Logistics Solutions: Groundbreaking Change
Editor’s note: To learn about that latest in warehouse design trends, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods approached a handful of design-build experts nationwide. Following are responses from Joseph Bove, P.E., vice president-distribution facility services, Stellar, Jacksonville, Fla.; Ed Hess, national principal-distribution centers, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Fort Worth, Texas; Doug Kearby, P.E., senior project manager-facilities, POWER Engineers Inc., Hailey, Idaho; Steve Tippmann, executive vice president, Tippmann Group/Interstate Warehousing, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Harlan Vande Zandschulp, president, Gleeson Constructors LLC, Sioux City, Iowa.
Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: In your opinion, what was the most interesting new development in cold storage design last year?
Joseph Bove: Escalating material costs affected the number of project starts and the overall cost of the constructed facility. We also noticed an increased use of CO2-based refrigeration systems for energy considerations (lower operating costs) and the environmental benefits.
Ed Hess: Jacobs encountered several new developments including advances in fire suppression systems, refrigeration system design and building materials.
First, Tyco’s Quell fire sprinkler system - a dry system designed specifically for cold and unheated storage facilities - offers a ceiling-only application that provides greater commodity classifications, higher roof and storage heights and lower installation costs. It also requires less maintenance and can be placed in areas where it is less prone to damage.
Secondly - driven by safety concerns as well as environmental and energy concerns - new laws effectively phase out freon-based systems and have caused a movement toward ammonia and CO2 systems. In addition, more owners are updating their policies and processes and are becoming more focused on process safety management and safety. Related issues include a constant push toward sustainable systems and materials such as stainless steel evaporators, variable frequency drives (VFD) and reduced water-condensing systems.
Finally, we’ve seen advances in materials such as insulated metal panels with alternate finishes. These panels provide a more aesthetically pleasing facade and can be used in areas focused on architectural integrity.
Doug Kearby: Although not new to the industry, the use of desiccant wheel dryers and air ducts to draw air from over dock doors for the cold dock area has proven to minimize water vapor infiltrating into freezer/cold storage areas. Our clients have been pleased with this installation as a way of saving on refrigeration defrost cycles and energy costs.
Steve Tippmann: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has become a new industry standard design criteria, and many of our customers are requesting information on LEED compliance or certification. LEED encompasses not only energy conservation, but also environmentally friendly designs. While “sustainability,” “green” and “carbon footprint” are relatively new terms to our warehouse design teams, a refrigerated warehouse/distribution building is, and always has been, an energy-efficient building.
Harlan Vande Zandschulp: The Quell sprinkler system gets rid of the in-rack sprinkler for storage [heights] of up to 45 feet. This system solves most maintenance issues from damaged heads. Another significant change involves the switch to CO2 systems for refrigerant charge to lower pounds of ammonia in the plant system.
R&FF: In In what ways are energy concerns affecting design-build decisions?
Bove: The more expensive energy becomes, the easier it is to justify money spent on energy-saving technologies because the payback is faster. Energy-efficient lighting and control systems, variable frequency drives and premium efficiency motors are some of the energy conservation methods gaining popularity.
One of our clients installed an approximately 50,000-square-foot solar collection panel system on the roof of an existing building and designed an expansion with provisions to the structural and electrical components for future solar power.
Hess: Energy conservation with respect to the building design, as well as fixtures and equipment selection is certainly of growing concern. This is becoming more evident in the initial planning and concept design. For example, more thought is given to how the building is situated on the property. The idea is to take advantage of natural lighting, solar and wind power considerations while you minimize energy inefficiencies caused by prevailing winds in dock areas, etc.
There also is a growing focus on improving the building envelope by increasing insulation and achieving greater thermal and vapor integrity to help reduce energy costs. Advances in lighting and motion technology provide easy solutions to long-term energy conservation.
Recent advances in pulse-start or ceramic metal halide electronic ballast high intensity discharge (HID) offer higher mean lumens per watt and lower input wattage, which can lead to significant energy savings. The newer HID technology is suggested to rival the energy savings of fluorescent fixtures and can minimize total cost of ownership, improve safety and provide brighter light in cold environments.
Kearby: Operators are looking for “lowest fruit” concepts to implement in saving energy, [for example] fluorescent light fixtures, occupancy sensors on lights, running refrigeration plants on off-peak hours only, correcting power utilization issues, etc. Much of the low fruit has been already picked, so to speak. I believe there has to be continued emphasis on energy conservation. Utilizing solar on some of these large roof-top spaces will become more commonplace.
Tippmann: Publicly traded companies have had a standard of three- to five-year return on investment on cost-added designs for the buildings we build. Considering that we saw petroleum-based energy costs increase at a rate in excess of 100 percent in a year, I think the old three- to five-year ROI standard needs to be re-evaluated. Energy conservation enhancements should be evaluated under different criteria, given that the cost of energy has increased at a pace substantially higher than CPI.
Vande Zandschulp: The increased use of variable frequency drives on compressors and condensers make these motors more efficient.
R&FF: How are sustainability concerns impacting warehouse design?
Bove: We are receiving more requests to design and construct facilities that can qualify for LEED certification. That said, LEED begins with selecting the right design/build firm. In order to obtain enough points for certification, the design and construction professionals must work together to determine which points can be earned and who is responsible for achieving them.
Several projects have earned points by locating new facilities on existing brown field sites. Other points have been obtained by specifying and installing waterless toilets in the restrooms, utilizing day lighting techniques in the dry warehouse areas, and others by providing CO2 refrigerant and heat recovery systems in the machine room.
Hess: As new technology makes sustainability a more attainable goal, more clients are willing to explore sustainable design options. Some of the more common and easily implemented features include use of non-standard construction materials such as recycled products, day lighting, motion-activated lighting and plumbing fixtures and low-flow plumbing fixtures. In addition, civil/site development considerations include improved storm water design to reduce offsite effects and provide potential for water reuse for landscape irrigation. Sustainable opportunities in facility maintenance also can include reductions in harsh chemicals and water reduction during cleaning.
The key is that operational executives are beginning to work with facility design experts to understand and identify opportunities to successfully and effectively implement sustainable design as a long-term strategy to cost savings.
Kearby: The easy answer is that it increases cost, not so much for the materials, as for the overall administration of the project to comply with the sustainability certification.
Tippmann: Years ago, we would review a project toward the end of the design period as a check for compliance with environmental codes and specific customer requests. Today we have LEED-certified architects and design teams that are designing facilities from the ground up to reduce our carbon footprint. This encompasses everything from the materials we select to the origin and locations of the material suppliers. Sustainability is no longer a review check at the 90-percent design review. It is considered and implemented throughout the entire design and construction process.
R&FF: Where are prospective building operators grappling with costs? How do you address these concerns?
Bove: Public refrigerated warehouse owners always have been cost-conscious. Our design staff has been tasked to find innovative solutions that meet the operational needs and satisfy the building code requirements while reducing the overall project cost.
Also, there has been less speculative building in the industry. Our clients are requesting a master plan, which corresponds to their strategic business plan whereby the design and construction for total project build-out is phased over a period of time. The phased approach allows the client to invest capital when a long-term contract is secured.
Hess: Return on investment is a good driver, but cost has always been paramount. In today’s economic climate, every decision is heavily scrutinized. Currently, capital expenditures are focused on renovations, expansions and optimization of existing facilities - rather than on building new facilities. With more emphasis on investigating payback of capital projects, owners are seeking quantitative justifications for decisions. Efforts are focused on advanced planning rather than on the project schedule.
To help our clients, we provide qualified technical staff to perform cost comparisons for various options, educate and inform them, provide information and expected ROI and payback time and assistance with decision-making.
Kearby: Size matters. It drives construction costs, facility operational costs and productivity costs. Owner-operators want the facility to be sufficiently utilized today and not too small to accommodate for the future. Our approach is to study the material handling evolutions for the client based on historical data and future trends and then determine the best size and material handling systems to meet the operational objectives for today and into the near-term. Planning today for a facility expansion in the future ensures that features such as in-ground services will not need to be relocated, footings and structural frames are suited for adding additional future loading, etc.
Tippmann: Steel- and oil-based products have increased the base building cost 15 percent during the past 18 months. While we have seen some of these cost increases backing down, it still causes substantial increased cost. Secondly, as energy costs increase, we are enhancing the energy efficiency of these building designs by adding higher cost T-5 and T-8 lights, adding variable frequency drives to major refrigeration equipment, increasing the R-values in the insulated floors, ceilings and walls and enhancing the complexity of the computer control systems for these facilities. These enhancements can add another 4 to 5 percent to the total cost of the project.
On the bright side, we are designing taller buildings. The major cost driver for the construction and operation is driven by the square footage - not the cubic footage of a building. In the 1990s, building heights were designed for racks of product reaching 34 feet high (“top of product” height). By comparison, today’s racks range from 40 feet to 50 feet in manually operated warehouses. So the cost per pallet position for both construction and operation remains competitive with past projects.
Vande Zandschulp: Construction costs underwent a huge swing in 2008 starting the year with concerns about inflation for almost all building materials including steel, copper, insulation and all petroleum-based products. Then, at the end of the year, we saw deflation with dropping prices on all of these products. During the first part of the year, we had to lock in prices as soon as possible to protect our customers (and ourselves) from inflation. Now we work with our suppliers to get the best possible prices while maintaining delivery dates.
R&FF: Let’s say you’re bringing a prospective new warehouse owner-operator “up to speed” on recent building material/equipment improvements. In what sector(s) have you seen the most noteworthy developments?
Bove: Market forces are pushing warehouse operators toward continuous improvements. In regard to space planning for example, we see flexible partitioning or convertible space being designed and constructed in existing and new facilities. This allows for quick turn of floor space, change of temperature and even allergen separation.
For fire protection, Quell systems (which translate to fewer in-rack sprinklers) are being used. When it comes to doors, more operators now desire oversized dock doors - where the truck backs in - and then someone opens the doors rather than vice versa. This allows for better product security, operator safety and more thermal integrity (tighter fit and control at the opening, less heat loss and fewer places for insects to migrate). Elsewhere, we see more vertical storing dock levelers being specified and installed. The continuous pit allows the overhead door to seal tightly to the pit floor, preventing rodent and debris penetration. This also keeps air in the building and provides better security. Another feature is the ease of access for cleaning both the dock board and the pit.
For floors, shrinkage-compensating concrete floor slabs utilize type-K cement, which increases in volume during curing. This allows for larger distances between contraction joints, which makes for less wear and tear on rolling stock (fork truck wheels) and fewer floor joints to maintain.
Hess: There have been significant improvements in dock equipment, such as thermal and vapor protection for dock levelers, dock seals and dock doors. This thermal protection in shipping and receiving areas can greatly improve energy efficiency. There also are more providers of negative air pressure doors and vestibules and many manufacturers who are constantly improving technologies.
With respect to roofs, TPO and PVC still are commonplace and reliable. Racking with cantilever drop legs has become an industry standard and has reduced replacement and repair costs substantially. As I noted previously, new dry ceiling-only fire protection systems provide greater commodity protection, higher roof and storage heights, lower installation costs, and lower maintenance costs.
Tippmann: The first thing I think of is lighting. New fluorescent T-5 and T-8 lights (with motion sensors) now work in almost all temperature environments. Even without counting rebates and tax incentives, these lights provide an impressive ROI and low total operating cost.
I’d also comment on dock door equipment. Some of the industry’s latest dock doors and dock locks improve product safety and integrity, reduce air infiltration into the temperature controlled space, save labor and provide enhanced safety for warehouse dock workers.
Finally, I’ll note that new ceiling-only sprinkler systems reduce the possibility of sprinkler damage and water release in the freezer. They also make pallet height adjustments more economical.