The rise of the "mega shed"

As so called ‘mega sheds’ continue to dominate the British landscape, Paul Gouland, marketing director at Clugston Group, discusses the complex challenges and opportunities surrounding the construction of large-scale warehouses and distribution centres for the ever-evolving logistics sector.

The rise of the

The growing popularity of e-commerce, coupled with seasonal peaks in demand – as American traditions such as Black Friday cross the pond – means today’s warehouse managers must now deliver an unprecedented level of speed, flexibility and efficiency in order to cater to the sporadic shopping habits of retail customers.

Whilst warehouses have been around for a long time, providing a facility to store and ship large quantities of products, the traditional warehousing model and infrastructure has seen an enormous shift as omni-channel retailing takes a grip of the logistics market. With fluctuating order volumes and patterns, as well as an increase in the speed of deliveries, maximising warehouse capacity and increasing throughput has become more essential than ever before for modern warehouse managers and logistics providers alike.

Raising the roof on automation

Logistics managers are investing in next-generation warehouses in order to gain a competitive edge in the supply chain, with many leading firms doubling down on sophisticated warehouse automation to deliver improvements in efficiency, speed, reliability, accuracy and (in the long-term) cost savings. As a result, a new wave of automated technology from storage and retrieval systems to state-of-the-art carousels and even driverless vehicles are now being utilised to supplement human pickers in warehouses.

To accommodate the automation required in today’s agile retail distribution model, there is a clear trend towards larger, wider and taller warehouse buildings, with developers raising the roof as logistics companies seek structures that extend beyond the traditional ‘standard box’ design.

Although size should be a vital consideration during the construction of any warehouse, especially with the extra clearance required for stock, vehicles, larger racking systems and the surplus of advanced equipment in modern facilities, other factors such as thicker concrete floors to support the heavy machinery used to automate the warehouse process also need to be contemplated. Meanwhile, warehouse managers are increasingly focused on achieving energy efficiency, capturing long-term cost savings and ensuring optimal onsite safety within their facilities – and each should be well-thought-out from the outset of the build.

Warehouse and distribution centre layouts need to be completed to an incredibly high level of accuracy, to accommodate both the storage systems, machinery and handling equipment, as well as the forklifts and automated machines that move goods around. Even a minor degree of inaccuracy can cause major problems.

Building Information Modelling

To achieve the high level of accuracy that is required for any ‘mega shed’ project, construction companies such as Clugston Construction are now utilising BIM (Building Information Modelling) – an intelligent 3D model-based process – to model sophisticated warehouse designs to ensure businesses are getting all the space they need for stock, equipment and staff.

By utilising BIM technology, leading contractors can review building data to drive efficiency, boost sustainability and minimise waste during the build process. Virtually visualising structures ensures facilities not only meet the requirements of the retailer, but also maximise efficiency for day-to-day activities taking place at the warehouse.

Innovative construction methods are also revolutionising modern-day warehouses and distribution centres, allowing supply chain managers to keep up to pace with modern consumer demands in the digital age.

The construction procedures and materials utilised during the build can ensure that the facility is not only high quality in its appearance, but also appropriate for the purpose it is going to serve. For example, the glass, bricks and cladding of a warehouse can be constructed to bolster the strength of the building or meet BREEAM and sustainable measures.

Similarly, such structures can be constructed from materials that resist break-ins and guard against outside tampering to protect against unwanted intrusion and theft, due to the high value of stock they usually contain. External and internal windows, doors and gates, for instance, can be manufactured from heavy-duty and robust materials and fitted with advanced locking devices to create a safe haven for hazardous or expensive materials.

New developments

Such large-scale warehouse schemes have become increasingly common, particularly on the outskirts of the UK’s densely populated cities where they are required for the fundamental “last mile” of delivery into major cities.

Redhouse Interchange is a sign of the transformation happening in the once ‘steady’ warehouse and logistics market. The major development, a joint-venture between Clugston and Cromwell, is located off junction 38 of the A1(M) and just seven miles north west of Doncaster town centre in South Yorkshire – providing a staggering two million square feet of space for leading retailers including Next, Asda, B&Q and DFS.

Mawdsley Pharmaceutical Group, as occupier and purchaser, has taken the final 150,000 square foot unit at the premier distribution location in the heart of South Yorkshire, – which was also built by the Clugston Construction team – acquiring additional land from the JV, with a view to extending the unit in the near future.

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