Emerging Design Trends for Industrial & Fulfillment Warehouses

In recent years, the supply chain had been undergoing a transformative shift when it came to designing the next warehouse facility. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic thrust some critical trends to the forefront which may previously have been something that was only considered. From the tremendous increase in demand of the last-mile delivery, to employee safety/satisfaction, owners are rapidly adapting to meet this shift. Here are 3 key factors impacting the design of the next supply chain facility.

Robots are no longer the future, but the present

A significant transformation in the industrial market is automation. The intention of automation, or robotics, in a modern fulfillment center, is to reduce the number of human touches and increase the speed of filling the customer’s order. Today’s automated warehouses also rely heavily on tracking the products as they move via conveyor systems.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) or Order Storage Retrieval (OSR) systems are examples of significant advancements in automation. Our team will dive into this idea further in a future blog post.

Automation has elevated warehouse design by transforming the building into a sophisticated machine, however this impacts the inherent design of the facility. Forklifts have been replaced with robots, thus changing the density of the racks. The high bay warehouse racking has been replaced with high density storage racks. The automation systems and equipment require increased coordination and upgrades for power, data and fire protection. All of these factors need to be considered when constructing a new building or upgrading an existing facility.

“Where is my package right now?” tracking

With the increase in shipments to personal homes, customers are demanding more information about the status of their package along the entire supply chain. Many shipping companies now share real time data with customers at each stop, from the main warehouse, to the local distribution center, to the last mile stop.

At some point, companies will include GPS location tracking for every package. As a result, warehouse and fulfillment centers will need to accommodate checkpoints within the floorplans and shipping docks for the tracking to be successful.

As more and more automation systems are integrated with tracking software, which scans bar codes and QR codes on every package, this real time tracking is becoming a reality. However, as architects, we must allocate space for the packages to be labeled and scanned, whether by machine or by hand. It is also important to remember to allocate space for labeling machines and not just packing and unpacking.

Employee Experience

Beyond technology, the pandemic and a decrease in the skilled labor market has fueled the need to improve the employee experience within the industrial sector. Employers need to upgrade their current facilities with modern amenities to retain skilled employees and attract new talent. Our experience with these challenges was outlined in a recent blog, where we explore several design options which elevates an employee’s experience. In general, the trending amenities range from large, brightly lit breakrooms with access to daylight and exterior areas for relaxation, to on-site urgent care facilities. Many companies are increasing the number of, and reducing the walking distance to, restroom facilities on the warehouse floor to limit the strain on employee discomfort and downtime.

Based on industry forecasts, we anticipate the demand for warehousing will increase in the coming year, and these shifts will be integrated into those programs. The trends are not limited to these three, however. In an upcoming blog we will explore the increase of micro-fulfillment centers and ‘pop-up’ warehouse sites across the U.S, stay tuned for that.

About the Author

Dan Popp, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a Principal and program manager in our Kansas City office. He brings comprehensive experience in the project delivery and design construction documentation processes for fast-track, complex projects. He has been with the firm since 2004 and has nearly 20 years of expertise in managing large, ground-up, commercial projects, new retail construction, comprehensive remodels and tenant build-outs with valuations over $20 million. Throughout his career, Dan has worked for regional and national clients on retail and commercial projects that range from 3,500 to 1.1 million+ sq. ft. Dan’s capabilities as a Project Manager have lead to continued success in leading stakeholders, engineers, craftsmen, jurisdictions and contractors to successful project outcomes. Email Dan.