Some regard floors as a liability, while others would use more denigratory language, but floors are like machinery in one respect; treat them well and they will serve you well. However, this message, while obvious enough, is often compromised by issues like lack of funds in the budget, no time for repairs, and worries over disruption during repairs. If you feel such issues are relevant to you then perhaps you are in the wrong kind of business because floors have a way of biting you, costwise, at the worst of times. What’s more, it could be argued that in this fast-changing distribution world floors can be a source of competitive advantage where every minute counts.

Nowhere is time so critical as in the e-fulfilment centres coping with online delivery orders from demanding consumers looking for same or next-day delivery. Any problems with the floor, therefore, which slow down operations is bad news for such centres, though the same could apply to production companies. E-commerce, however, places more emphasis on the harmony between MHE and floors because automation is now seen as the key winning ingredient for e-fulfilment. Automation in this context means AGVs and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) where super flat floors and undamaged joints are essential. Readers will be well aware of the need for flat floors in VNA operations, where a few millimetres out can magnify by ten-fold the tilt of a VNA truck mast at 10mt or more, causing collisions between mast and racking. But what of AGVs and AMRs?

The introduction of these floor-running robots has brought a new challenge because they operate bi-directionally, running north and south as well as east to west. Correcting for deviation in one direction can adversely affect vehicles crossing the path. Additionally, suspended floors and mezzanines, now becoming more common, can deflect under load. Consequently, some distribution centre operators are reporting issues with commissioning robots in their premises. Fortunately, if thinking of a switch to robotics then Floor Dynamics, which measures the dynamic behaviour of vehicles on a defined surface, can survey the floor to determine what remediation is necessary, if any, for a change of use.

A floor problem of another kind affecting robots is the state of floor joints, as packaging company Esterform Packaging found. The company had upgraded to AGVs but were unable to run at full speed owing to the floor joints’ poor condition. They called in floor specialist CoGri Group, who were set the challenging task of undertaking repair in a one-day window, involving completion of 70 linear metres in a day shift using the CoGri Rapid Mender and its fast-curing, industrial repair mortar, allowing traffic to operate within an hour of application. This shows that fears of business disruption during repair work can be overblown.

Another great concern in the past over floors was the hugely disruptive impact of remedying dishing floors which, if it involved pile driving, would add huge costs to the project. Fortunately, alternatives to pile driving that are much quicker and far cheaper have been available for decades, involving foam injection techniques, and just how non-disruptive they can be is shown by a recent remedial job by Mainmark. Its client, an international courier company, had a subsidence problem with its offices next to its warehouse. The offices were raised by 57mm, and the ground was improved to the required specification, all in just 27 days without any disruption to day-to-day business by a system based on computer-controlled grouting and resin injection to provide the lift.

When it comes to accidents, however, floor damage can be very serious and so prevention is better than cure. One such example would be a domino-style collapse of loaded pallet racking. Current defences against this are not entirely adequate, with one exception, namely the Rhino system from RCP, based on overhead suspension wires connected to upright posts.

Bill Redmond

Features Editor