From the Ground Up. The Most Important Part of your Warehouse, the Floor.

Are you building a new warehouse or looking for an existing one to move into?

Start at the floor and work your way up. The single most important, but often overlooked part of warehouse is the quality of the floor. As rack heights have increased, floor quality has become even more critical. When product is stored up to 30 feet high, the slightest imperfection in floors is magnified. The hardest construction error to fix is an inferior floor. Unfortunately, it’s one of the easiest to get wrong during the construction process. So if you are not building a new facility, make sure you are floor smart to look for potential issues in an existing facility.

Traditionally, the pouring and leveling of the concrete slab involved laborious hand work that could be poorly constructed by an unskilled crew. This can result in an uneven thickness throughout the slab that creates weak areas. Compounded by improperly compaction of the earth before the pour, long term settling and disintegration as earth settles beneath the slab. In the worst case scenario buildings have been demolished because proper repairs could not be made to poorly installed floors.

Primarily the concrete slab floor of your warehouse is no more than a wearing surface. The earth beneath it is the ultimate support making it critical that the soil beneath the floor is stable and well compacted before the concrete is poured. This can require processes that may include chemical treatment to insure stability. Take the time and expense to hire a professional to test borings of the soil and make the appropriate recommendations.

There are many modern construction techniques to insure a strong, flat and level surface. Laser screeding, steel reinforcements, engineered polymer resins and more can contribute to a superior wearing surface. Of course there are many other factors that a professional can plan for during construction. Weather conditions, the formula of the concrete mix, and shrinkage are all areas that your contractor should be and expert in.

Operator abuse
The majority of warehouse floors receive needless abuse. The most overlooked cause of damage is failure to repair the small defects until they turn into large ones. When warehousing professionals give reasons why they failed to fix floors, common responses are:

  • No time for repairs
  • Inadequate maintenance manpower
  • Not corporate priority
  • No money in the budget
  • Lack of training/knowledge
  • Cannot tolerate the dust, water and noise involved in repairs

Other major causes of damage include the practice of “freight training.” Some operators attempt to save time by pushing several pallets in front of the lift truck. While saving time, the practice damages the forklift, the pallets and most importantly, the floor. In some companies the floor is damaged by chemical spills and reactions which should be immediately cleaned.

The consequences of bad floors
Floor defects will damage lift trucks as few have pneumatic tires or suspension to accomidate uneven surfaces. Floor problems also to vehicle operator fatigue and lower back pain. Repetitive jolts can contribute to higher absenteeism or even drivers quitting. Even productivity is reduced as knowledgeable lift truck operators will reduce the impact from cracks and holes in the floor by slowing down as the vehicle crosses each bump, or by taking a detour to avoid the defect altogether. Either of these actions decreases warehouse productivity, and the financial loss increases as the floor defects worsen. If you have bad floors then your workers may trip and fall on the uneven surface and get injured. Falls like this happen all over the world, including Spain. You need to take responsibility for injuries in your facilities (or as the Spanish would say responsabilidad por lesiones en instalaciones).

Preventing broken floors
The most common floor repair is to fill or fix joints and cracks. Normal shrinkage of a concrete slab need to be accounted for and should be filled. A 6-inch thick slab can shrink one-eighth of an inch for every 20 feet. Slab shrinkage varies directly with thickness. A 12-inch slab has far smaller shrinkage potential than a 2-inch slab. The wider the slab the greater potential for cracks. Joints are less expensive to fill than crack repairs in the long run.

My floor is broken, now what?
Occasional cracks need not be a source of alarm and can be filled to restore continuity. However, if they become numerous or severe, an engineer or architect should be called to identify the source of the problem and concrete leveling should take place to repair severe cracks. If the concrete floor is still curing, a crack cannot be repaired by a method that restricts its movement. The filling process replaces the concrete that was removed. The ideal filler is soft enough to expand as the joint widens, but hard enough to withstand forklift impact.

The Final Sweep
Your concrete floor is the work surface for your vehicles, and the platform for the equipment and merchandise stored in your warehouse. No part of your facility is more critical to the effectiveness of your operation. While a leaky roof or damaged door are relatively easy to fix. A bad floor that severely hinders the flow of material in the facility can be impossible to repair.
For these reasons, it is extremely important to build the floor well, and then maintain it carefully. Or at the very least, your first consideration when looking for an existing facility.

Jef Spencer
HFA Operations
HFA Products Store

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