Vendors that specialize in the warehouse operations of the warehouse are talented folks to engage early because material handling, supply chain consulting, and industrial engineers are continually working on new processes and see the latest techniques and schools of thought in action.

Material handling consultants are the vendors in charge of racking, storage systems, mezzanines, forklifts, conveyor belts, automation, and more. Industrial buildings come in different shapes and sizes, both inside and outside the building, and various systems are designed for different dimensions and use cases. By discussing your upcoming move with material handling folks early, you can be made aware of any new racking systems or operational improvements that might be available for your new building. More importantly, these findings may change the very nature of your building search. You may find that your products can now be racked safely in a 32′ clearance warehouse rather than the 24′ clearance warehouse you are in now. This once distinct shift in the process may drastically change what you are looking for, where you are looking, and the type of landlord. The calculus changes when you start thinking in cubic feet and pallet positions as opposed to square feet. 32′ clearance warehouses will also have more modern fire suppression systems and may have more trailer parking for logistic oriented properties.

You can also think of a material handling consultant like an architect of the warehouse. Instead of building out office layouts, they are building warehouse layouts that include machinery, racking, aisles, speed bays, and more. They will seek to understand the materials, volumes, flow, and nature of your operation within its current building. They will then educate you on the most current methods of handling similar materials. They can then help test fit the warehouses that your broker finds to help you understand how you can set up your warehouse to achieve an optimal output. They can be a great source of vendors specific to fire sprinklers, high pile permit consultants, racking, forklifts, and dock equipment.

Freeman Welch of Catalina Material Handling explains some of the nuance of material handling:

What is the process for analyzing a potential client’s needs?

“Typically, we meet on site and observe how a client is currently storing their products. We note their pallet heights, their weights, their lift equipment being used, and the flow of their business. We try to educate them on why this information matters and why it applies to their building and storage. We are there to connect the dots in the warehouse for our client – what lift equipment is being used, what aisle width is required for the lift, how much storage capacity there is, how high can they go based on the sprinkler system, the commodity and weights, what’s the typical storage shelf life of a commodity – this is all imperative in coming up with a productive, efficient system for the client.

What you’ll see in a lot of clothing distribution is that they want to condense as much of their commodities into racking as possible. This usually results in the narrowest aisle possible. For that, they’re going to need a narrow aisle order picker which usually, depending on what size box they’re picking, will be an aisle anywhere from just over 4 feet up to 5.5 feet. The aisle could be 6 feet if they want that, but really, we like to go a bit narrower because the idea is that somebody on an aisle picker needs to reach either side and be able to pull without having to move the aisle picker. It’s most effectively used when combined with a wire guidance option. A wire guidance option allows them to move significantly faster which in turn allows them to pick and pull at a significantly faster pace as well as create a safer warehouse environment.

For 3PLs and other logistics company, space and pace equals dollar signs.  One of the most effective ways of densely storing pallets is through use of a turret style/swing reach forklift.  This style forklift allows storage to various heights but allows pallets to be stored in aisles as low as 6’.  This style forklift is most effectively used with wire guidance as well but is commonly operated without.

Now with a lot of the bigger buildings, the next real piece of equipment is the stand-up reach and counter balance forklifts. Most of the new buildings are built on 52’ column to column construction joints. These are meant to allow for 9’4” aisles for stand up reach and counter balance trucks.

The next step up is the sit down counter balance. Most of these machines are more on the heavy-duty side. They don’t generally go as high as the new stand up and reach counter balances, but they allow for heavier storage of commodities. I work with roofing companies that have 3,000 lbs of basic roofing tar that sit on pallets. They’ve got heavy duty lift trucks that sometimes need up to 15-16’ aisle clearances.”

For non-sprinkler head buffs, what is the difference between K14 and K17?

“The difference between K14 and K17 is the K Factor. The K factor can be determined by using an equation between gallons per minute, flow-rate, and pressure of force. K14 represents a K-factor of 200 while K17 represents a K-factor of 242. This K-factor is the discharge rate from the nozzle of the sprinkler.

K14s are basically obsolete. A K14 building may not meet the requirements needed to store over 20’The K14 head can be found in bigger distribution buildings because that was the top of the line sprinkler head 15 to 20 years ago. Now, in most cases, buildings with K14 heads need K17 head replacements to get up over 20 feet. It has to do with the water that is released and the pressure behind it.”

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