I recently attended an interesting conference on the impact of E-commerce on the world of logistics and warehousing. Of course, virtually everyone knows about Amazon and their E-commerce model. "The Amazon Effect" is used to describe E-commerce in general and the economic impact on communities of having an Amazon facility in their area.
But I think that the part of the story that is not discussed enough is the changing nature of the facilities and the people in the facilities.
Years ago a warehouse was a warehouse. These big, uninsulated, boxes were filled with metal racks stretching to the ceiling and covering the floor from wall to wall. Those racks were at least partially filled with finished goods that would eventually be located manually and pulled from the racks with a human-driven forklift. From there the finished product would be taken to a truck at the loading dock and sent on its way. I actually spent a summer during my school years, eons ago, locating products and driving the forklift to the truck. I had a clipboard (that was like a tablet computer but held actual paper and used something called a "pen" to mark things off on the paper) and the process was tedious. The building itself was hot in the summer and cold in the winter but we just dressed for it.
An E-commerce facility today is only similar in that the box is still big and there are still metal racks but that is about it. In the first place, those racks may not be used to store finished goods but components that can be used to create a finished good. Maybe it is a shirt and tie that are packaged into a set. Maybe it is a cell phone, battery, charging cable, etc packaged into a retail package.
This approach is designed to give the end customer flexibility. Order the color, size, accessories that you want to make the purchase unique to you and the E-commerce company "fulfills" that order to your specification. So, now, you have "fulfillment" centers instead of warehouses and they are occupied by dozens of workers using computers to configure your package to your needs. In many cases the components that these workers put together are not retrieved by a human but by a robotic retrieval system. The robots, and the human workers, all receive their instructions from on-site servers processing thousands of orders a day.
So, the old warehouses of my school days are now air conditioned, filtered, well-lit, high tech "factories" with their own small data center. The challenge for the HVAC systems is how to handle three different requirements in those buildings.
The area used by workers to fulfill the orders needs comfortable temperature conditions but only in the lowest 7 or 8 feet of the building height. The rack area where the robots run around might need temperature control for the entire 35 or 40 feet of the building height depending upon the product storage requirements. And the on-site data center needs filtered fresh air, or evaporative cooling, to keep the servers running at an affordable operating cost.
And to compound the problem the E-commerce company is probably growing so fast that the system configuration today will be obsolete in 2 or 3 years.
In order to satisfy all of those requirements, and provide future flexibility, requires the kind of analysis that a tool like CFD can provide. Being able to create the building and experiment with equipment locations and sizes before the space is built, or reconfigured, has tremendous value. Mistakes can be avoided and performance can be optimized to the requirements of the area being served. Mestex has invested heavily over the last 15 years in CFD software, computers, and training so that we can perform the kind of analysis required. We use this tool almost daily to help designers and owners make the best equipment selection for their project.
If you are involved in the E-commerce world and need to know the best type and location of the HVAC equipment for your project please feel free to contact us at www.mestex.com.