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Meeting the demands of a modern warehouse: How strategic reinforcement can extend the service life of concrete floors

Despite facing operational and financial disruption, the warehousing and logistics industry has been absolutely integral to keeping the country going over the last 18 months. The pandemic highlighted how critical the industry is to the economy, as businesses pulled together to deliver the foods, goods, and services that people relied upon under lockdown.

Neil Langan, Business Unit Manager from ITW Construction Products explores some of the lasting impacts of the pandemic and how selecting the right flooring can improve efficiency and help meet the evolving needs of a modern warehouse.

More demand from online shopping

The UK’s shoppers are no stranger to online shopping, but the arrival of the pandemic has seen e-commerce grow exponentially. According to Forbes, COVID accelerated eCommerce growth by 4 to 6 years. Total online spending in May 2020 was up 77% year  on year. This increase in online orders has changed the way that warehouses operate, with a shift from bulk orders destined to retailers, to single items shipped directly to consumers. To cope with shifts in demand, warehouses are increasingly shifting towards automation and technologies which will allow them to scale up (or down) demand as required. According to research from eMarket, this trend isn’t likely to change, with 55% of UK buyers saying they’d shop digitally more in future, making it vital that the warehousing industry is prepared for the future.

An increase in automation

Warehouse automation is not a new concept. However, as with many recent innovations across a range of industries, COVID has undoubtedly accelerated its adoption. Consumer demand has increased, expectations of speedy delivery have meant processing times have been impacted and distribution channels have become increasingly complex. Europe is currently leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with various industries investing in automation, IoT, and machine learning systems to optimise performance, with a recent report “Logistics Automation Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts” forecasting growth of 12.42% over the next five years. As automation increases, warehouses will be need to be equipped to house new technologies. 

More work in progress inventory

In recent years, companies large and small have adopted a Just In Time (JIT) Inventory strategy to reduce costs and eliminate waste. When COVID hit (followed swiftly by the impact of Brexit) and supply chains became less predictable, this lean strategy caused inventory shortages. As a result, there is likely to be an increase in stock holding of certain items, creating more demand for warehousing space and increased racking and storage in existing facilities. Increased inventory may also be a driver for integrating additional automation into the warehouse.

Maximising efficiency and avoiding downtime

When it comes to warehousing operations, unplanned downtime is the biggest threat to productivity, impacting customer lead-times and causing costly delays. With the operational changes brought about by COVID, limiting downtime has become even more important. While racking, forklifts and automation machinery all need due consideration, it is important not to overlook the importance of flooring.
Warehouse floor areas must be built to withstand high bay racking as well as heavy-duty traffic from forklifts and pallet trucks. The varied use of the space puts different pressure on the flooring: from static point loads, where the legs of racking have a very small, high-load contact area with the floor; more uniform loads, where items like pallets spread the load over a much wider area; through to dynamic loads from materials handling equipment such as forklift trucks, HGVs or hand trucks. The increased prevalence of automation – which brings with it additional static and dynamic loads – adds an additional pressure.
The flooring must therefore be built to resist the pressure of these different types of loads, without succumbing to significant joint deflection associated with poor load transfer efficiency that leads to joint deterioration.

The impact of poor load transfer in a warehouse

In warehouse environments, concrete flooring is often made up of a number of panels. The point where one panel meets another is known as the joint. As load weight is applied to the flooring – whether it is a static load weight from racking shelving, or a dynamic moving load from materials handling equipment – the slabs must safely and effectively transfer a load between one slab and the next. In a warehouse environment, where both heavy static loads and a high volume of vehicular traffic, flooring must be built to effectively manage load transfer and minimise the likelihood of joint deflection, cracks and damage. Deterioration of the flooring can quickly lead to downtime, safety issues and potential damage to materials handling machinery.

While fibre and mesh reinforcements are commonly used to help manage load transfer and reinforce concrete flooring – they both have their shortcomings. One way to overcome the issue is to remove the distributed steel reinforcement from the mid-panel – as it would be in mesh reinforcement – and put it at the joints where it adds the most value.

Strategic Reinforcement™ - structural integrity for concrete flooring

Danley’s Strategic Reinforcement™ Design is a value-engineered solution that strategically controls known load transfer issues, minimising spalling and reducing out of joint panel cracks. By using a tapered plate dowel and sleeve system, it is possible to overcome many of the issues associated with mesh and fibre reinforced concrete, offering more consistent joint performance and long-lasting joint stability in line with the industry’s strictest deflection criterion outlined in ACI 360R-10 over the full design life of the concrete floor or industrial pavement.

Tapered plate dowels are specifically designed to ensure that the concrete can shrink freely in both the lateral and longitudinal horizontal plane, without inducing restraint that leads to out-of-joint cracking. The design also optimises both materials and labour, keeping costs down and ensuring a fast and hassle-free installation with reduced time on-site compared to standard alternatives.

Next service yard - cost savings and improved service-life

A recent installation at a service yard for retailer Next, the Strategic Reinforcement™ design ticked the boxes from a performance, installation, cost-saving and sustainability perspective. In comparison to the original specification – which was based on using mesh reinforcement – the design resulted in 17.5% less concrete by volume and an 80% reduction in steel by weight. It also meant one less installer on site for each day of the project, resulting in a significant time and cost saving. As well as contributing to reduced costs of materials and faster installation time, the change in specification also saw a significant reduction in the project’s carbon footprint.

Only by providing the right combination of load transfer with limited differential deflection and strategic positioning of joints will a warehouse floor allow the operations to be carried out as expected, with maximum efficiency and minimum downtime. In a post-COVID world, with the industry shaped by increased demand, operational efficiency and a need to maximise storage and material handling efficiency, the impact of flooring should not be overlooked. 

To find out more about Danley’s Strategic Reinforcement™ Design