The complexities of industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse facilities: codes and standards

Warehouses and factories are more than simply bare-bones buildings for companies to keep equipment. Here, professionals with experience on such facilities offer advice on how to meet and exceed expectations regarding codes and standards.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 25, 2017


Russell Ashcroft, PE, Principal Engineer, Southland Engineering, Tempe, Ariz.

Mike Barbes, PE, LC, Senior Electrical Engineer, AECOM, Atlanta

Reinhard Hanselka, PhD, Director of Code Compliance, CRB, Kansas City, Mo.

Marcin Jakubowski, Senior Mechanical Engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Orlando, Fla.

Eric M. Roeder, PE, Project Manager, Security & Fire Protection, JENSEN HUGHES, Arlington, Va.

Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, CCJM Engineers Ltd., Chicago


CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use during the design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of engineered systems in such projects? 

Reinhard Hanselka: There are currently two major model code families. We have the NFPA code series and the International Code Council (ICC) code series. Both code groups reference a variety of standards. An issue is that referenced standards achieve the status of codes when they are simply referred to, even though only a limited portion of that standard may apply. For example, the ICC’s International Fire Code has more than 409 referenced codes and standards that may be applicable by reference. This can be an onerous task and responsibility for any engineer. Additional standards, such as OSHA regulations and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, also are always applicable. Today, engineers have the daunting task of complying with the complete body of applicable codes or standards and deciding how to legally proceed.

Barbes: Besides the most common codes, it is critical to also comply with OSHA and electrical safety codes to avoid electrical burn hazards in a manufacturing facility. Specifically, the arc flash equipment-labeling requirements, since there may be times when it is necessary to work on energized electrical equipment. Although it should be avoided at all times, it may be more of a hazard to de-energize certain equipment—and there are code allowances for such situations.

Ashcroft: As electrical engineers, we are always bound by NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC). We often also refer to ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, the Uniform Building Code, and International Building Code (IBC) for special function buildings. In the last 5 years, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) has become more important for lighting-power densities, as many municipalities have begun to adopt this standard.

Roeder: Designs use NFPA or IBC as adopted by local jurisdictions. When designers get to requirements unique to being stored/used/processed/manufactured, these documents will guide them to their specifically applicable requirements. Combustibles, hazardous materials like aerosols, and other special considerations have their own subsections in these codes, and occasionally their own NFPA code specific to their challenges.

CSE: What are some solutions/best practices to ensure that industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse buildings are in compliance with codes and standards?

Hanselka: The plethora of regulations is a daunting task. The only successful approach is one that is multidisciplinary. All modern designs should have multidisciplinary—architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and plumbing—reviews. 

Roeder: Ensure that all key stakeholders are involved as early as possible. These may include an end user’s facilities, maintenance, environmental health and safety, and risk groups; the engineering design team, insurer, and general contractor; and AHJs as well as building and fire officials. Getting these groups to see eye to eye and gaining consensus on fire protection and life safety approaches sometimes requires involving a qualified third party, such as a code consultant. Early and frequent communication between these parties allows ample time to come to a consensus and ease pressure in the permitting process.

Roy: The biggest problem is that, most times, we are designing a generic black box that can serve multiple processes. As such, the generic codes and standards for the black box may not apply for specific, specialized processes. The key is to effectively explain this concern to the client’s manufacturing personnel as well as to facilities personnel.  Many times, these two groups are in different corporate silos and don’t see eye to eye.  It is essential to have multiple stakeholder meetings to obtain a solid understanding of all processes and ensure all relevant codes and standards are taken into consideration in the design.

CSE: How are codes, standards, or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such buildings?

Hanselka: This is a current trend and conflicting provision of many new designs. All engineers have the legal obligation to provide designs that provide a high degree of safety. A key mitigating factor is removing and isolating all hazardous emissions and directing them to an approved location outside of the applicable structure. The approved location must be approved by the AHJ, which is usually the nearest fire department.

Jakubowski: IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 are very rarely applicable to specialized industrial systems. Cooling equipment efficiency, or fan/pump motor horsepower, is not being verified if the equipment is designed to serve industrial processes. Oftentimes, when a typical MEP system is supporting the process (room conditioning, local exhaust, lighting levels), IECC provides exemptions and the system does not have to meet the code’s requirements. On the other hand, piping and ductwork insulation requirements are applicable to those systems. Overall, energy efficiency codes are not intrusive and allow for process requirements to take priority over the energy savings.

Barbes: From my experience, the most challenging codes are the ASHRAE 90.1 and IECC lighting guidelines for lighting-power densities, since their power limitations are not directly proportional to the illumination levels. Sometimes it is difficult to achieve the required lighting and stay within compliance of the power/energy levels, and equally difficult are the lighting control requirements. Fortunately, most manufacturing processes are continuous (24-hour) operations, so it is possible to take advantage of the code exemptions for such facilities.