What's new in DC design

by Carolyn Gruske

Designing and building a new distribution centre is something very few people get to do. Some spend their entire careers in supply chain without the opportunity to start a new facility from scratch. To provide some guidance for those who find themselves lucky enough to be on the ground floor of a new project, MM&D brought together a panel of experts who discussed the entire process from first concept to getting the new DC up and running.

This is a companion piece to the main feature, which can be found here.

While some best practices and design techniques are almost timeless, there are new approaches to building warehousing facilities. The panelists noted several changes to the way
things are being done.

Building information modeling

Rather than being presented with two-dimensional architectural plans, architects are creating 3D models of buildings known as interference drawings. This allows everybody involved in the project to be able to easily visualize not just where the physical equipment (such as the racking) goes and what it will look like once it’s installed, it also permits visualization of more nebulous things like the movement of inventory through the building.

The bidding process

Instead of dictating to suppliers what exactly is needed in terms of equipment, the trend today is to let vendors make suggestions about what they feel would work best, based on the business needs of the company, and the way it wants to organize processes in the DC. To that end, when a project is getting started, the project manager (or consultant or architect) is less likely to send out requests for quotations (RFQs) and instead put out an open call for performance specs from the equipment vendors.

Tailoring the products

Since the trend is toward customization and creating solutions to meet a business’ specific needs, there are fewer cookie-cutter and out-of-the box offerings being put into new DCs. Equipment manufacturers have more engineers on hand to tailor custom solutions for clients. But that also means the clients need to be more involved in the process. They must be willing to talk in depth about how their business operates and back up what they say with hard data and statistics reflecting product inventory, throughput and other critical metrics.

IT systems

Compared with DCs that are hitting the end of their lifecycles, new facilities are exponentially dependent on computer systems, information technology, and automated systems, which means IT must be accounted for early in the planning stages. Wiring, network cabling and charging stations are all easier to install if their inclusion is planned. Additionally, it’s important to take into account the idea of mobile device management during the planning stages, especially as more and more facilities are permitting employees to bring and use their own consumer devices on the job.

Human comfort

It’s common for design trends to pop up, become popular, and, over time, fall out of favour, only to become adopted again years later. In the case of DC design, windows are back in fashion after having vanished for many years. In the recent past, it was thought they presented a security risk, but now the feeling is that security concerns can be mitigated. As to why they’re back, experts now say workers function better when exposed to natural light. Also, increasing the amount of sunlight that comes into a building can mean cutting back on artificial lighting, which means lower electricity bills. Businesses are also starting to think about adding air conditioning to their warehouses to better improve working conditions.