The growing demand for high bay warehousing in Australia has brought to light the importance of partnering with engineers who have the knowledge and experience to meet the precise needs of sophisticated warehouse automation.

Grant Roe, director of Costin Roe Consulting, civil and structural engineers for some of Australia’s largest and most successful automated high bay warehouse developments, commented on the firm’s approach to high bay warehouse projects, and engineering design imperatives from an automation performance perspective.

Evolution of warehouse design and technology

Essential to the functions of trade, warehouses have been discovered in archaeological digs dating back to ancient Rome.

Warehouse buildings were a feature of the urban landscape from the industrial revolution through to the latter part of the 20th century. However, the growing scarcity and rising value of urban property gradually caused the redevelopment of many architecturally significant urban warehouse buildings into high-priced residential and mixed-use properties. This in turn pushed the development of more massive and utilitarian-style new warehouse structures into lower-cost regional centres and city-fringe industrial estates.

Kuehne + Nagel high bay warehouse in Veghel, The Netherlands

One of many fine European examples of high bay warehouse design with state-of-the-art automation, Kuehne + Nagel, in Veghel, The Netherlands, more than 36m in height. [Photo by Joop van Houdt, via Wikimedia Commons]

With the dwindling supply of large tracts of development land near transport hubs, the most innovative nations of industrialised Europe were first to recognise and explore the advantages of expanding warehouse designs vertically, rather than horizontally.

Advances in materials-handling technology allowed for the automation of de-palletising, stacking, picking, and packing in verticalised facilities. Verticalised automation delivered savings on land needs and human resources, along with improved productivity – the automated systems being able to work with much greater speed, safety, and accuracy than manual systems.

Growth of high bay warehousing facilities in Australia

“Australian distributors are trending towards high bay warehousing with sophisticated automated systems,” said Grant Roe, BE(Hons) MEngSc MBA MIEAust CPEng, NER “and we are essentially contributing to the direction of this trend as experts in Australian high bay warehouse engineering design.”

Costin Roe Consulting has been responsible for the civil and structural engineering of numerous Australian high bay warehouse facilities in the range of 30-40m high, with automated systems for storage and retrieval, such as the new Metcash automated facility in NSW, and for DHL, Baida, and Toll.

Superior approach to high bay warehouse engineering design

“The key to successful warehousing automation is the precision surface of the warehouse flooring. Yet, to get the flooring right, the engineer must understand and interpret the requirements of the automated system above, and realise the correct solution for flooring construction methodology and foundations below,” Grant said.

Flooring problems can cause automation to stop working

Toll/IPEC high bay warehouse

Dock view of the Toll/IPEC Express Parcel Freight Facility, Bungarribee NSW, where 35,000 parcels per hour are processed with automation – Costin Roe Consulting, Civil & Structural Engineers. Read more about the Toll/IPEC project.

“Application of the FEM design code for storage and retrieval systems is generally not well understood in Australia. The space for automated equipment to manoeuvre is extremely tight, and if the floor happens to become compromised in any way, the automation either can’t perform optimally or will stop working altogether,” Grant continued. “Flooring must be jointless to maintain the integrity of movement where automated systems are typically mounted on rails. Tilts often cannot exceed 1:2000, and load from uprights can range up to 20-30 tonne.”

“Wind is a consideration when high bay warehouses are anything up to 40m in height, but wind is commonly dealt with in structural engineering and is a relatively simple problem. Specialist knowledge and experience is needed to work with the high loads and very tight deformation restrictions on the floor as dictated by automation requirements. For optimum performance of systems everything must be right in the combination of ground conditions, flooring, and automation. Ultimately, it’s about getting the maximum number of pallets and amount of storage into the facility, and the greatest possible number of items processed effectively, therefore maximising return on the investment in capacity and productivity.”

Fully suspended floors actually counter-intuitive

“The traditional answer would be a fully suspended floor but this is actually counter-intuitive. Putting down hard piles can mean that the floor between the supports could deform under the load. A better approach is perhaps also the most innovative in engineering terms – utilising what the ground can do combined with lightly-piled rafts,” Grant said.

“The raft concept can isolate the floor and its automation systems from the effects of ground-related stressors, and the light piles provide overall foundational stability.”

For more information about engineering innovation with lightly-piled rafts, watch the video on the acclaimed Costin Roe Consulting project, Links Seaside.