About the Author:
Paul Casebourne has spent a life time in service to the Materials Handling Storage and Distribution Industry with over 50 years in materials handling experience from the shop floor to running and operating businesses. He has worked in over 7,000 locations and handled over 20,000 business enquiry problems. In this personal sharing of his experience with you he means you as part of us, the people who provide an amazing facility without which the modern world ceases to function and is held in fine and delicate balance as the events of the early parts of the 21st century have reminded us all only too well. Author, engineer, installer, designer and manufacturer these are some of the fundamentals he shares with you. Please feel free to use and enjoy the ‘takeaways” Sign up here to receive this series in monthly instalment building up into a set of usable, practical help for modern warehousing for businesses in all stages of development.

Chapter 4:

How to choose the right Building for your Business.

(The code is at the end of this chapter)

It is not uncommon for a landlord to want their building back, or for you to outgrow the one you have, develop new lines that don’t fit where you are, or simply start with a new business or idea and a green or brownfield site.

So many times I have been given simple solutions to really complex issues by the clients. The following are all responses I have encountered over the years on Project day 1. Here are just 13 of the hoops of fire you will may pass through to arrive at Valhalla.

  1. Nothing in 30 miles of where I need to be.
  2. I’ll lose my labour.
  3. The cost.
  4. Planning permission for the perfect plot.
  5. We want something we can grow into.
  6. We have to relocate into an existing building to cut costs.
  7. We need to find more space on the site we have.
  8. This site is bigger than we need but we can sublet part of it or develop the site for tenants.
  9. Oh, there are only a few machines to move, it will be easy.
  10. We will move over a weekend.
  11. We don’t need a warehouse any more, we can farm all that out.
  12. Why do we need to involve our suppliers?
  13. We will just store equipment off site.
  14. We need to build a new factory on some land we have just purchased.
  15. Just leave it to the contractor.

So if there are 13 hoops why did I list 15? Good question. Maybe I missed something!! This list is definitely not exhaustive, it is simply indicative. Try adding your own and pairing it up.

Upsizing and downsizing

These may seem really obvious easy ‘No Brain” exercises. My advice to anyone charged with any of the tasks above is not only will you need brains, you will need a great deal of experience. If none of the following jobs have occurred to you as essential, then remember the expression “you are never more than 6 away”. You step from 6 straight into the red zone with such a project if you ignore this. You will go from 6 to 1, where 1 is going to hurt. Here is what and why, and how to stack the odds in your favour. Simply look at the above 1 to 15 numbers because this is where the following professions can help you:

  1. Chartered surveyor : 1, 7, 8, 14
  2. Planning consultant 4, 5, 8, 10, 14
  3. Structural engineer 9,14, 15
  4. Materials handling engineer 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 14
  5. De-installation engineers 1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14 15
  6. Removal and transport specialist 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15
  7. Crane operators and plant hire specialists 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15
  8. Cladding specialist 7, 8, 14.
  9. Electricians 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14
  10. Site security 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15
  11. Steel erectors 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15
  12. Fabrication specialists 7, 8, 14
  13. Architects & interior designers 5, 8, 14, 15
  14. Recruitment specialists and HR team(s) 2
  15. Machinery suppliers 5, 6, 9, 13, 14
  16. Service and maintenance companies 3, 6, 9,10, 13, 14, 15
  17. Design engineers 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15
  18. Environmental engineers and planners 4,7,14,15
  19. Ground works and geo-technical engineers 3, 4, 7, 8, 14 ,15
  20. Drainage and ground works specialists 14, 15
  21. Local Authority permissions 4, 5, 9, 14, 15
  22. Highway Authority 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 14, 15
  23. Project managers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,1 5

Strangely the average of the above is just a bit over 6. Weird, but this brings you 6 times closer to your project objectives. All you need to do is pick wisely.

Putting all those together, even half of them, and getting right first time is not something that you can wing. If you want to wing it, buy a lottery ticket, you will have a better chance and the downside is negligible. The downside of misaligning this list, which is not exhaustive by any means, is significant.

The overlooked thing in all of these is the resulting plans and drawings. Here’s what you need to know;

Pipe Clamp forklift attachment

How to be a TOAD or hire your own PET TOAD

Finding your Practicing Experienced Technician who is The Original Application’s Designer, may well be the only thing you need for your project. PET TOADS would not be everyone’s first choice. It is still a relatively new field of structural and mechanical engineering which is still growing. However people in the materials handling and logistics industry at the equipment end of things all first must be able to survey and quantify requirements.   They often don’t charge for the origination work and are well versed in factory and warehouse equipment, regulations and standards. That’s a really good start. Not all of them, but enough of them, will work for your interests and are independent of other manufacturing suppliers, but still enjoy very good relationships with them. It’s a bit like getting a “flash Mob” of highly qualified and experienced people to wade into your project objectively.

The only people you will get detailed drawings from are those listed under 18, 19, 27, 28, 30 & 32 and of those materials handling engineers should be able to supply you with layout drawings for your warehouse and manufacturing facility in the sort of detail a project manager and a contractor can understand. The trouble is Google has hidden most of these people out of site so they are tricky to find so you might have to turn over a few stones before you find your TOAD (The Original Application’s Designer) I know, you’re right I just made that up! But TOADS are creative people, PET TOADS are even better, we are Engineers, Architects, machinery and equipment builders who have a talent for detail, usually a lot of experience and frequently grey or no hair and that’s just the women! If they let me publish this, it will at least stick in your mind and it is important knowledge when assembling your project team.

Anyway, what I am driving at is that if you are trying to construct, re-build, re-locate or whatever your business plan is, you ain’t going to get any of this right without having a layout correctly designed for you and for that you absolutely have to have a survey to get the right sized building. When it comes to your plant layout only one or two types of trained experienced people with a minimal 38 part experienced, integrated and practiced knowledge base will be able to give you the support required to deliver your project. The great thing about we TOADs is that we are extremely flexible and don’t mind who leads the project provided they are picked, as you would with any senior executive in a business, specifically for the prime task the business requires to be done. So warehouses, design and build, factory layouts based on materials handling and machinery, loading bays and yard operations, complex sort and despatch operations are firm ground for we TOADs as we are all really very mission sensitive. If you don’t have in house resource that is a great place to reduce the odds in your favour.

 If you want to DIY it, this should at least help you start to line up your ducks. Keeping them in order when you get your project on the motorway might have you hopping about like a demented heir to the Monarchy, but you can always default to your PET TOAD and see how the fairy story works out for you if your project starts to head for the fish pond.

So how do we Toads help you to find exactly the right building?

Although, ever the optimist, I am still an engineer, so I don’t buy into the half full or half empty glass definition.   My verdict would be neither one of optimism or pessimism. I would simply tell you that you have the wrong size glass and set about designing you the correctly specified one. To do this I would measure the amount of fluid and add ullage and bingo you have an attractive inviting glass. You only have one job left, deliver the contents to the correct destination, that is much easier now because when your glass is empty on completion, you are not storing oversized glasses, your buying costs are significantly reduced and your mechanical handling equipment is no longer over specified saving you significant operating costs. Your building foot print has reduced because you are not wasting space, your staffing ratios improved and establishment costs correctly proportioned. You are able to reduce your costs, quadruple your market share and retire at 35 years old on an enviable pension having secured the company’s pension position, 700 jobs and started an acquisitions process which made you worth less than a football player.

I can actually think of a few real life comparative examples of such a business. Businesses develop and change, start from nothing and money is the reward of careful management. The use of supplier and customer assets impact on the success and cost as well as the dynamics of what is required to operate a business. If you are going to implement change and have an upheaval, I can recommend thinking this through. Few companies get the chance to deliver meaningful change and free themselves from the burden of a 25 year old investment struggling to cope with change. It is just as tricky for cash starved start ups. But you know what they say, “where there’s a TOAD there’s a way”.

Oh, your glass was too small, sorry. I would still survey the volumes required for said glass, re-appraise your process and handling plant and provide a correct sized glass, your wastage goes down to zero the instant you deploy it, less mess to clean up, you halve the replenishment trips, cut wear and tear on plant and equipment, sweat assets round the clock, automate the process and quadruple the plant output with less staff in a smaller customised plant and improved stock turn. You accept your OBE along with the Kings Award for Industry and copious export honours and hand over your business to your equity partner who launches it into the stock exchange. You retire to your Caribbean island having paid your workforce 18.5 % more than your industry average, expanded your business providing 2,433 more jobs in distribution at better pay scales, with record tax revenues, outstanding union relations, no lost production time in 8 years, and you now earn more than a football player. Coca Cola hear about the success and buy the entire business – Result!

So that’s how DIY TOADs turn into Princes and Princesses, or achieve the same thing by hiring contented TOADs to do it for them.

So that pretty much covers the “what” of it. The how is in the design and amount of space required for the said design which dictates the building you will need. I strongly recommend you get the right sized glass, the throw away lines mentioned have a far more sinister dark edge to them that you are better to avoid. Don’t take my word for it though, just go and talk to your accountant and see how the maths works out. I know several who never managed to fill the space and the costs sank the boat. If your costs are sinking you change your boat whilst there is still time, There is a list of 23 professions who are global business navigators in this article. That’s a great deal of help. I spent 10 years in change management in front line roles so I don’t have a bird’s eye view of it. Being given a weekend and 3 days’ notice to remove a 1000 tonne press, 3m into the ground which has to come out through the roof, was how I rapidly learned my own limitations and when to leave.   These are the sort of people who have supported business initiatives for me over the years and I can say, without exception, that their help was invaluable.

    Understanding Contractors

    Neither the contractor or the architect is your friend anymore than the surgeon who saves your life or the doctor who suggests you change your diet. The architect is at war with the contractor, the contractor is at war with the client and the detail is all in the small print shrouded in regulations and fear. It never starts out that way and when you see the responsibilities of the client, you can understand how these situations darken projects.   If you are the client you are responsible and “they” will come after you. How does this position exist? Answer; competitive tender as an OEM designer and equipment producer, I can say that the contractors care little for my brand of engineering the minute it goes beyond the figure that they had in to supply it. That is okay. However what the architect specifies and agrees with me before the job is put out to tender is the one the client wants.   How the contractor achieves this boils down to how the contractor has interpreted what the architect has specified. This can be heaven or this can be hell as the song goes and it all comes down to the double edge.   At the start of this chapter there was a list of 23 professions aligned to a 15 part wish list and the people who can do most to help, finish up on the fringes of the project, yet the project is depending upon them for its success and thereby hangs the problem. Late changes, errors and knowledge gaps simply widen the chasm. So what is the answer?

    Well perhaps we should start with understanding the rules:

     The Architects

    The designer, does not mean the designer and the specifier is not necessarily the specifier. The person with ultimate responsibility is always the client who tells the architect what is required. However the architect is not an expert in specialist equipment, so there are knowledge gaps for which solutions must be found.

    To this effect the architect will step back from the abyss and say that their role is to provide intent not specification and that it is up to the engineers, specialists and systems builders, trades and others to get that right and reliance on their drawings done in good faith is not a mitigation.

    The (Principal) Contractor

    This is the appointed company (usually) to execute that which has been decided. His/hers or the company’s job is to ensure that what the architect has specified is what is constructed and fitted. If it’s not in the contract it’s not their problem, they are only there to construct or build what is required not start stating standards or doing design work. Other duties include site safety including but not limited to the design of the project and the safety of such (bridge building for example or working in confined spaces). These latter responsibilities are defined in law and can result in criminal prosecutions if they turn into a “Tay Bridge” disaster or Grenfell Towers.

    The Client

    Makes suitable arrangements for managing their own project enabling those carrying it out to manage health and safety risks which include:

    1. Appointing contractor(s)
    2. Appointing designers
    3. Vetting suitability of all appointees
    4. Ensuring adequate time and *resource allocation
    5. Ensuring the principal designer, contractor, welfare and reviews are ordered and orderly
    6. Ensure that the bidding process and information systems are correctly aligned, implemented and managed
    7. Maintain full review procedures including those of the construction phase
    8. Ensure that the principal designer prepares a (revisable) health and safety file for the project
    9. Ensure statutory notification procedures are adhered to at all times and stages

    *resource incudes money

    That is a pretty tall order for a client with no training and it also includes illegal tipping, dangerous materials and notifiable incidentals responsibilities.   My advice is to appoint an experienced agent to act for you if you don’t have these skills. There are other professional options open to the client to protect interests.   However this can become so proceduralised in small projects and large ones alike that the initial intent gets lost, especially in inter departmental delegations. The project starts off with a small group and fragments as it grows.   By the time final appointments occur, key responsibilities can be misinterpreted. For example a pallet racking system build is one thing, introduce an automated fire extinguishing system and don’t tell the primary supplier, there will be a raft of unbudgetted orphaned costs. This is absolutely the client’s responsibility. See 44, 45 and 46 above.

    Site conditions, such as level surfaces for critical installation, are significant.   The management of critical space is essential and specifically in all projects this can get overlooked, ignored and in the worst cases hidden or buried in paperwork.

    This is an oversimplification of the entire process, but these added hoops to the ones listed at the outset can quickly turn an exciting project into the job from hell for everyone.

    One way to keep things on track is strong, open, transparent, relationships. An iron fist in a velvet glove will scare your best performers away and endanger the whole thing by creating a fearful environment. Meetings are a way of overcoming this, but frequently those with the smallest budget get dragged into theatres which simply are not necessary cost centres of back guarding instead of progressive, constructive outcomes based on strong model knowledge and experience. But then we can’t all be experts in everything which is why you have a list of 47 items all of which I have worked through during my long working life in the industry and as I keep saying it is not exhaustive.

    In manufacturing and warehousing, frequently those with systems responsibility, are the last to be asked, so conveyor manufacturers seldom lead such projects. T5, where all the baggage vanished in the new terminal and could not be found for example, was a software issue so the bags into the system were not linked to the bags out of the system. Consequently all the bags had to be shipped to a system that understood the entry codes in Italy so they might be reunited with their owners. Oops!

    There are hundreds of such examples and they are avoidable, but like “Who wants to be a millionaire “ quiz show the questions are only easy if you ask someone who knows the answers.

    I still come back to the Empire state building project as a great example of how to undertake a project.   Although there were fatalities in this project it was extremely light when compared to say the Forth Road Bridge crossing in 1964. Things continue to improve and lessons learned.

    Vertical panorama of a high bay warehouse under construction

    Take Aways

    • Use the 47 items listed to think through your project, it’s not exhaustive but it is a start.
    • Become a TOAD or find a PET TOAD of your own. TOADs are your project guard dogs.
    • If you do nothing else get things surveyed and quantified, that way you will know what you need
    • Take advice. Hindsight is never cheap.
    • Getting designers and contractors working together is your responsibility.
    • If you are unsure of any aspect of new building acquisition or works, test it out, ask and don’t rush it. Assemble a strong team round you or your company
    • Round tables with open access stop hidden agendas ruining projects
    • Your average project “steering team” size is unlikely to be less than 6 minimally for research and execution
    • Deadlines are always negotiable. If you don’t give people the time to complete the work in good order its your problem for setting unrealistic deadlines with no contingency. The only reason for having deadlines are war conditions. Don’t start a war with your project.
    • The TOAD code is: in no particular order. 9 times out of 10 it’s a good choice especially for small works, it’s a control for large works. Good luck!