Designing industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse facilities

More than just places to make and store products, industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse facilities are becoming more complex. Owners are more demanding in the face of ever-evolving supply chain demands and technological advancements.


Designing industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse facilities: Building automation and controlsRespondents:

  • Andy Campbell, CEng, MCIBSE Senior Refrigeration Engineer Leo A Daly Minneapolis
  • David Crutchfield, PE, LEED AP Principal RMF Engineering Charleston, S.C.
  • George Isherwood, PE Vice President Peter Basso Associates Troy, Mich.
  • Tommy Lane, PE Department Head, Electrical Engineering Spencer Bristol Peachtree Corners, Ga.



CSE: What's the biggest trend you see today in industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse facilities?

Andy Campbell: One of the biggest trends we see in food manufacturing is an increased focus on protection against contamination. Manufacturers have a greater awareness of food sensitivities and allergies, and they're making it a big priority in how they process food.

For example, if you have four lines of food being processed, and one is nut-free or gluten-free, it affects everything that passes through the facility. Contamination is prevented through pressure regimes throughout the factory, which has become an important design consideration for mechanical engineers. We pressurize the various environments within the facilities so that air flows from "high-clean" to "low-clean." Rooms that are designated as high-clean are positively pressurized, meaning that air flows out of them, not in. Rooms designated as low-clean are the reverse. This ensures that ingredients with a higher need for isolation are not inadvertently contaminated.

Another big trend is e-commerce and designing facilities to accommodate online shopping. E-commerce, and the need to offer home delivery within a few hours, is having a fairly big impact on distribution facilities. We're seeing a lot more sophisticated logistics software and automation systems going in, which is allowing pickers to be very efficient. This hits the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) world when it comes to needing redundancy.

These last-mile facilities are mission critical and need to be extremely robust and reliable. Consumer loyalty is a fickle thing, and it depends critically on a retailer's consistent ability to deliver on time or early. To avoid downtimes, we need to meet N+1 redundancy, which adds sophistication to the electrical design.

David Crutchfield: In our area (the Southeast), where humidity is a persistent problem, we see different trends for moisture control. We have trended toward the decoupling of the ventilation air system from the traditional space-conditioning systems. All air coming in for exhaust make-up and building pressurization now comes in via a dedicated outdoor system, and the space conditioning operates via sensible coolers. This has the added benefit of allowing entire systems to be shut off when conditions warrant, resulting in tremendous energy-saving potentials.

George Isherwood: Concerns about the environmental impact created by the facility seem to be discussed more frequently when designing manufacturing facilities. This includes energy usage, water usage, and wastewater treatment.

Tommy Lane: The biggest trend I see is more facilities are incorporating automation into their processing lines.

CSE: What trends are on the horizon for such projects?

Lane: Complete automation is on the horizon, which will decrease the number of employees.

Isherwood: We believe that large automotive facilities are partnering with their Tier 1 suppliers, which includes building-supplier facilities near the assembly facilities to limit storage and shipping costs. This is creating smaller manufacturing plants geared toward specific clients of the Tier 1 manufacturers. We believe this trend will continue to develop.

Campbell: E-commerce has driven growth in terms of the number of fulfillment centers. It has also changed the landscape of where we are building them. Fulfillment centers need to be closer to consumers, instead of further out on the interstate. As we look to solve site-selection challenges in this new era of fulfillment, we have to be creative about the sites we consider. Proximity to customers is a top priority, so we're increasingly looking at nontraditional sites, such as disused retail space, which can be converted into last-mile distribution facilities. Instead of a big storefront, it could be an unattended, older building next to a railroad, but as long as it's in a populated area, it's a good site for them.

CSE: Are you noticing an increase in the building of new industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse projects versus retrofitting existing buildings?

Campbell: We're seeing a trend in getting fresh food closer to the consumer, which is changing not only what kinds of facilities we're designing, but also how clients are using their existing facilities. There is growth in the demand for fresh-cut fruit and vegetables, ready-to-eat meals, and ready-to-cook meal kits. This is causing both new construction and renovation, as grocers move commissary production out of grocery departments and into custom facilities. For example, instead of making subs or chicken salad tubs in the deli area of the grocery store, they're moving that production to small, offsite facilities that deliver the product fresh to stores daily. This allows them to be more efficient and turn out larger volumes while still offering fresh produce to consumers. This drives a range of new construction and renovation projects, from new cut-centers to new fit-outs of existing properties to additions to existing distribution centers for food processing.

Isherwood: We are noticing the opposite, that smaller Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers are adapting existing facilities to their processes.

Crutchfield: In our area, most work is new. Very few facilities are retrofitted as the cost to retrofit is often close enough to the cost of a new facility. This has been driven mostly by the specific nature of the manufacturing being done locally.

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