Warehouse, manufacturing facilities go high-tech: Building automation and controls

Warehouse, manufacturing and logistics buildings are more than simple boxy structures used to make products and store them before they move onto their next destination. Engineers working find these facilities can be as complex and advanced as any other building. What’s more, factors like increased interest in online shopping and demand to have desired products yesterday are boosting demand for these projects.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 29, 2020


Leonard Belliveau Jr., PE, SET, vice president, strategic accounts, Jensen Hughes, Framingham, Mass.: Belliveau has more than 22 years of experience managing fire protection engineering design and code consulting on government and commercial projects. Clients include a large shipping company, U.S. Department of Transportation and Leidos Corp.

Jason R. Gerke, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, practice area leader – Mechanical/Plumbing | Principal, GRAEF, Milwaukee.: As a practice area leader, Gerke has worked on a broad range of projects, including convention centers, schools, airports and others. He has more than 12 years of mechanical design, commissioning and project management experience.

George D. Halkias, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, senior principal, Stantec, Pittsburgh: Serving as senior principal, Halkias brings more than 20 years of experience — as well as knowledge on a wide range of project types — to the company. He has designed, consulted on or managed more than 2 million square feet of U.S. Green Building Council LEED certified buildings.

Josh Meinig, PE, senior mechanical engineer, CDM Smith, Maitland, Fla.: Meinig is the lead mechanical engineer in the southeast region at CDM Smith. He has more than 14 years of experience in mechanical design and construction services for environmental, industrial, military and commercial facilities.

Doug Sandridge, PE, principal, RTM Engineering Consultants, Wheat Ridge, Colo.: Sandridge, principal, comes to RTM from Concord West, an engineering firm specializing in design, construction and management services that the firm acquired in June. His portfolio includes a number of liquor distilleries and international projects.

CSE: From your experience, what systems within warehouse, manufacturing and logistics facilities are benefiting from automation that previously might not have?

Sandridge: All will at some point. Automated storage and retrieval are becoming standard now. Robotics is just around the corner.

Gerke: The owner is the biggest winner on our recent manufacturing projects with increased automation. The systems being installed provide immediate feedback about equipment performance — whether production or utilities — and allows the owner to make quick decisions with the instant information. This information is allowing owners to decide which equipment to operate and which equipment needs maintenance and to quickly identify failures, alarms or indicators of imminent failure. This real-time information not only allows an owner to maintain equipment, control energy costs and perform preventive maintenance, but it also results in increase uptime, resulting in higher throughput of the process.

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project?

Sandridge: Yes. Not only does RTM fully use BIM with building systems, we have incorporated the manufacturing equipment into the model. This enables both production and maintenance personnel to use the same BIM model. So, for example, any maintenance performed on production equipment can easily be correlated or scheduled with the building systems to minimize downtime.

CSE: In what way is the need for more smart technology and features in such buildings affecting your work on these projects?

Gerke: Designs include more sensors in every building. Many times, these devices are simple temperature or pressure sensors providing verification of operation and trend data and other times they are more sophisticated and able monitor flow and output of systems. A smart building is one that has many sensors. There is no requirement for complicate sensors to be used, but rather the straightforward data input to a control system can indicate operational status of processes and infrastructure systems.

Sandridge: At RTM we have an information technology studio and a low-voltage system studio. On industrial projects where a control room or operations center is included, there is a considerable amount of IT and control technology that have to mesh and fully integrate with the building systems. As space is limited, understanding the technology function and coordinating the building systems and control systems in these spaces is critical to the outcome of the project and overall satisfaction of the owner.

CSE: Has the “Internet of Things” come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? Has this integration impacted the project? If so, please give an example.

Sandridge: OEM systems have loT capability to monitor and report data. This data can be transferred via Wi-Fi or through IT of the POC.

CSE: Cybersecurity and hacking are increasing concerns — are you seeing such concerns impacting your work on warehouse, manufacturing and logistics facilities?

Belliveau: We are seeing cybersecurity and hacking in every aspect of our business. As a company, just as we complete our latest round of cybersecurity upgrades to our computer systems, someone releases some new phishing attack or some new scam that, no matter how much training we go through and no matter how solid our internet security is, someone manages to open the wrong email attachment or click on the wrong item, and it seems to start the process all over again.

These cybersecurity terrorists seem to find new ways daily to hack into a company’s systems and wreak havoc for all involved. For a multinational company with government clients, this becomes a nightmare of epic proportions. Personally, I am glad that I am not the head of IT in any company, as I am not sure how much sleep I would get knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the systems selected and incorporated to protect the company’s vital information will be taken down.

Sandridge: Yes, in particular are control rooms and operation centers. In the advanced manufacturing sector, many of the manufacturing and assembly spaces require compliance with federal intelligence community standards.