With the pressure of e-commerce mounting, the mezzanine market is reaping the benefits of an increasingly tough logistics landscape. Alexandra Leonards explores the reasons behind rising demand and why mezzanines are now essential to warehouse design.
The role of the mezzanine hasn’t changed, but it is evolving. Essentially the market is adapting to address one of the logistics sector’s biggest challenges, the growth of e-commerce.
While the high street is fast waning, online shopping is growing wildly. Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 17.6 per cent this February, a year-on-year increase of 9.4 per cent, according to ONS research. This growth results in much less stock being handled in store, which means the warehouse is now responsible for a huge increase in stock, deliveries and returns.
Cue the mezzanine – here to conjure up new space, for an industry desperate for just that. Let’s just say the mezzanine market hasn’t exactly been hindered by a logistics sector overwhelmed by the explosion of e-commerce and rising warehouse rents. With these pressures dominating logistics, the mezzanine is fast becoming the star of the warehouse.
“The implementation of mezzanines in logistics operations is definitely on the rise, particularly with a growing increase in e-commerce which has led to a requirement for increased warehouse floor space for businesses operating in the online retail space,” says Alan Wildsmith, group product manager – structural products at Hadley Group.
At a time where logistics is facing extreme pressure there is now a trend towards adding floor space without actually increasing the overall footprint. By exploiting the full height of the warehouse, mezzanine floors can maximise the usage of all existing space in the warehouse. “This can help significantly with cost control, eradicating the requirement for increased land to increase storage capacity,” explains Wildsmith. “This is particularly significant at a time when the rental cost of storage space and warehouse facilities is on the rise, and the amount of available space currently available across the UK is limited.”
Robert Brand-Smith, managing director of BS Handling Systems, has noticed that the growth of online shopping has driven an increased use of upward storage, hence more projects involving mezzanine structures and platforms for conveyors, sortation and maintenance access. “Over 75 per cent of our projects over the last few years have a mezzanine floor as part of our scope,” explains Brand-Smith.
The decision to install a mezzanine within a warehouse is certainly not an afterthought for most operators. In fact, this type of flooring is often a central part of the warehouse design process. “Product can be stored more densely in a mezzanine, as a result automation has to be considered at design stage, to enable a smooth delivery of the project,” says Brand-Smith. “Our clients use the initial design of a mezzanine within a turnkey project, incorporating the floor into our scope of an automation or storage system, future proofing the structure for further enhancement of their operations in the coming years, notably in loading capacities and supporting grid design.
“Mezzanine structures or floors [are]being considered during [the]design phase in alignment with the [initial design of the]conveyors, sortation, [and]automation. Designs [are]being future proofed for projects and uprated in loading capacity for future expansion and flexibility.”
The on-going labour shortage has further exacerbated the strain on logistics operators across the country. A lack of workers, and increased stock, has advanced automation to the forefront of operations. In turn, automation and mezzanine flooring have joined forces to create a combined solution for logistics. “There are a number of automated storage and retrieval systems now available that will take the hard work out of inventory tracking when a warehouse space has essentially doubled in size thanks to the installation of a mezzanine floor,” says Hadley Group’s Alan Wildsmith. “All logistics managers aim to reduce the space they use but increase the volume of goods the warehouse can handle.
“The introduction of mezzanine flooring can help reduce space used and this coupled with a clever automated system will help increase volume handled.”
Mezzanines: are they worth the time and effort?
Mezzanines act as a handy solution for some of the trials faced by logistics. But is potential disruption to operations, alongside the process of attaining planning approval, worth the time and effort?
“Securing planning approval for the installation of mezzanine floors as part of a retrofit project can be straightforward,” says Alan Wildsmith, group product manager – structural products at Hadley Group. “Careful planning that ensures the initial design and costing is accurate from the outset is crucial here. Get this right and you can mitigate any nasty surprises further down the line.”
The key to this is choosing a company that can provide a complete solution, right from consultation to building and fire regulation approval says Wildsmith. “As the increased floor space is concealed within the original structure, there is little or no disruption required.” Using software to design a precise flooring layout can ease the application process.
It can be argued that the process of installing a mezzanine can be fairly time consuming, which may impact operations. “I would say the opposite is the case,” says Hadley Group’s Wildsmith. “Our installing partners are able to go into a store at 4pm on a Sunday when closed, for example, and erect a new mezzanine floor overnight, with business ready to operate as normal when trading hours begin again on Monday morning. This ensures no disruption to trade or impact on normal operations. Such live installs in large retail outlets are common practice these days.”
Picking the right floor
Flooring isn’t necessarily the first consideration for most operators when thinking about designing or improving a warehouse.
And the move towards automation and robotics has put a renewed focus on ensuring that the warehouse floor is up to the job. CoGri’s expertise in laser grinding has enabled it to build a worldwide business focusing on the design, construction, upgrading of industrial concrete floors.
Choosing the right floor is important, as not all flooring is the same.
“It’s a vital component,” says Sarah James from Sikafloor. “With literally miles of floor area, it is vital to have a seamless floor covering that is able to sustain the impact from forklift trucks, palettes, as well as an enormous amount of staff footfall.”
Flooring needs to be durable, especially for heavy duty operations. If a warehouse has forklift trucks running on it on a daily basis, it’s going damage the flooring quickly if it isn’t hard-wearing. A long-lasting floor can minimise downtime, making the warehouse just that little bit more efficient.
There are many floor types to consider. “You may need an antistatic surface that ensures the movement of electrical goods, through to an ultra-hygienic environment with a gloss system, which is seamless and easy-to- clean and maintain while being compliant with regulations,” explains James.
Even more important is the role flooring plays in maintaining safety in the warehouse. “If a floor in a warehouse does not address safety as a key consideration it presents a risk to employees by increasing the possibility of trips, slips and falls,” adds James. “Equally, if it does not take into account the performance demands of machinery and traffic to be used at the site, then it could lead to costly production shutdowns.”
More often than not, companies are looking for a full-service offer to achieve a quick turnaround when it comes to choosing flooring, says Sarah James.
Mezzanine floor lifts for DFS
DFS has chosen two specially-developed Transdek mezzanine floor lifts for its Glasgow Customer Distribution Centre.
The furniture retailer’s new 20,000 sq. ft mezzanine level provides storage capacity for an additional 440 furniture racks, which the Transdek goods lifts provide access to.
The lifts have an enlarged three-metre by three-metre platform size suited to carrying three furniture racks to and from the secondary storage area. The new lifts also have 750kg safe working loads and are engineered for 24/7 heavy-duty warehouse operation. The DFS units were fitted directly on to the warehouse floor.
“We have been very impressed with Transdek’s professional approach throughout the design, build and delivery stages of this project,” says James Brown, project manager, DFS. “Not only have they supplied a robust, well-engineered product at a competitive price, they also managed to deliver the lifts two weeks ahead of schedule to suit our build plans.”
Multi-million-pound ASOS project
BS Handling Systems has completed a multi-million-pound project for ASOS. The project involved the extension of storage capacity at the online fashion retailer’s fulfilment centre in Barnsley.
BS Handling Systems installed a three-tier mezzanine above the warehouse’s goods-in area, with each floor totalling 6,000 sq. m. As well as this, the provider of warehouse, storage and conveyor solutions installed long span shelving on all three floors of the mezzanine, enabling ASOS to store an extra 169,000 cartons on site.
“ASOS is continuing to expand and we constantly have to evolve to keep up with our increasing outbound volumes,” says Mike Kosciukiewicz, head of returns operations, ASOS Supply Chain. “We needed to increase the capacity of our Barnsley facility to match the growing product range and meet the demands of peak periods.”
“The expansion has significantly increased the storage capacity for the Barnsley site. Our product range is now so large, we need to ensure we have enough space to store sufficient levels of stock to supply order demand.”
This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, May 2019.