With many indicators pointing to economic recovery in North America, owners and managers of warehouses and distribution centers are beginning to see increased orders and throughput. While this is good news, concerns about suddenly obsolete material handling and space requirements are prompting some owners and managers to investigate a retrofit project to improve workflow and to upgrade their ability to respond appropriately to the improving economy. Some are even planning brand-new facilities with completely updated amenities to meet both current and future needs.
No matter the approach, however, the evolution of a facility’s lift truck fleet should be a key component of planning discussions. A warehouse or distribution center redesign is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the existing fleet mix to replace aging units, but keep in mind that new truck types may be necessary, especially if storage density and throughput will change substantially.
Conversely, an existing fleet may not transfer seamlessly to the design and workflow of a new facility. Additionally, many facility owners and managers are grappling with issues like sustainability and reducing carbon footprint, which means a fleet’s future power technology needs also must be addressed.
For these reasons, it’s crucial that owners and managers of warehouses and distribution centers spend as much time as necessary in the planning stages of a retrofit project or new facility design to ensure all lift truck-related decisions are sound. An important part of that process is partnering with industry experts, including lift truck manufacturers and dealers, to ensure all goals are met and a reasonable return on investment can be achieved.
Leveraging those relationships to ensure astute decision-making will increase the opportunity for project success.
It can be difficult to know where one is going without a map, and the same is true for a new or retrofit warehouse or distribution center building project. That’s why front-end planning is so crucial and should not be underestimated, because it will create a framework for the entire project, including a timeline and milestones that facilitate accountability for all participants. Facets of the front-end planning process include:
• Clearly defined objectives: Without a well-thought-out set of overall objectives for the project, it will be nearly impossible to ascertain whether it is ultimately successful or not. Too often, facility owners and managers waste time, budget and resources without clearly understood and attainable goals.
• Must-haves vs. nice-to-haves: Defining project goals and objectives is easier when potential amenities are divided into two categories—those that must be present and those that would be beneficial to have if cost were not a consideration.
Once a budget is established, the task of weeding out the optional items is much easier. Note that the project type will often dictate what will fall into a given category—in a retrofit, for example, variables like column spacing, ceiling heights, and available floor and dock space will influence what is feasible. With a “greenfield” project, issues such as prevailing building codes, available capital for the project, corporate business objectives and project timelines may dictate the decision between must-have and nice-to-have.
• Internal checkoff: Individual departments and customers within a warehouse or distribution center will need to efficiently interface with the resulting design of a new facility or workflow changes in a retrofit. If the distribution center is part of a manufacturing complex, then the requirements of supporting the manufacturing process become a high priority. Thus, making those departments part of the planning process to ensure their comfort level is crucial. That includes the information technology (IT) department, which may be responsible for the network infrastructure that supports the lift truck fleet management system.