Warehouses are a fundamental part of trade and have been around since ancient roman times. Warehouse buildings have been a feature of the urban landscape since the industrial revolution. Historically, warehouses have been relatively simple buildings with very little focus on the internal fit-out.
With the decreasing availability of development land near transport hubs, many industrialised European countries recognised and explored the advantages of expanding warehouse designs vertically, rather than horizontally. Over the decades, warehouse-building roofs became progressively higher in these regions.
In Australia, pre- and post-WWII industrial facilities were generally 5.5 to 6.0 metres high. Many were of saw-tooth design with structural columns throughout. These have largely been demolished now and replaced with portal frame buildings as high as 11 or 12 metres at the springing line. These frames allow much longer spans across the structure, thereby minimising the number of internal columns.
Advances in materials-handling technology have led to the automation of storage and retrieval of goods in taller, vertical facilities. By using the height for storage, automation has delivered savings by reducing the land required, along with improved productivity. The automated systems can work with much greater speed, safety, and accuracy than manual systems.
Trends are changing, due to increased urbanisation, so more high-bay warehouses are likely to be constructed in coming years, said Mal Walker, Logistics Bureau.
Adrian Young of award-winning Watson Young Architects said “While sustainability and connectivity are definitely up there as increasing trends in warehouse design, I think there is a growing need for fully automated high-bay warehouses in order to streamline efficiency and costs.”
CBRE's Director of industrial and logistics services, Andrew Maher, said the drive to reduce costs was reshaping the industrial landscape and leading to a major rethink of warehouse standards. The new mantra for corporates is high-bay warehousing, which involves buildings with internal clearances up to three times the present standard. Mr Maher said a desire to reduce costs was driving the shift towards more efficient high-bay warehousing.
High-bay warehouses are typically buildings with a height of at least 15 metres, and can be as high as 45 metres, for highly efficient storage of goods. Automated high-bay warehouses can be free-standing structures inside a building, or can be integrated into the building design itself and serve as load-bearing components. High-bay warehouses can be directly connected to the place of production or used as a dedicated goods store.
An automated high-bay warehouse utilises the vertical height of the building – from floor to ceiling – and automatically stores and retrieves items with efficiency and accuracy. Pallets and products in a high-bay warehouse move on a system of automated conveyors, cranes and automated storage and retrieval systems, coordinated by programmable logic controllers and computers running logistics automation software.
Decisions about which goods are stored in which position, and in which sequence they are retrieved from storage, are made by the logistics control system software. Storage and retrieval algorithms are optimised to take into account stock rotation, speed of retrieval, efficiency and redundancy.
These automated storage systems also support the assembly of customer orders based on the "goods-to-person" principle – in other words, the systems save time because operators do not need to walk around searching for and retrieving the goods.
Automated high-bay warehouses can underpin an efficient supply chain, delivering many benefits including reduced congestion, improved goods handling, increased safety of employees, accurate stock control, streamlined processes, and elimination of the errors associated with manual operation.
Labour savings are delivered as far fewer people are needed to operate the facility compared to a manual system. High-bay warehouses reduce the need for forklift trucks and manual handling as goods are stored automatically by a series of conveyors and automatic storage and retrieval machines.
Fully automated high-bay warehouses reduce land footprints. The automation of warehouses can double the storage space compared to the traditional solutions applied in identical-area conditions. A high-bay warehouse with a clearance of 19 metres would allow up to 50 per cent more pallet spaces than a competing building of more standardised proportions. Due to advanced automation and control systems, the resulting efficiency far surpasses that of conventional, manual systems. Automation is therefore preferable where land is expensive. Some of these high-bay storage systems are over 20 metres high. Suppliers such as SSI SCHAEFER can realise pallet racks of a height of over 40 metres.
High-bay warehouses can operate 24/7/365, delivering high levels of productivity, with high uptime. This is increasingly becoming a consideration and focus for companies who are looking to achieve demonstrable cost efficiencies.
Ideal for temperature controlled environments. High-bay systems are often installed in warehouses where products need to be stored at freezer temperatures. This is also true for products such as fresh foods or pharmaceuticals that require specific temperatures to maintain product quality and integrity. The space efficiency of high-bay warehouses leads to reduced energy costs for temperature controlled environments and the cost of installation can often be justified by providing automated operation in conditions that are unsafe and/or uncomfortable for long term human occupation, often with little, if any, need for artificial lighting.
Increased safety of workers. Where forklifts and humans interact is one of the most dangerous environments in a warehouse. Automation of the storage environment means fewer people are in the area which reduces the chance of an accident occurring.
High-bay Warehouse Design & Safe Installation
All that being said, full automation and high-bay warehouses are still big-ticket items in terms of capital costs. Fully utilising the vertical space in a high-bay warehouse demands high levels of investment, often requiring specialised warehouse construction to house high-bay storage and particular infrastructure. That is why a specialist partner is required to help determine whether a high-bay warehouse is the best solution; the optimal design based on the storage and throughput requirements and the product characteristics.
Another major consideration for the implementation of high-bay warehouses is safe installation. Consisting of steel structures which need to be erected up to 45 metres high within very demanding tolerances for straightness, high-bay warehouses represent a significant construction challenge.
Linked to the increased safety for workers with a fully automated high-bay warehouse, Australia is leading the world with revised, safer installation techniques used for constructing these buildings. Many other countries do not have the same stringent work health and safety legislation as exists in Australia, and therefore have different acceptable procedures for racking installation including for high-bay racking. In Australia, the priority is to eliminate risks, wherever possible. The priority above all else is to ensure people are safe at work.
As an example particularly relevant to high-bay installation in Australia, climbing the rack by installers during the erection process is not accepted by reputable automation suppliers such as SSI SCHAEFER. Simply using the same installation techniques as used in other areas of the world is not permitted practice in Australia.
It is still acceptable in most areas of Asia Pacific to climb the rack for high-bay installation, however some countries and customers are starting to question the status quo, and it will only be a matter of time before others will follow Australia in terms of safety concerns and safe working procedures.
To avoid climbing, the design of the racking is modified to suit a safe installation method, which should take precedence over material costs.
When considering a high-bay warehouse, you need a partner who can create a design that not only meets your business needs, but also takes into account all of the construction conditions, current trends and relevant regulations, with safety as the highest priority, and adapt their approach to suit. As demand increases for high-bay installations, safe construction procedures will become an increasingly important criterion for supplier selection.
SSI SCHAEFER is one of the few providers of high-bay warehouse systems capable of supplying self-supporting rack-clad designs where the racking structure is clad with walls and a roof, so that there is no need for a separate building. Rack-clad designs are an excellent alternative for construction heights higher than 25 meters.
SSI SCHAEFER has successfully completed hundreds of high-bay warehouse constructions all over the world, including recent local installations in Brisbane and Sydney.
About the author
Brett Thirup - General Manager - Sales and Engineering at SSI SCHAEFER fAustralia New Zealand