Maintaining a competitive edge and increasing productivity continue to drive change in distribution centers. Consider size as one example. The average distribution center in the late 1990s was 150,000 sq feet. By the mid-2000s, it more than doubled with some massive distribution centers exceeding the one million sq foot range. Not only did the distribution center footprint grow, the ceiling also went from 28 ft to 36 ft. While size matters, a huge facility still needs to operate efficiently in today’s on-demand environment. This is why a growing number of companies are looking up.
Large facilities certainly have the ability to hold large quantities of product. Still from a lean perspective, large distribution centers increase the potential for waste if workers must walk greater distances or spend more time searching instead of filling orders.
A new trend allows distribution centers to maximize its footprint and still achieve improved productivity. Multi-level rack/storage systems towering three to four levels are growing in popularity. These tall vertical systems reduce the number of steps required for order fulfillment by consolidating part picking into smaller areas. These hybrid systems can incorporate different storage structures — including pallet racking, shelving, mezzanines and more.
Increased picking flexibility also is a consideration. Traditional pallet loads no longer completely meet marketplace demands. With e-commerce and omni-channel fulfillment focusing on becoming more customer-centric, small quantities including split case and component picking are more the norm. Multi-level rack systems reduce wasted movement by consolidating picking in more efficient vertical locations.
Is a multi-level system right for you?
Before deciding a multi-level warehouse storage system is in your future, there are several factors to consider. It is no longer a matter of connecting steel components together. Technical engineering assistance is required to ensure structural integrity by:
• Calculating the impact, depth ratios and loads have on the existing concrete floor/slab; in other words, can it safely support the structure
• Develop wire-guided pathways for man-aboard pickers; embedded in the concrete to ensure precise and safe movement of vehicle in aisles
• Maximizing the system footprint without significantly reducing loads or hampering the movement of material handling equipment such as forklifts
Another factor to consider is any codes in place for earthquakes particularly if installing a system in new construction. There currently is no set of nationally mandated seismic codes for industrial buildings but no state is exempt from earthquakes. Before deciding on this type of freestanding structure, it is best to consult with local building codes.
Picker safety also is a consideration. OSHA and ANSI provide clear instructions on fall protection in industrial settings. Protection is required for workers once the height of the work environment is more than four feet above ground level. While falls from any height increases the likelihood of injury, the number of serious injuries and fatalities increase significantly as the height increases.
This means man-aboard picking equipment must have standard guardrails (42” height) on all sides or a personal fall arrest system or a restraint system. Additionally, workers are required to have fall protection if the worker must get off the equipment’s platform while it is elevated.
Investing in multi-level storage systems offer improved productivity, efficiency and speed for order fulfillment but not without significant deliberation. Before committing to this type of system, discuss the project with a knowledgeable racking professional, one with experienced engineering support.