidden cost. The time to get this information is day 1 before you pay. Never pay a penny for anything you can’t see or own. Exercise caution with progress payments, there are many ways of safely concluding these transactions.
  9. Beware of hidden Costs: Classic unbudgeted and hidden costs that will torpedo your project include: poor ground conditions, not enough water, gas or electricity to service your building, long queues for service provisions, professional fees, local authority fees, landscaping and other local authority orders at the planning stage- e.g. lifts for disabled access, rateable car parking and a whole host of other hidden planning conditions. A basic list of about 30 in the UK, most of which you will never have heard of until they broadside your bank account. If you are in a heritage area you will need specialist advice.  Unless you are a multinational, money no object company, be very wary of heritage tags, you might find your project hijacked by the local archaeologists for the next 5 years or turned into a nature reserve for great crested newts.
  10. Never max out your Budget with no spare Cash: Put a contingency of at least 50% onto your project if you are a novice, 20% if you know what you are doing and 10 to 15% if you hire an agent or professional to help you.  Only a professional as cool as ice puts on 5% and then only if he has been doing the job all his or her life or you can sub out the whole thing to a principal contractor or construction company who will rake in a handsome margin for doing so, but at least you will have someone to sue to get what, after all, is your own money back.

Warehouse planning – To Fee or not to Fee, that is the question

Penalty clauses are doubtful: I can give you a case by case disaster list involving ill fitting equipment, wrong sized buildings, complete project failures and a host of other horrors to scare you and don’t think that penalty clauses will save the day, they won’t and nobody will touch them if they are unreasonable plus there will almost certainly be a  charge to you for them.   Unless you have a datum point, a minimal position, planning out your warehouse is just going to be a slippery slope rather than that  great improvement you want.   How then do you make a positive start to get great value for money and at the same time achieve a memorable project that delivers beyond expectations?  

The principal concept and operating format: My first recommendation is to choose the correct equipment, this means your handling equipment. At this point I would suggest you find a materials handling engineer with a measured amount of grey hair. A mistake at this point will see you buy or build your warehouse the wrong size. Decide what your smallest stock size is going to be and find a suitable recording system to model a business system around. You can now plan out your warehousing equipment and systems including all the access equipment and the picking systems you will need.   If you already have a warehouse or industrial unit this is your chance to improve, upgrade or replace – don’t miss it!  Firstly think about management logistics – quite apart from servicing and turning HGV’s round in your yard, you could just subcontract the whole warehousing operation out or bring in professionals to help you set up.  If you are a growing SME then try some of the big operators, they may lend you people to help you, especially if you are giving them traffic. For smaller operatives the most important thing is a good location, shorter distances mean less costs and more opportunities.  Warehouses are governed by cubic volume. There are several ways to maximise this, too many to explore in this article but here are some basic warehouse planning concepts.  Which of these statements do you agree or disagree with? (Answers at the end of this article)

  1. It is always cheaper to go up rather than out.
  2. Very narrow aisle (VNA) is the most efficient use of space.
  3. Mezzanine floors are best put up by the builder when the warehouse is built..
  4. Second hand mezzanines are good value for money..
  5. Pallet racking can be fitted in any warehouse application.
  6. If I have a heavy duty concrete apron in my yard I can bolt any steel warehouse straight on to it.
  7. I don’t need planning permission for PVC clad tent buildings especially if this warehouse retracts.
  8. I don’t need planning consent if it is only a temporary warehouse structure.
  9. You will always get a better job if you employ an architect to design and build your warehouse.
  10. 6 months is more than enough time to design and build a new warehouse.

Understanding your professional  appointments and what they do: Your unit of space and your unit of productivity, I guarantee, will govern the entire structure of your business – do you know what yours is? Modelling your business is the best way to iron out many of the problems you will encounter. By adopting such a method you will quickly see, step by step, just exactly how your project will fit together from equipping, operating and resourcing your  entire warehousing operation, but how do you turn it into reality? A principal contractor will put everything you need together.  Unless your project is over £5m you would probably be better off with an agent who works for you directly. Architects will project manage as will structural engineers, frequently working together to deliver a project. 

They do undertake such works as their bread and butter tasks but it is not usually so case specific. Warehousing involves systems and equipment that frequently requires specialist knowledge on such a scale that without it from the very beginning your project will have serious information gaps. Even the principal contractors employ these specialists as do the other professionals but for small projects you will pay more for these extra facilities if you assemble your advising team in the wrong way. A bit like going to the wrong doctor, who then decides to operate just because he is a doctor. Just like doctors it is really important to get the correctly skilled professional to handle your case.

Picking  the right Warehouse Equipment – What you need to know

Forklift Trucks: A fork truck on average will handle about 125 pallets a shift – that is one every 3.84 minutes, there are all sorts of ways of modelling this information but if you are achieving anything like this ratio you have a very busy forklift driver.

Racking: Racking can go up to 12m or so, many mills will cut it to any length you want.  However 6m is often the standard height because they have to be painted and the paint ovens are vertical so that height is the governing factor.  Pre-galvanised steel is always a good choice if you are having trouble with high one piece frames and want to avoid splicing costs. 6m is a quick turn round height and with frames this height you can store about 10 pallets in a 2.7m width or 15 euro pallets since they are 800mm wide.

VNA (very narrow aisle): will have aisle widths down to 1,200mm.  At this width your £40,000 to £60,000 truck will be guided, you can have ‘man up’ or ‘man down’ and you need a set down area for picked work and feeder trucks which are all extra operations. if this is the answer you can get very small bin picker systems which work very quickly, in very high density storage systems but these are usually big money items.

Specialist Forklift Trucks: Articulated trucks now play a very big role and work in aisles of 1750mm upwards and need very little manoeuvring space.  They will multi-task and have both electric and IC power units.  There are two market leaders and a third contender who has a very considerable and experienced engineering resource across the materials handling industry.

Money: Some dealers are very good at tailoring finances if there is pressure on cash – never let cash be a problem, remember this is just as much part of business management as your warehouse based business.

Stock control: Once you have picked a good warehouse truck the racking is easy.   However remember the unit of space I talked about earlier, this is when you need it. It defines picking, packing and shipping, not to mention profit. It dictates the nature of the warehousing operation. If your in unit is 6m x 500mm x 500mm and your out unit is 6m x 50mm x 50mm or sub divisions of the 6m cut down into smaller bits, then your storage and picking operation is governed by that.  If you then have 4,000 stock lines, titles, colours, weights etc then you must do this for each variant.

Warehousing and stock processing: Any processing of stock requires thought. Mezzanines are good people space and multi level/tier shelving systems also provide very high density, good organisational facilities. Work stations are not an afterthought and correctly specified and built are capable of putting their own cost back in to your bank every hour of the day.

Remember to plan your lighting properly and think about good identification systems right from the outset. The more you can de-skill, the more efficient you will become, otherwise when Harry the warehouseman is off and is the only person who knows where everything is, you could have trouble.

From new it is not hard to spend £1,000 per square meter by the time you are operational,  half of which will be the shell, the land is extra. You can extend from under £280/sq.m. The shell only (above ground) will be around £180.00 of this.

What sort of warehouse and where to build it:  Avoid cheap buildings on different levels and slopes, they are cheap for a reason. Think about loading docks and pre-shipment preparations, you get much better rates from your contractor if he is in and out quickly. Trailers glued to dispatch bays only cost money. You can turn round HGV’s in  less time than the driver can make himself a cup of tea with the right equipment.

How to create a Warehouse with a strong asset value: I doubt that any of the Yorkshire mill owners ever visualised their mills being divided up and selling for huge sums as luxury properties.  It is usually cheaper to build up rather than out, however over 6m starts to get slow for forklift trucks and building sections get pricey too. It is possible to clad the pallet racking and turn it all into ‘the warehouse’  but unless you have an exact buyer it will be worth scrap value when you have finished with it, and you will lose value on the land due to the cost of reconstruction. Think though the cost of ownership.  It goes without saying that payback times, function and design are critical but not as critical as thinking through  “life after warehouse”. In other words try to keep the build appeal as broad as possible. There are many good ideas and schemes about to help you. The more you can do with the warehouse, the more money it will hand back to you and that makes it less risky. This is also why I always consider limited fee appointments, pardon the pun, but this is my way of thinking outside the box!

  1. It is always cheaper to go up rather than out. Very often it is
  2. Very narrow aisle (VNA) is the most efficient use of space. It is dense but can be slower than other methods
  3. Mezzanine floors are best put up by the builder when the warehouse is build. Never for industrial applications – use specialists
  4. Second hand mezzanines are good value for money. Avoid. In 38 years I have yet to see one fitted properly, I have seen several condemned and one collapsed.
  5. Pallet racking can be fitted in any warehouse application. Providing you have level floors in good condition, which are of correct structure. Pallet rack can impose enormous point loadings. Avoid expansion joints.
  6. If I have a heavy duty concrete apron in my yard I can bolt any steel warehouse straight on to it. Extremely risky
  7. I don’t need planning permission for PVC clad tent buildings especially if this warehouse retracts. You probably do
  8. I don’t need planning consent if it is only a temporary warehouse structure. Yes you do, always check
  9. You will always get a better job if you employ an architect to design and build your warehouse. Not in my experience, but you will get a great job using limited fee appointments. A good agent will arrange this for you,
  10. 6 months is more than enough time to design and build a new warehouse. If you have planning consent and you know exactly what you want. From green field/brown field site 3 years is not leisurely! Two can be tight and one year is very good going indeed with absolutely no problems – Never rush it, it will just empty your bank account

Source by Paul Casebourne

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