Getting bang for the buck, it’s nearly every owner’s goal. And in projects as complex as distribution center construction and renovation, it’s crucial. In this article, we highlight several key steps owners can take to promote maximum efficiency — both in your project and in your completed facility.
1. Start with Design-Build and design with all systems in mind
Today’s distribution centers feature more complexity than ever before, with increasingly numerous building systems competing for limited facility space. All building systems must seamlessly work together to support your operation. It only makes sense to coordinate the design of each major building system to create a holistic design that delivers an efficient facility — one that uses best-value solutions that provide bang for your buck.
For this reason, and a number of others, we highly recommend using the Design-Build method. In this construction delivery method, one entity forms a complete project team, including architect and constructors, and holds single-source responsibility for delivering your project. Construction professionals and trade contractors advise on cost, schedule and constructability during the design process, and the strongest solutions are identified.
The team approach of Design-Build pays real dividends for distributors. For example, if you plan to use an AS/RS system with conveyors, you’ll likely employ a trade contractor who specializes in those systems. But your facility must be properly equipped to handle the ultra heavy point loads associated with AS/RS systems.
If you use the traditional general contracting method, your architect will complete the design, then you’ll bid work to a general contractor, who hires the specialty contractors in charge of your AS/RS system. In other words, the design is made with no input from specialty contractors, and your architect won’t know the critical load requirements of your AS/RS system. In the end, the specialty contractor will have to design your AS/RS system around a building design. And you’re left designing your workflow last.
You want just the opposite.
For the best results, you’ll want your architect to coordinate with your specialty contractors from the start to accommodate complex elements, such as KIVA systems, conveyers, pick pods and AS/RS rack systems. Partnering with specialty contractors early ensures they’re not competing with each other or with other elements of the design for limited space. All loads are accounted for. And your ideal workflow dictates all aspects of the facility design. This is exactly the process in Design-Build — your project team works in partnership from start to finish to deliver a better build around your needs
2. Select a design team that uses a better model
Early pre-construction designs have traditionally been little more than napkin sketches; now they’re far more scientific and complete. A growing subset of design firms have adopted cutting-edge 5D Macro BIM technology. These models show you, at the earliest design stages, how different design concepts affect cost, schedule and constructability, allowing you to evaluate large-scale options and make informed decisions.
As your project progresses further into design, you’ll want your team to use 3D BIM technology to show detailed models of your design. But computer modeling for architectural design is no longer limited to basic architectural models. Now, models of specific building systems are available and should be part of any project. Subcontractors’ design consultants can use BIM to model structural engineering, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, ductwork, steel work and more. Combined with clash detection programs, designers can ensure no systems interfere with each other, preventing field coordination problems before they arise on the job site.
3. Make decisions with an LCCA
A life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) is the formal process of calculating the ROI you can expect from building investments. The LCCA provides long-term cost projections for a particular building investment over its useful life cycle, accounting for the time value of money and all other factors of cost and payoff.
In the LCCA, the costs of two or more alternative investments are calculated and compared to determine which has the lowest long-term cost and better long-term value — e.g. which is most economical over the life of your facility.
The LCCA puts solid numbers behind decision-making and allows you to evaluate where you can best spend project dollars. To reap maximum benefits from an LCCA, make it part of your project from the earliest stages of design and continuously update it throughout your project as you evaluate solutions for various project elements.
4. Give your team complete information to support your workflow
Supporting your workflow should be a primary goal of your design. To achieve this end, provide your project team information on:
- The means of transportation used to bring goods to your facility
- Where transportation will be staged to offload new shipments
- How products move through your distribution center
- What, if any, elements of your workflow you plan to automate
- How products leave your distribution center
Your design can and should support your workflow, beyond simply supporting heavy loads. For example, when full pallets of one item are received, your crews can eliminate the process of sorting goods and breaking them down into individual boxes. In this instance, an efficient facility will incorporate strategic rack placement next to the docks that receive these specific pallets. The end result is better traffic flow throughout the facility and savings in both time and dollars. With the right information, your design team can and will identify a range of solutions that improve your workflow and storage.
5. Plan for future expansion from the start
If you know your operations are expanding and you’ll likely outgrow even your new facility, planning for expansion can provide significant savings. For one, it can allow you to phase your project and minimize initial construction expenses. Second, it allows your facility to grow with you.
But planning for expansion isn’t just about adding more space. You’ll need a facility that’s designed from the onset to withstand future structural and seismic loads, particularly if you plan to add or expand conveyors or AS/RS systems.
Some other considerations for future expansion include:
- Extending wiring, piping and utilities where the building expansion would be located
- Using temporary, lower-cost materials for the parts of the facility that will be torn down or replaced
The Korte Company is a nationally recognized distribution center design and construction company and an ENR Top 400 contractor.