In this second article on industrial intensification we look at the changes over the past hundred years that have brought us to where we are today: the era of multi-storeys and robots.

During this period there were a number of notable departures from the standard warehouse design typical up until this point, with one very significant invention and subsequent rapid technological advancement changing both the shape and location of warehousing to what we are familiar with now.

History of Industrial WarehousingHistorian James A. Tompkins notes that, before the end of the First World War, “the most common materials handling method in warehouses involved the use of hand trucks. Stacking was performed by hand, and, in most buildings, stacking heights were designed in the 8 to 12 foot range”. If goods needed to be raised and lowered, then manually operated hoists were the way to go. However, as technology was improving at such a fast rate, many started to wonder if goods could be raised, lowered and transported by a machine instead.

Enter the forklift truck. If any invention in the early 20th century influenced the shape and functionality of the modern-day warehouse, it was the forklift. Fundamentally, the forklift allowed the stacking height of goods to be increased to 30 feet which was roughly a 300 per cent increase from hand trucks and so came with obvious appeal.

Post-war, the forklift inadvertently caused a huge shift in warehousing, the result of which was two-pronged. Firstly, forklifts provided an advantage to stacking heights and efficiency which drastically changed the name of the game. With added height came increased profitability, although this came at a price. Moving the forklifts between the warehouse floors proved very problematic. With most Victorian-era warehouses – like Butler’s Wharf – being multi-storeyed, a choice had to be made: utilise and adapt to the new technology or get left behind.

History of Industrial Warehousing

The result was a move away from the multi-storey formula towards a single-storey model to accommodate the forklift. From this came the second affect – there simply wasn’t enough room (or so they thought) left in city centres to accommodate new, single-storey warehouses and so the warehouse, en-masse, moved to the outskirts of the city. The format implemented at this time largely remained for the rest of the century in countries such as the UK & US, albeit with a few technological advancements here and there of which automated storage and retrieval systems, automatic guided vehicle systems, automatic identification and order picking are just a few.

History of Industrial Warehousing

Contemporary warehouses, like the Automated Retail Distribution Centre (above) that Chetwoods designed for ASDA in Warrington, are maintaining this trend of technological advancement. Weighing in as Walmart’s single biggest investment in the world, the Centre was the world’s first fully automated retail distribution centre.

The warehouse is 97 per cent automated, with 600 employees working alongside robotic technology to process around four million cases per week, serving over 100 Asda stores across Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales and further afield. It has one million square foot of capacity, enabled by nine state-of-the-art robotic cranes which each control 27,000 individual pallet locations. These cranes can lift pallets up to 27 meters in height – higher than any current forklift can go.

Warrington, quickly establishing itself as the modern Mecca of robotics and automation, is also host to MAN2, an Amazon fulfilment centre in which robots help the team prepare packages for customers. Unlike traditional warehouses, where staff walk back and forth to retrieve goods, here the shelves are ‘picked up’ by robotic wheeled units (under remote control) and are brought to the staff. ASDA Logistics has recently launched its latest generation of smart sorting autonomous mobile robots in the cross-dock centre we designed for them at South Elmsall, Yorkshire. The future is certainly here.

It is half-way across the world however, in Asia, where the biggest leaps have been made in recent years towards achieving an optimal combination of height and storage. Where countries in the West had the fortune to be able to utilise out-of-town land and build new facilities in unused areas, places like Hong Kong and Japan simply didn’t – and don’t – have such a luxury and so in a turn of irony, the multi-storeyed system ditched seventy years ago is making a comeback.

History of Industrial Warehousing

Space has always been a problem for many countries in Asia and so uses have been intensified with interesting results, such as the football pitch on top of a shopping mall in Jinhua (China), a city with no green space due to over-development. Intensification and building up are, however, not limited to sporting interests. The Goodman Interlink (above) in Hong Kong stands at an astonishing twenty-two storeys high, with fifteen levels boasting direct vehicle ramp access and a further seven levels of cargo lift access warehouse. In addition to this, the floors themselves have a clearance of up to twenty-one feet.

At Chetwoods, we’re pushing for a similar way of thinking, exploring new ways to utilise and intensify land to create the most efficient, multi-purposed warehousing systems and spaces possible. We are working on designing and delivering forward-thinking, state-of-the-art warehouses, fit for the fast changing modern world.

History of Industrial Warehousing

Magnitude 314, (above) at Magna Park Milton Keynes, is a ground-breaking logistics development that has been confirmed as the world’s first Net Zero Carbon for Construction verified building.

Our innovative design approach to Magnitude 314 tested principles of grid-based modular systems and standardisation, to improve elevations and interiors, reduce waste, and improve ease of construction, efficiency and flexibility. The office element is designed for maximum future flexibility whilst maximising space. The design has been adopted as the new model for all future GLP projects.

History of Industrial Warehousing

In addition to this, our work with Baytree Logistics Properties  led us to designing a logistics warehouse in Dunstable (above) that is the world’s first WELL Building Standard pilot industrial scheme and represents an innovation in the design and delivery of logistics buildings. We applied WELL principles and our own bespoke Thrive Design Drivers to incorporate both environmental and personal wellbeing design features throughout the scheme.  This scheme demonstrates how modern warehousing can be optimised not just for efficiency but also for the wellbeing of their users.

History of Industrial Warehousing

G Park London Docklands (above), is on of our our most interesting achievements in relation to the intensification of land. We are developing the UK’s first three-storey logistics facility for GLP – which seems to have brought the forklift dilemma full circle.

The warehouse will comprise over 426,000 sq. ft of space over three levels allowing for either multiple or single tenant occupancy. The building will be used as a ‘last mile’ logistics hub for London and surrounding areas, targeting e-commerce, distribution and logistics occupiers, areas of the market coming to ever increasing importance in the post-pandemic world.

History of Industrial Warehousing

Last but not least we are working on Morden Wharf, a 19-acre site on the southwestern fringe of the Greenwich Peninsula. U+I appointed Chetwoods to develop the commercial element on the Strategic Industrial Location that previously housed the former Tate & Lyle Sweeteners Refinery. The challenge in this instance was to provide a viable solution that allows for optimum flexibility, whilst being bold enough with the design approach to create a cohesive community with the neighbouring residential development. Intensifying residential and commercial into one overarching whole is something for which our logistics teams are becoming known and sought out.

From the goods gantries of the Victorian-era wharfs. To the out-of-town single storey warehouses of the post-war era. To the towering multi-level warehouses on small sites. To the self-automated AI systems delivering logistical revolution in the warehouses of Europe. One thing is  certain – it is truly exciting to see what will come next in the long lineage of warehousing.

In our next article we will be looking into the future of warehousing complete with robots, drones and even imagining the opportunities and challenges of developing inter-galactic logistics supply chains.