E-fulfillment centers differ from traditional warehouses, with clear heights, electrical services, climate controls and parking all configured to the needs of personnel and technology.

 

 

 

In recent years the traditional warehouse has transformed itself, elevating its place in the supply chain to meet the demands of e-commerce.

Brock Grayson, AIA
Vice President, Layton Construction

“Over the years, we’ve been building warehouses that have been part of a supply chain that was feeding brick-and-mortar retail stores,” says Brock Grayson, AIA and Vice President at Layton Construction.

“Warehouses are starting to transform from this place where they sat in the supply chain and received bulk inside the building, and that bulk got repackaged and shipped out to the stores. And then the stores broke it down into individual packages and put it on the shelves,” Grayson says. “What we’re seeing now is that these warehouses are becoming the last stop before products get to the consumer. And so the warehouse is moving its place within the supply chain.”

Bulk shipments are no longer leaving as bulk but are being broken down into individual pieces that then get packaged and shipped out one by one. “So the warehouse has had to transform itself into something completely different that we’ve never seen before,” Grayson says.

Clear heights, electrical services, climate controls, parking and even the number of restrooms have all changed as warehouses have evolved into e-fulfullment centers.

Grayson points to the following current trends in e-fulfillment center design:

Clear Heights

Clear heights have increased far beyond the 24-foot clear of 20 years ago and are typically now at least 42 feet. The increased height is not for storing more pallets of products but for mezzanines to accommodate hand-picking.

Warehouse clear heights

Clear heights have increased over the years as warehouses have evolved beyond just storing bulk products. The increased heights accommodate more mezzanines for hand-picking and sending out individual packages directly to consumers.

Electrical Services

Electrical services are increasing from the 3,000-6,000 amps of past years to at least 12,000 amps now to service increased technology and climate controls.

Truck Circulation and Employee Parking

A traditional large warehouse usually featured a double-loaded dock, with inbound truck traffic on one side and outbound on the other. “Now with e-fulfillment centers, they need so much area for storage that they only need to utilize one side of the warehouse to bring the product in and ship it out. So we’re seeing one side of that building basically getting closed off, and they’re storing all the way up to that edge. E-fulfillment centers need a lot more people and so we’re trading in the dock, and we’re turning it into vehicle parking,” Grayson says.

Employee parking and truck circulation at an e-fulfillment center

A traditional warehouse cross-dock features inbound truck traffic on one side and outbound truck traffic on the other.

 

Truck circulation at a traditional cross-dock warehouse

 

Conditioned Space

Tradionally, warehouses operated with a limited crew, and it made little sense to heat or cool an entire warehouse or even large sections of it. But with e-fulffillment, there may be 1,000 or more employees working all shifts, and they expect to work in a comfortable environment, therefore it’s not uncommon for e-fulfillment centers to go to completely conditioned spaces in the human occupied areas of the center.

Office Space and Restrooms

A traditional warehouse might have just one or two restrooms for the whole building, whereas e-fulfillment centers need multiple restrooms to service a large number of employees. Because employees may take their breaks at the same time, the restrooms and water supplies have to be able to accommodate a large number of people using the restrooms all at once.

Office space has likewise increased in e-fulfillment centers as additional team members are needed to support the increased number of employees.

E-fulfillment centers have more mezzanines for hand-picking

E-fulfillment centers have more mezzanines for hand-picking than do traditional warehouses.