What Can RTM Engineers Learn from Design Partnerships?
Great partners in professional relationships dedicate themselves to learning from each other.
That’s the type of collaborative connection RTM Engineering Consultants enjoys with the design services firm Ware Malcomb, and the work we do together designing industrial cold storage facilities is an excellent example of our design partnership.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Kate Bolen Lyle, Director, Industrial Cold & Food at Ware Malcomb, to chat about the technical intricacies of designing cold storage warehouses plus the ways RTM & Ware Malcomb support one another in continual learning.
Here are highlights from that conversation with Kate:
Forgive the pun, Kate, but what makes working with cold storage so cool for you?
It’s just so wonderful to work on really technical, complicated projects. I love diving into unique technologies. I love diving into different ways of looking at how we build buildings.
With a cold storage building, you have to care so much about all of the little details, and you have to really think through unique ways because every building is so different. Each has different needs. You’re really thinking through things that are very, very technical and like little puzzles that you’re trying to put together. And that’s just always been fun for me.
Give us some examples of the latest technologies in cold storage.
The big change that’s been coming in cold storage is a lot of additional verticality. So, we’re making a huge shift from buildings that are a lot of square footage to a lot of cubic footage. We do cold storage buildings that are 140 feet tall, and you deal with automated racking systems.
What are the electrical needs? How are things charged? How are things structurally supported? What kind of refrigeration systems are going to work best for those kinds of unique spaces?
The great thing about refrigeration systems – and why we go vertical – is because you have a natural refrigeration cycle that is helping you out. All that warm air is rising. The cool air is falling. [This cycle increases] the taller the building. So, you’re able to cool more products with less refrigeration, which is always great for the environment.
Fire sprinkler systems change when you’re dealing with that kind of height. If you think about 140 feet of freezer, you don’t want the water to freeze by the time it gets to the floor. You have to think very differently about how you get water if there is a fire in one of these spaces.
We build significantly safer docks nowadays than when I started doing cold storage 11 years ago. We do a lot more safety interlocks to make sure that people are not getting injured in dock situations.
There are just all these little things that we keep improving upon as technology keeps changing… There’s always more to learn.
Does automation reduce the need for people to work in spaces operating below zero?
Yes. Cold storage, of course, because it’s not the nicest work environment, was an early adopter of automation continues to be at the forefront of utilizing automated systems.
What are some issues with installing automation in sub-freezing environments?
You have to think about things like your slab design, right? A freezer floor is insulated, which means it’s floating to a certain degree. So, [the weight] of very heavy, dense racking systems [is an issue.]
Doors too, right? A lot of this automation has conveyance systems. They’re moving items through doors, but those doors might be between spaces that are at different temperatures. We have to really think through door design and all of those conveyance doors to make sure that the different temperature zones are isolated, and that we’re not creating places where we’re getting ice or water dripping.
Wow. You architects have a lot of things to keep in mind. Don’t you?
Well, you engineers do, too.
Working with RTM is wonderful because I can come to you and say: These are the parameters. What would you recommend as the best refrigeration system?
And I can bring RTM for a discussion with the clients as a partner who’s able to present a lot of different systems. I try to stay abreast of the broad generalizations as an architect focusing on this industry, but there’s nothing like an expert.
Thank you, Kate! Working with an architect like Ware Malcomb is refreshing for RTM, too. Your team knows how things go together. They know the technical details. We don’t waste time asking: Did you think about this?
I love meetings with Ware Malcomb because your team is excited to see us and dive into projects. We never feel like we’re educating the architects. In fact, we learn a lot from your team on all our projects.
There is much more to my chat with Kate Bolen Lyle. Hear our full conversation about industrial cold storage design in RTM’s Beyond Engineering podcast:
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