A look at where the apparels stay

A look at where the apparels stay

Every element of the warehouse layout is meticulously crafted to shield the garment from harm and preserve its pristine condition, informs Mahendra Waghule

A sleek dress, fresh off the production line, embarks on its journey to meet its future owner.

But before it takes centre stage on the racks of a vibrant retail outlet where the future owner can fall in love with it, it must navigate through the intricate maze of storage and transit, a process fraught with potential dangers that can mar its perfection. One of the most critical places it makes a halt at is a warehouse.

An apparel’s biggest enemies

At a warehouse, garments zip through conveyor belts and pallets shuffle through aisles to be stored at its designated place and the further to be shipped to its accurate destination. The role of warehouse design – with its storage solutions and transportation pathways which all decide the safe passage of each garment – cannot be overstated. From strategically placed shelving units to climate-controlled chambers, every element of the warehouse layout is meticulously crafted to shield the garment from harm and preserve its pristine condition.

Dust: One of the numerous adversaries that threaten an apparel is dust, lurking unsuspectingly with the potential of leaving behind unsightly blemishes.

Dust can originate from various sources within the warehouse – from the eroding wood pallets, forklift tires, and even from outside sources like trucks entering the property and their emissions. But dust isn’t just a cosmetic concern; it can also pose serious safety risks.

In environments where dust concentration reaches a certain threshold, even a small friction can generate static electricity, potentially leading to a catastrophic explosion. When the amount of cotton dust in the air becomes too high, it can ignite and cause significant damage to life and property. This risk isn’t limited to warehouses alone; textile and garment factories, filled with fine cotton fibres, are also susceptible to such dust explosions.

Humidity: Humidity poses another threat. Fluctuating moisture levels can wreak havoc on garments, causing fabrics to swell and their colours to fade. For delicate garments, excessive moisture can spell disaster, leading to irreversible damage and loss of quality.

In textile processing, humidity plays a critical role, often determining the success or failure of production. Incorrect humidity levels can halt production, damage machinery, and jeopardise the well-being of staff. Conversely, optimal humidity levels can maximise product weights, enhance quality, and increase machine speeds. A rapid decrease in humidity can cause problems which affect properties like tensile strength, elasticity, and fibre diameter.

When garments are processed and packed in humid environments, they absorb moisture from the air, which becomes trapped inside their polythene packaging. As containers travel across different climates, temperature fluctuations cause garments to release water vapour, which condenses inside the packaging, leading to issues like odour, fungi, mould, and mildew during shipping, jeopardising product quality and making the supply chain susceptible to economic damage.

Pests: Another formidable threat, capable of inflicting damage in various ways, are pests. From creating unsightly holes to causing discolouration and fabric degradation, these tiny intruders can wreak havoc on apparels stored in warehouses.

Among the most notorious culprits are clothes moths, carpet beetles, and silverfish. Clothes moths, comprising species like the clothes webbing moth and the casemaking clothes moth, may seem harmless as adults, but it’s their larvae that pose the real threat. Feeding on keratin, a protein found in animal-based materials like wool, fur, and silk, these larvae can devour garments faster than you can say “fashion emergency.” Similarly, the larvae of carpet beetles are no less destructive, capable of inflicting significant damage on clothes over extended periods, lurking in storage for up to a year. Meanwhile, silverfish, with their penchant for nibbling on textiles, can leave garments with a mangled appearance, marked by irregular holes and yellow stains.

In addition to their destructive impact on garments, pests also pose significant risks to warehouse environments and employee well-being. Beyond the physical damage they inflict on clothing, pests are notorious vectors of disease, potentially endangering the health of warehouse staff. Furthermore, the mere presence of pests can adversely affect employee morale. The constant threat of encountering pests may lead to heightened anxiety and vigilance among workers. Imagine trying to focus on tasks while constantly worrying about something sneaking up on you. In other words, threat of pests also results in decreased efficiency as employees devote additional time to ensuring their personal safety and the integrity of stored goods.

Fire: Fire is a challenge capable of damaging inventory and infrastructure alike. Apparel warehouses, with its mix of fabrics and their dyes, and their storages systems, are particularly susceptible to fire hazards. Natural fibres like cotton and wool can easily ignite, while synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester are highly flammable. Electrical faults are often the culprits, sparking flames that spread rapidly. Overcrowded and poorly ventilated spaces only exacerbate the risk.

However, warehouses are not defenceless

With the right tools and design strategies, it is possible to fortify warehouses to be strongholds of storage for delicate goods that apparels are.

Investing in a dust control system, such as industrial ventilation, helps filter out dust particles from the air. Additionally, in environments were humidity levels are low, it is possible to use fogging systems to spray tiny droplets of water into the air, which stick to dust particles and make them heavier, causing them to fall to the ground where they can be easily swept away. Infrastructure wise, these warehouses can be planned with dust-free surfaces, including dust-free, densified concrete floors that don’t abrase.

The challenge of managing humidity levels can also be overcome to maintain the optimal levels needed for textile processing. At around 50 per cent rH, warehouses strike a balance that wards off static build-up and airborne particles. Alongside a well-designed HVAC system, industrial grade humidification systems, such as compressed air and water spray systems, can prevent fluctuations that may impact the quality of textiles and adjust levels suitable for textiles be it cotton, wool, or synthetic fibres. These also help keeping the warehouse odour free, hygienic, and free of stale air.

Grade A warehouses are designed to tackle pests by default. This includes sealing cracks and crevices, installing screens on doors and windows, and implementing strict hygiene practices to eliminate food and water sources that attract pests. Regular monitoring and maintaining cleanliness are a necessary to ensure continued hygiene and safety. These include regular cleaning schedules in place to remove debris, spills, and other potential attractants for pests and installing instruments such as door sweeps, sealing gaps around pipes and cables, and repairing any structural damage that could provide entry points for pests.

And then there’s fire. Grade A warehouses adhere to stringent international standards of fire resilience and preparedness as a mandate. These measures include advanced fire detection systems, such as smoke detectors and heat sensors, coupled with effective fire suppression systems like sprinklers and extinguishers. For apparels, additional detection system and in-rack sprinkler systems required for multi-tier shelving systems. Emergency response planning and training, structural fire protection measures, and adherence to electrical safety protocols are also crucial elements of fire prevention.

Other design measures that apparel warehouses implement are as follows:

  • Retail players, especially those employing automation for sorting, kitting, labelling, packaging, and other operations, need extra electrical infrastructure for brighter lighting fixtures to support their operations efficiently with minimum downtimes.
  • Apparel warehouses also require a greater number of dock doors to manage the smooth distribution of goods to multiple stores or regional distribution centres, especially considering their high throughput operations.
  • Well-designed functional areas are essential, including labelling stations, additional hanging storages apart from racking to prevent folding of coats, suits, blazers and such items, and inspection and sorting stations for returned inventory.

Finally, the location of the warehouse plays a significant role in its design. Mother distribution centres are strategically positioned centrally or in close proximity to apparel manufacturing units, while regional distribution centres are located closer to consumption bases. This minimises delivery lead times, optimising the efficiency of the supply chain. While not exactly a design element, Grade A warehouse developers, such as Horizon Industrial Parks, are proactively mindful of this factor to emerge as the partner of choice on all counts.

About the author:

Mahendra Waghule is the Head of Projects and Development at the Horizon Industrial Parks.  He is a passionate real estate development management professional, with an expertise in industrial & logistics parks development.

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