What's in store for warehouse design?
With internet sales booming as a result of lockdown, warehousing is changing the way the construction industry thinks about retail infrastructure. With £10.4bn of warehousing and distribution centre projects given planning permission last year, logistics and warehousing are booming. The sector now ranks third behind residential housing and hotel and leisure.
The impact of online shopping is obvious on our high streets. But how is it shaping warehousing and distribution and what innovations are clients demanding?
Thinking beyond the shed
Today's warehouses are far removed from the boring sheds of the past. Packed with advanced technology, they're capable of distributing goods to customers at lightning speed for same day delivery.
Integrating such high levels of automation, including collaborative robots, picker systems and mechanised material handling means that contractors have had to rapidly get up to speed or recruit for a new skillset. Integrating design and end-user design is markedly different to traditional L & D.
There's also a shift from speculative developments to bespoke buildings where efficiencies are baked in. Take the fitout for Ocado's new Bicester distribution centre, with its different temperature zones and fully mechanised mezzanine level where robots travel at around 40mph.
In areas within the M25 where land is expensive, multistorey warehousing is an increasing trend. This reduced availability is creating an upward pressure on land values and rent with multistorey warehousing seen as the solution for companies looking for cost-effective space near urban centres.
With the pandemic increasing the market need for space by over 300,000 sq ft, construction is adapting to the need for reinforced flooring slabs and greater energy demand for increased automation. But flexibility in design is also critical, to cope with ever-changing operational demands.
Low carbon solutions
An inevitable challenge of such rapid growth is making it sustainable. Warehouse buildings may only contribute 13% but demand for greener buildings will only continue to grow as companies strive to meet net-zero targets.
LED lighting, solar panels and battery storage, and high efficiency walls and roofing will all contribute to meeting increasingly rigorous environmental targets. But as energy demands increase, so does the challenge for creating sustainable developments. One solution may be the creation of stand-alone energy grids that then feed back into the National Grid.
The combination of energy efficiencies designed to future-proof asset bases and large scale solar arrays will be another effective way to green up future warehousing.
Speed and capacity
A big project pipeline is always good news, and construction experts are optimistic that the capacity is there. Firms now need to focus on bringing speed to market. An increase in the use of MMC is meeting the demand for speed and sustainability.
There are hurdles. An increase in steel costs has had a knock-on effect on the frame and reinforcements, the critical elements of any industrial building. Pressure on supply chains and scarcity of materials in the wake of the pandemic are other contributing factors.
But there seems to be no end in sight to the warehousing boom. The big challenge now is whether the construction industry can deliver the distribution centres of the future fast, sustainably and within budget.