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Mezzanines: Supporting Fulfillment and Maintaining Worker Safety

Contributed by: ProGMA- Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association of MHI

Mezzanines create valuable floor space by providing a stable elevated surface for machinery. Image courtesy of Bluff Manufacturing.

In the wake of a global pandemic, the way businesses operate has been permanently altered. A major shift has occurred in consumer purchasing habits, with more and more people choosing to purchase products online. This has drastically changed the volume of company inventory (produced and stored) while forcing companies to reevaluate how they structure their warehouses to be the most efficient.

With the rapid expansion of e-commerce, distribution centers and manufacturing facilities are under constant pressure to keep up with these incoming online orders. One of the largest obstacles is how to manage the rise in demand with their existing footprint. What happens when new machinery is required to speed up throughput, but no space for that machinery exists? When is it time to expand? Is it more cost effective to acquire new land or to build upward within the existing facility? As e-commerce giants continue to build out their logistics infrastructure, they are seeking cost-effective methods of expansion as the solution. One of the most simple and cost-effective ways these facilities are improving capacity is by installing industrial steel mezzanines.

What is a Mezzanine?

In industrial settings, a mezzanine is an elevated floor/platform that is installed between the floor and ceiling. Typically, these are freestanding structures, bolted together with structural steel components, that can be dismantled or relocated if needed. Industrial steel mezzanines are often custom designed to satisfy the various requirements that their application calls for. They may vary widely in square footage, column spans, decking types, capacities, number of floor levels and more. In warehouse applications, a mezzanine is typically installed for the storage of machinery, equipment, inventory or other materials to free up space at the ground level. In fulfillment centers, mezzanines may be used for storage as well, but are more commonly installed to create additional working space for personnel and machinery such as conveyor and sortation systems.

Mezzanines vs Other Expansion Methods

E-commerce giants have various options when considering ways of adding or freeing up floor space; however, mezzanines have gained attention as one of the most cost-effective methods. The reality is, permanent building floors typically require significant annual costs to maintain (e.g. HVAC, lighting, taxes). With a mezzanine, fulfillment centers can take advantage of the overhead space that they are already paying for and can do so without the high costs associated with new building construction. Additionally, since mezzanines are identified as capital equipment, they can be depreciated in seven years — offering significantly reduced taxable income over their lifetime when compared to 39-year depreciation for real property. In some states, mezzanines may even be exempt from property taxes as well. For fulfillment centers spanning hundreds of thousands of square feet, choosing between an additional floor/building expansion vs a mezzanine installation is often a multi-million-dollar decision.

Mezzanine Applications for Fulfillment Centers

Installing industrial steel mezzanines can help companies deal with expansion challenges. Image courtesy of Wildeck, Inc.

Warehousing and fulfillment operations are outfitted with plenty of material handling/automated systems to store, retrieve, package, scan and sort goods. Raised platforms, such as mezzanines, are often installed to support these systems and free up floor space. Common machinery found on mezzanines in fulfillment operations include:

  • Automated conveyors used to sort incoming packages
  • Scanners to properly identify package dimensions
  • Automatic weighing scales for package weight verification
  • Sorters to batch groups of packages to be sent to smaller distribution hubs for final customer delivery

This machinery consumes a considerable amount of floor space and can span over 1,000 ft. in length, but mezzanines offer the level of design flexibility required to provide a stable elevated surface for them. This creates valuable floor space below for additional operations, such as other automated systems, forklift traffic and more. Most mezzanines can be designed to accommodate obstructions such as building columns, or to meet to specific requirements such as square footage, column spans and load ratings; however, the extent of these capabilities vary by manufacturer. Other storage solutions, such as platforms supported by rack or shelving, do not offer this same level of design flexibility.

“Increasing efficiency and capacity are top priorities for our customers. Solving these problems requires careful evaluation of the space and a custom engineered solution to ensure safety and durability. You don’t want to take any chances when a new structure is incorporated into a busy facility,” said Cindy Holybee, Sales Manager- Steel Structures Division, Bluff Manufacturing (ProGMA Member).

Mezzanine Safety

Implementing and training workers on mezzanine safety is the first step in creating a safe work environment. Strictly adhere to the design load rating supplied by the manufacturer and keep the area free of clutter to reduce risks of slips, trips and falls. Installing a safety gate is perhaps the most effective way to ensure your crews on-site safety and prevent exposed elevated edges on the structures. Safety gates are effective safety solutions that can be configured to fit your space and should meet or exceed safety standards. Safety gates come in customizable, easy-to-install versions while still maintaining strong, balanced construction that allows easy for lifting and safe gate operation. There are options that include features such as when one side of the gate opens, the other automatically closes, to ensure maximum safety.

“Make sure to seek out the right safety gates for your application” said Mike Troka, Vice President of Marketing at Wildeck, ProGMA member and one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of industrial steel work platforms and safety guarding products. “Understanding the new equipment and educating employees on the best safety procedures while using this equipment will improve productivity and employee satisfaction.”

The Future of Mezzanines

With the trend in e-commerce set to remain strong, industrial steel mezzanines will continue to be identified as a strategic cost-saver for fulfillment centers that are in the planning stages of being built or in process of renovation. Their practicality and highly customizable nature make them a preferred solution for the most perplexing material handling challenges. While mezzanines are a simple solution, it is imperative to coach workers on the safety best practices, to ensure the most effective and productive workspace. For those looking to add floor space without unnecessary HVAC costs, and with significant tax benefits, look no further than a mezzanine. WMHS

This article was contributed by ProGMA- Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association of MHI. For more information on mezzanines and other protective guarding solutions, visit www.mhi.org/progma.

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