A recent story in Supply Chain Digest forecasts that more distribution centers in North America will soon be moving away from sprawling horizontal configurations to urban-based multi-story facilities. 

It seems that years ago (well before my time) warehouses and distribution centers, mostly located in urban settings, tailored their warehousing and distribution processes and strategies to accommodate the multi-story facilities in which they were housed. However, a number of challenges remained when moving inventory between such confined conditions.  And so, one by one, distribution centers moved to the country side and suburbs where land was more available and affordable.  They took advantage of this, and made life easier on themselves, by constructing mega, single-floor facilities.

Today, however land costs are on the rise – and business owners are finding vacant urban building to be an attractive alternative.  Distribution Centers are being laid out to maximize limited ground-floor space for shipping and quick fulfillment while leveraging upper-floor space for replenishment, corporate functions, and so on.  Naturally, careful planning an execution must be used to maximize shipping locations, mezzanines, freight elevators, material handling systems, and so on.  It’s an adjustment for companies who once had little concerns with the challenges of 2-3-4 stories tall. (Note: Some Asian DCs reach nearly 20 levels!)

According to the article, such multi-story DCs are already becoming popular again in parts of Europe and Asia, where land is hard to come by and very expensive. One warehouse construction company says it has built 53 multistory facilities in Japan and China. And is beginning to creep in to some larger US cities in California and New York.

What does this mean to you?  Think about the ease of warehouse control on a single story compared to multiple stories. Inventory, shipping and receiving, fulfillment, replenishment, visibility, systems integration, all must be well choreographed.  Your WMS must have the power and flexibility to adapt – structured flexibility.

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