The right engineering approach is critical to optimizing a fabric warehouse building.
When planning a new warehouse building project, finding the right solution on the front end might be the most important step in the process.
Fabric membrane structures have proven to be a reliable, cost-effective choice for material handling applications. But for decades, fabric buildings were “off the menu” selections – standard pre-engineered sizes were available, and users chose what most closely suited their needs and budget.
Over the years, leading fabric building manufacturers have elevated their engineering to focus on optimization, where the building design is fully matched to the intended application.
To meet more precise building specifications, Legacy introduced rigid-frame engineering to the fabric building market several years ago. The industry previously relied on pre-engineered, standard-size designs that used hollow-tube, open web truss framing.
Rigid-frame design, by contrast, uses structural steel I-beams found in conventional architecture. It allows the engineering flexibility to quickly provide a custom design with exact length, width and height specified down to the inch. Offset peaks, variable column heights, and other unique layouts are also possible. This technique allows any building to be optimized for specific use.
Loads of Usability
Rigid-frame design also simplifies the process of accommodating collateral loads that the building frame must support. Lighting and fire suppression systems are common hanging loads, as are overhead cranes and conveyors.
Using finite element analysis software, engineers can optimize each individual steel beam based on the actual loads that will be on it, rather than over-engineering an entire building frame.
Structural steel framing also provides the advantage of straight sidewalls. This may seem like a no-brainer when considering the optimization of warehouse square footage, but many traditional fabric structure designs have radiused, or curved, sidewalls.
Warehouse operators who plan to place materials along a straight sidewall can do so while also specifying the exact vertical clearance needed. For example, a pallet rack can be placed flush against a straight sidewall. If that sidewall is curved, the same rack must be moved in from the wall to fit vertically, leaving wasted square footage behind it.
Long-term considerations matter, too. Optimization of the building profile helps ensure ongoing operational cost savings. An oversized, pre-engineered building requires more lighting and a larger HVAC system. Insulation needs could incur more cost. An energy-efficient design can minimize these expenses over the building’s life cycle.
Also consider current investment versus future need. Some facilities are designed to operate off-the-grid by using solar panels. In other cases, solar panels were not feasible in the original budget, but the building frames were still proactively engineered for a future retrofit.
Building style and shape should also be closely examined when it comes to managing water. The sidewall curvature of traditional fabric buildings creates the problem of snow, water and ice all shedding down to the base of the structure.
Unless users have an excellent drainage system or a site that significantly slopes away from the building, they may be fighting water infiltration issues and possibly foundation cracking.
By contrast, rigid-frame design allows for an 18-inch overhang on the eaves of the structure. Icebreakers can be added. Gutters and downspouts can jettison water away from the building, providing optimal environmental conditions for the exterior and surrounding site.
The actual end-to-end, start-to-finish construction process also widely varies. Although it sounds counterintuitive, it could take months to finalize a pre-engineered building design, as they aren’t as adaptable to even small levels of customization. Meanwhile, engineering for a fully customized rigid-frame design can be rendered in days.
Many fabric structure manufacturers rely on third-party suppliers for building components. However, some companies have invested in their own on-site facilities to manufacture fabric panels or produce steel frames and components, allowing them to maintain better quality control.
Delivery methods also wildly differ. Common practice for many manufacturers is to provide a supervisor to oversee installation, leaving the customer to hire subcontractors. Manufacturers like Legacy instead provide their own in-house professional installation crews, helping to ensure fast turnaround and an optimal final result.
The approach of providing a one-stop shop, from initial design to final turnkey and handover, offers numerous advantages. With the capability to fulfill all roles – design, manufacturing, construction management and installation – suppliers can more easily adapt throughout the project.
Fabric building optimization is about fully understanding the application and making adjustments to ensure the structure meets all necessary warehouse requirements. Find the right solution and right people to deliver it, and feel confident of receiving the best possible outcome.
By Paul Smith, Legacy Building Solutions