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Our Insights

Designing for the global supply chain

How the pandemic accelerated the e-commerce explosion | 2021 Insight Series

By: Doug Lang

The pandemic has accelerated the existing strains on our global supply chain and exposed just how reliant we’ve become on manufacturing essential products, from toilet paper to personal protective equipment. The demand for increased warehouse storage and smarter distribution services is dominating the industrial sector, challenging architects and engineers to provide solutions at breakneck speeds.

How will designers respond to the new requirements and demands? How will artificial intelligence, robotics and drones accelerate the explosion? Will the lines between Industrial and Retail continue to blur? Learn more in this thought leadership piece as Vice President Doug Lang hosts a roundtable with integrated team members as part of our 2021 Insight Series.

How has the pandemic reshaped the global supply chain in 2021 and beyond?

Douglas Lang, Vice President

Geopolitical events like Brexit, Canada’s rail blockades and the multilateral trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been straining the global supply chain well before the pandemic arrived. The pandemic has accelerated our dependency on e-commerce, and for the first time in a generation, sustained growth is being forecasted in the manufacturing sector. Customer expectations for swift, safe and secure deliveries are forcing retailers and distributors to adapt to a change in buying habits and focus on speed-to-market solutions across the board.

William Westhafer, Vice President

Those customer expectations are higher than ever before. Everyone wants to order something and have it show up on their doorstep in two hours. The response from manufacturers is simple: design warehouses and distribution centers closer to urban settings. The last mile in delivery services accounts for 41% of transportation costs. Working in tandem with developers, corporations, and contractors, we are designing refrigerated and dry facilities closer to communities for faster delivery to help meet consumer demands.

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How is NORR responding to the challenges of designing warehouses and distribution centers closer to residential neighborhoods?

Steven Kopp, Principal

New considerations need to be made for these warehouses and distribution centers when they are close to where people live. We’re being asked to design locations that reduce pollution, noise and traffic. By screening in locations, using acoustic walls and landscape solutions, we can shield residents who live nearby. For example, we’re currently working on a UPS project to accommodate for natural gas in all their vehicles with a move to electric in the future to reduce pollution near people’s homes.

Scott Catallo, Principal

Many of these new facilities are being built in the “urban edge” – the area between high density housing and suburban neighborhoods. Designing these facilities to blend into the surrounding environment is a break from the traditional idea of pre-built warehouses hidden near the highway. Today, we are taking great care to present designs that are scaled to the surrounding community and that take on characteristics of the neighborhood.

Matthew Shigihara, Principal

Redesigning existing sites is also a solution to the last mile delivery challenge. In Sacramento, CA we’re transforming the former Sacramento Bee Newspaper site into a distribution facility because the necessary infrastructure, including a large lot and warehousing capabilities, is already there. Residents are already accustomed to the noise and traffic in the area which is appealing to developers.

What factors are vital to design considerations?

Steven Devine, Principal

The manufacturing process is becoming more specialized, and that requires specific structural engineering solutions that are technologically sophisticated. There is demand for both build-to-suit facilities and speculative projects. Factors such as flexibility, scalability and cost of construction are vital. As the supply chain is evolving, we are responding to the demand for speed to market warehouses with well-coordinated construction documents from an architecture, engineering, and practical perspective.

Douglas Lang, Vice President

As the sector adapts, so do we. Whether warehouses need to be refrigerated for essential vaccine distribution or designed for advanced robotics and drone delivery with stringent specifications, we are collaborating with our colleagues in Retail, Commercial, Science & Research and other sectors to bring ideas and designs forward to be constructed.