Why Building Layout Matters
At its very basic level, the industrial building is two dimensional, meaning that it consists of a width and a length, or widths and lengths if irregularly shaped. While three dimensional topics such as clearance heights and sprinkler systems often determine an industrial building’s utility, it’s layout can be equally important. The dimensions of a building can determine if a distribution operation is moving goods profitably, a manufacturing operation produces product efficiently, and a warehouse operation stores product effectively. For these reasons, supply chain real estate practitioners should be aware of how their company or client’s operation translates into an ideal building layout for any new real estate search or re-design of current facilities.
Much like clearance heights and sprinkler systems, the optimal building layout is not uniform for all users. For example, a less-than-truckload (LTL) distribution company may prefer a thin, rectangular facility with a significant amount of dock high positions on one or multiple sides. This shape will allow the LTL to effectively move and sort as many goods in and out of the warehouse to the largest amount of trucks possible. It will also reduce the distance between moves inside the warehouse, which greatly improves pick times and related key performance indicators. Conversely, a manufacturing company may prefer a thicker, almost square-shaped facility with inbound and outbound loading on only the narrowest side. This shape will allow the manufacturer to plan long production runs, starting from the inbound areas and weaving around to the eventual outbound side or storage areas.
Outside of greenfield developments, where the building shape and amenities can literally be designed around material handling requirements, the responsible parties of a firm looking for a new industrial property would select a facility that either exists or will exist based upon an already entitled design. For the most part, architects have designed speculative industrial buildings to a) maximize site coverage and b) appeal to the widest possible audience of users. For these reasons, most modern industrial buildings will have a rectangular shape with loading on one or both wider sides.
For the warehouse/distribution user, buildings which have greater than average depths (400’+) and one-sided loading will often be at an operational disadvantage compared those with shallower depths. This is especially the case for operations with higher inventory turns using forklift or manual order picking. It may not be the case for operations with higher inventory turns using automated picking systems. However, at this time the vast majority of operations use forklift or manual order picking due to the high expense of automated picking systems. Therefore, for the vast majority of warehousing and distributing operations buildings with average to below average distances from loading areas will be preferred.