How to modify older assets to accommodate the last mile

E-commerce has had a major impact on how distribution centers operate. Home delivery isn’t new, but the way it’s perceived has changed immensely over the past couple decades.

Before online shopping rose in accessibility and popularity, home deliveries were much less common, and when people ordered a product to be delivered to their home, they didn’t anticipate that it would be free or fast. Today, many consumers expect both. For warehouses and distribution centers, this means they have new customer service challenges to face.

Meeting today’s needs with yesterday’s infrastructure

The average warehouse in the U.S. is 34 years old, and about 11 percent of them are more than 50 years old, according to an analysis from CBRE. Furthermore, some of the oldest warehouses are found near urban centers, such as Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago. The average age of warehouses in these locations is 35 years or older.

Although these areas have older infrastructure, they are also ideal for fast consumer delivery. After all, it’s easy to consistently deliver quickly and inexpensively when you operate warehouses close to cities full of consumers. But companies often need to make use of existing warehouses. Space to build a new distribution center is difficult to find and expensive when it is available.

To accommodate the last mile, it’s important for facilities managers and business leaders to understand how to take aging infrastructure and optimize it for modern needs.

Ceiling clear heights

One of the biggest differences between the warehouses of today and those of decades past is the amount of space to comfortably support an operation. Older warehouses tend to be smaller, with ceiling clear heights of about 20 feet or less. Meanwhile, modern distribution centers have clear heights of 32 feet or more.

In addition to taller facilities, e-commerce operations require about three times more space than physical retail warehouses, according to New York Life. These facilities also need to be able to accommodate more employees. E-commerce fulfillment requires about two times more employees than traditional warehouses.

It’s possible to increase the height of an existing building, but it’s not a fast or easy process, and it’s often expensive. When space allows, increasing the square footage of a building is also feasible. But when choosing the right facility to optimize for a last-mile distribution strategy, it’s important to take current space limitations and future expansion possibilities into account.

Racking and conveyor systems

The right racking and conveyor system can save time and space and make an operation safer for employees. For example, automatic storage/automatic retrieval systems can maximize smaller spaces, but they’re also ideal for larger warehouses as well. Because they don’t require employees to locate items themselves or bend, twist or stretch to lift them, these systems are easier and more ergonomic for employees.

Dock requirements

The loading dock has always been a critical area of any distribution center or warehouse. In today’s fast-paced environment, being safe and efficient at the loading dock is incredibly important. This is also an area that can be retrofitted with updated equipment to allow for more productive processes.

Dock doors should be the correct size to accommodate the diversity of trucks that will arrive at the warehouse. Additionally, they should have adequate dock seals or shelters to maintain energy efficiency and sanitary standards at the facility. Finally, every loading dock should be equipped with an appropriate restraint system and dock leveler to facilitate safe loading and unloading.

Prepare your facility for the last mile

The last mile of delivery is only one leg of an item’s journey to the consumer, but it’s one of the most important and complicated stages. As e-commerce continues to evolve, companies need to know how to make the most of their distribution centers and warehouses. For help bringing your aging facility into the modern age, reach out to the experts at Miner.