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How Automated Material Handling Systems Impact Warehouse Facility Design

Mike Clemens | 30 January 2020

Automated material handling systems can pose additional requirements that may exceed typical warehouse design considerations. Once key elements of an automated material handling system design have been completed, the consultant/integrator should document all of the major equipment and building touch points to allow the facility designer to optimize the warehouse design for the material handling equipment. 

These touch points can encompass a variety of mechanical, electrical and systems interfaces throughout the warehouse building and are documented in a format known in industry as a Building Interface Document.  Ideally, this document can be updated frequently and provides a single point of reference of information for the facility designer and building contractors to design and provide infrastructure for the unique requirements of the material handling equipment.  

The scope of equipment defined as a part of an automated material handling system could include both automated and non-automated technologies.  The idea of a Building Interface Document is a best practice design step that provides value regardless of the level of material handling system automation.  Types of material handling equipment that impact facility design include broad categories of racking, AGV/forklifts, mezzanines and work platforms, conveyors and sorting systems, as well as automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS).

Equipment vendors can supply these key building interface elements when asked:

  • Floor loading
  • Power consumption
  • Compressed air
  • Sanitary floor drain
  • Networking architecture


Most warehouses have some type of racking for product storage.  This could be for either automated systems like an AS/RS, or conventional storage like selective, drive-in or push-back racking.  For each type of racking and each storage area, floor loading details, clear height, and sprinkler requirements should be provided.  From an equipment cost and layout perspective, seismic and wind loading could have a significant impact on the racking design, as high seismic zones require both extra rack bracing and extra building structure bracing. 

AGV/Forklift Vehicles

Automated guided vehicles (AVGs), forklifts, order pickers, walkie rider pallet jacks and other related powered warehouse equipment are typically used for various product movements. Key design factors to consider are floor levelness and flatness, power and floor loading.

Floor levelness for vehicle traffic is critical and varies by the elevated reach height of the vehicles. Today’s warehouse may be up to 45’ clear which requires specialized vehicles, levelness requirements increase for taller warehouses. floor flatness (FF) refers to the bumpiness of the floor while floor levelness (FL) refers to the tile or pitch of the slab. 


General traffic areas to 30’ of elevation

Flatness – FF45

Levelness – FL35

High lift traffic areas to 40’ of elevation

Flatness – FF60

Levelness – FL40


Power requirements may vary by vehicle technology.  This could mean either a centralized battery charging location, where batteries are removed from the vehicle for charging, or distributed “opportunity charging” where vehicles connect to strategically located power sources to park and charge.

Mezzanines and Work Platforms

Mezzanines are either rack supported or structural and typically require additional lighting and sprinklers underneath.  Structural mezzanines can be attached to building columns but may also require additional columns for support.  Also, the total surface area of a mezzanine may not exceed a percentage of the overall building area (typically 30-50% but this varies by location address). Key building design touch points include the platform load rating, area and point loads.


Platform Load Rating


Platform Area

79'-2" x 15'-0" per platform

Point Load per Column

125psf x 7'-6" x 15'-0" = 14kip


Conveyors and Sorting Systems

Conveyor systems may be located throughout the facility to facilitate the movement of product containers.  The conveyors can be floor supported, hung from the ceiling or mounted on top of mezzanines or work platforms. Sorting systems are typically located either in centralized locations or near dock doors and are usually associated with extensive conveyor lines.

This type of equipment adds weight considerations for determination of load ratings, and usually requires supplemental sprinklers and lighting if they are not mezzanine supported.  Utility requirements may include compressed air and electrical power.  If conveyor lines travel through fire separation walls, special door closures are required to maintain fire safety levels and controls must be interlocked with the fire alarm system to allow shut down if there is an incident.

AS/RS Systems

AS/RS systems cover a wide range of technologies, but they have similar structures and building touch points.  Most have some type of rack structure and require fairly flat floor; shimming and floor grinding are options for minor irregularities, in some cases a supplemental slab must be poured over the area covered by the system. 

Like conveyor systems, AS/RS controls must be interlocked with the fire alarm system to allow shut down if there is an incident.  Floor loads, sprinkler and seismic requirements may be unique based upon the classification of the stored product and the height of the system. Electrical power must also be accounted for.

In summary, key building touch points to consider are:

Roof interface – Describes by area the required clear heights.  There could be different requirements for dock, storage, processing areas.

Wall interface – Determines if any types of equipment can be attached to the walls.  It could also specify minimum clearances between the walls and equipment for special situations or food storage areas.

Building steel structure interface – Determines if any types of equipment can be attached to the columns and/or ceiling building steel.

Sprinkler interface – Who provides any additional sprinkler systems, per client’s risk insurance providers’ requirements.

Hvac interface – Rack structures, work platforms, and mezzanines can interfere with building ventilation and HVAC systems.  Areas like battery charging may require additional ventilation commensurate with the type and number of batteries being charged.

Lighting interface – Specific lighting requirements may vary by area; racking varies from processing areas.  (Automated systems require minimal lighting.)

Fire alarm interface - Ventilation systems need to be interfaced with fire alarm controls to stop during incident.

Author: Mike Clemens

Mike Clemens is a principal consulting engineer with the Bastian Solutions consulting group.  Mike has more than 30 years of client engagement experience focused on the development, cost justification and delivery of automated material handling systems for manufacturing and warehousing applications.


Jim Khoury says:
2/28/2020 01:42 AM

Automated Material Handling Systems speed up productivity, improve efficiency, reduce accidents, reduce errors, save money.

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