7 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a New Distribution Center

Designing a New Distribution Center

Designing a new distribution center is a complicated process involving numerous factors that must be addressed to ensure success.  After observing thousands of rack system project installations, below are a few common mistakes that we have seen made during the design process that either delay or slow the opening of the facility, or longer term affect the overall efficiency and safety of the facility.

1.  Loads to be stored are not clearly defined:  

Everything in a distribution center revolves around the loads that need to be stored, and the pallets that they are placed on.  It is critical to be sure that you have clearly defined pallet style, load weight, height and overhang so that you and your design team can ensure that all of your material handling equipment and racking systems are properly configured.

2.  Waiting too long to review Building and Fire Codes:

Facility operators frequently move directly to equipment purchasing without carefully reviewing the impact on the project of building and fire codes. We often see unnecessary surprises and delays when fire protection must be added or modified at the last minute.  Another key area to watch for is allowing for adequate clearance between the rack system and the building columns, in some high seismic areas the structural engineer can require 18” or more!  If this is not accounted for the layout may require significant last minute changes adding cost and time to the project.

3.  Not analyzing SKU Storage Profile:

There are multiple styles of racking system configurations ranging from low density selective rack to high density drive in and pushback systems.  Rather than one size fits all solution, in the best designed facilities, we often see a blend of racking configurations selected based on the SKU analysis.  A careful review of the current and projected SKU profile anticipated for the facility will greatly help the facility designer select the ideal combination of racking solutions to best optimize the long term storage and operational efficiency of the facility.

4.  Assuming your slab is okay:

With the recent changes in the anchoring values allow for in the building codes, especially in high seismic areas, the design and analysis of the slab has become a larger and larger issue.  Anchoring strategies that may have worked 5 years ago, will not pass muster today.  We have seen many projects that have been delayed, or even cancelled because the owner did not perform proper due diligence on the capacity of the slab’s interface with the racking system and compliance with building codes.   

5.  Insufficient Rack Damage Protection:

In a battle of wills between a 5,000 lift truck with a 3,000 pound load and a rack system, the lift trucks will almost always win.  Rack damage is a very serious issue and if not addressed can lead to catastrophic failure.  Rack system suppliers provide a wide variety of strategies to strengthen the system to reduce the risk of damage and protect against rack damage.  Strategies can range from aftermarket impact protection, to heavy duty structural members in the impact zone to fully offset legs that avoid impact entirely.  Be sure to understand the options available and invest in the system that makes the most sense for your specific operation long and short term.  Pay special attention to the lower aisle facing section of the rack and end aisle treatments, this is where the vast majority of damage occurs.

6.  Aisles are too narrow:

We cannot say how many times we have seen customers put in systems with aisles that are too narrow for the lift trucks they are employing, resulting in excessive damage to the racking system.  Much of the damage is caused when the lift operator is backing out and rotates the truck into the rack behind him.  Most experienced facility operators specify their aisles larger than the lift truck manufacturer’s minimum to provide margin of error to allow for real world day to day operation (for example if the recommended minimum is 108", add 12” and make the aisle 120").  

7.  Ordering components vs. a system:

We frequently see projects delayed and over budget where the owner takes a components based approach ordering racking, lift equipment, pallets and other parts of the system.  Unfortunately they often find when implementing the system that the equipment does not work well together leading to long term problems.  It is critical when specifying and designing your system to ensure that you evaluate all critical factors as early in the design phase as possible to ensure a smooth and trouble free implementation.

While we have only discussed a few of the key factors to look for, over the course of thousands of projects, we have observed that when projects run smoothly the system operator has addressed all of these major areas ahead of time and looked at the project as an integrated system and ensured that all design factors are addressed early in the process.

There is no replacement for a strong, structured design process to ensure both short and long term success.

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