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The key tips for managing your warehouse floor

Ask The Expert: Kevin Dare, managing director, CoGri Group.
Kevin Dare, managing director, CoGri Group.
Kevin Dare, managing director, CoGri Group.

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Question: How important are floors to warehouse productivity and what can be done to repair them if they become damaged?

Expert: Kevin Dare, managing director, CoGri Group

Why floors are important
The warehouse floor is the table top from which businesses run their operation. It is the one piece of building fabric that interacts with all parts of the operation and yet all too frequently its importance is either overlooked or undervalued. Problems often occur as a result of a poorly designed or constructed floor, or a lack of investment in maintenance. This can end up costing businesses thousands of dollars, or even run into the millions when things really go wrong. It often takes an accident or equipment damage before issues are addressed. Defects in floors affect warehouse productivity, cause potential OH&A issues and ultimately affect the bottom line of the business. A poor floor will deliver poor performance, operations will slow down and equipment will get damaged. It is a negative cycle that will not fix itself unless they are properly maintained. At the end of the day, when a floor is maintained properly, most of the problems associated with it can be eliminated.

The issues associated with warehouse floors
The most common problems with existing warehouse floors are joints, cracking, slab movement, surface durability (abrasion resistance) and flatness, especially in VNA (very narrow aisle) operations. Floor joints are very often the greatest source of maintenance problems in an operational warehouse. Often people do not realise that the edges or arrises are extremely vulnerable to damage and tend to spall under the impact from hard wheel traffic such as forklift trucks and other heavy material handling equipment. In most cases, warehouses will have joints with spalled edges and these should be seen as an early indication of potentially more serious long term damage.

Common causes of cracking on existing floors
A well designed and constructed floor will have joints to control the shrinkage and reduce the risk of cracking which should be designed and positioned to allow the floor to move without restraining that movement. Wide joints increase the risk of arris spalling due to impact of the MHE wheels as they cross the joints. Other common causes include overloading the floor’s designed strength or movement of the sub base that is supporting the floor through subsidence. More serious problems of cracking can be due to poor design where the joints are inadequate to counter the effects of dry shrinkage, incorrect concrete mix, adding too much water at the time of construction that weakens the concrete, and slabs that are too thin for their intended purpose.

Floor joint solutions
The good news is there are solutions to all problems and if caught early can be cost effective to fix. Joint and crack repairs are actually a lot more scientific than they are given credit for. Everything from the material used to the repair process itself will determine the effectiveness of the repair and how long it lasts. The importance of the right choice of repair materials is paramount for a successful joint repair. All too often the right materials have been used, but an unsuccessful floor repair method has been carried out.

Flatness and why its important
As the demand for faster, more efficient warehouse technology increases and truck developments continue, floor flatness is the most important factor that can affect a warehouse operation. If a floor is not flat according to the forklift truck manufacturer’s specifications, the truck will be unable to run at its designed speed which will affect its throughput capabilities, meaning significantly reduced pallet movements per hour. An uneven floor will also affect the fork trucks electronics, put unnecessary strain on its welds, and further cause the fork truck to come off the wire guidance systems.

Achieving floor flatness
In a free movement area, simple manual grinding can rectify a lot of issues. In some cases overlays or screeds can be applied. Where possible it is always best to try and use the existing concrete floor itself, so grinding should be the first choice where possible. In a defined movement area, achieving the high level of flatness required is much more important and challenging. A manual grinding process is possible but it is exhaustive, very time consuming and can be quite dirty. A more modern day approach uses a fully self-contained laser guided grinding system to achieve the precise floor levels required.

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