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Mezzanine is inspired choice for more storage

The new warehouse operated by the Inspire Community Trust in the London Borough of Bexley makes maximum use of available space with a mezzanine floor and shelving installed by storage specialist Romstor and a Mezz Lift goods lift designed and manufactured by Penny Hydraulics. The additional capacity and flexibility in the new building has enabled Inspire Community Trust to consolidate its operations, stock additional items, add new services and respond more quickly to the needs of the community.

"We have invested to ensure everything is on a single site which allows us to provide a better service and greater value to our community," says Keith Francis, Project Manager at Inspire Community Trust responsible for commissioning the new building. "We were initially looking for extra warehouse space but we’re very pleased we did it this way. Without the lift it would have been impossible to make the best use of the additional storage capacity on the mezzanine floor."

Inspire Community Trust is a not-for-profit, user-led organisation committed to promoting independent living for the community of Bexley and surrounding areas. Since 2005 it has operated as an independent body to support local Social Services, health trusts and other agencies. A key part of its equipment service is to provide accessibility, mobility and other equipment needed by disabled people and other local residents to remain within the community.

The organisation’s stores were originally on a site shared with the local council’s waste management, transport services and other non-council organisations. The store was inconvenient for many people, had little scope for expansion and was often dusty and grimy. The award of a ten year contract with the local council allowed Inspire Community Trust to make long-term plans and commit to leasing a new site which offered the prospect of bringing all facilities, including the stores, together near the centre of Erith which was much more convenient for the whole community.

Schedules were tight and the organisation opted for a design-and-build approach. The warehouse was initially designed for pallet racking and shelving served by a small lift truck. As construction proceeded the organisation asked storage specialist Romstor, which works with a number of public bodies, for advice on the best way to configure the facility. After assessing the existing stores and the new building Romstor identified that a mezzanine with shelving would make far better use of the available space than conventional racking. This supported greater flexibility to accommodate a wider variety of items, a key consideration for Inspire Community Trust as its service capability continued to expand.

Because the building had been designed for standard racking Romstor and Inspire Community Trust had to take into account the point loadings resulting from the mezzanine. Major modifications to the building and floor were not an option but after consulting a structural engineer a suitable configuration was agreed. Romstor completed the installation of the mezzanine and supplied new shelving for the downstairs.

The switch from racking to the mezzanine also eliminated the need for a lift truck but created a requirement for a goods lift. Romstor has installed the Mezz Lift goods lift at a number of sites, including community stores, and approached Penny Hydraulics with its requirements for the new warehouse. Mezz Lifts are always designed to order and working to the company’s specification, which included provision of a 1500mm-wide platform and interlocked cage gates, Penny Hydraulics completed the design and manufacture in time for delivery within a few weeks of the order being placed.

"All Penny Hydraulics needs is the specification and they can get on with the design which we then integrate into our own plans," says David Hogarty, Sales Manager at Romstor. "They kept us informed of progress and whenever we needed anything they responded very quickly."

Installation was straightforward because the structure is completely self-contained and free-standing and requires no structural changes to the building or the provision of a lift pit. Instead, the lift is simply assembled on site, bolted to the floor and the mezzanine structure and connected to an available standard electrical supply. While this means that initial installation is simple and quick it also allows a customer to reposition the lift very easily if they decide to reconfigure the building in the future.

All items are handled between the two levels using the lift. This means there is never any need to carry items up and down the stairs, which is simpler and safer for the warehouse employees. The push-button, hold-to-run operation of the Mezz Lift makes it very easy and safe to use. The lift only works when the user is pressing the control button and stops immediately when it is released. Nor will it operate if either of the gates at ground or mezzanine level is not properly closed.

The mezzanine has effectively doubled the space available to Inspire Community Trust compared with the previous facility or the original plans for the new building. Equipment can now be stored in any location, irrespective of size, although in general popular items remain at ground level while slower moving lines are stored on the mezzanine. In this way the new warehouse supports a greater level of flexibility which means Inspire Community Trust can store and access equipment better which in turn means it is less likely to be out of stock when a member of the community needs a particular item. The increased capacity has also allowed the organisation to add services and tender for new contracts. For example, it is now better able to meet the increased demand for short term equipment that enables people to leave hospital more quickly after surgery.

"If we’d gone with the original concept we would probably soon need more space which could only be provided by an extra unit at a different site," says Keith Francis. "Compared with the cost of a lift truck we can get our money back more quickly with the Mezz Lift. And we can use the space better."

The whole site represents a significant investment for Inspire Community Trust but is already saving money through the improved efficiency that it supports. The site will be officially opened in April/May 2013 but is already providing a valued and much needed service to the community of Bexley.

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