According to marketsandmarkets.com, the cold storage market is expected to reach more than $200 billion USD by 2023 – an increase of 7.6% from 2018. While the growth of international trade and cold pharma (think refrigeration-required medication and live active probiotics) contributes to this increase, the increase is especially true for the expansion of the retail food industry and consumer demand for perishable food items. Organic grocery items and companies that offer prepacked food or precooked meals are on the rise causing a significant demand for quality cold storage warehousing. But where do fabric structures fit into all this, and do they even make sense for cold storage use? Here, we look at critical aspects of the fabric itself relative to cold storage applications.
The Durability and Longevity of Fabric
Since energy-efficiency and thermal-efficiency is such a significant priority for low-temperature / cold storage facilities, a common question about fabric structures is whether the fabric will resist tearing.
Fabric is incredibly durable. There are many types and weights of fabric in the fabric structure industry today, providing the optimal level of quality and durability to last decades. For example, High-density polyethylene (HDPE) fabric is known for its strength-to-density ratio which can range from 930 to 970 kg/m3 providing a stronger intermolecular force and tensile strength than other tension fabric membranes. HDPE is also manufactured into a woven sheet form and coated on both sides with a specialized protective layer that aides against UV damage breakdown.
HDPE fabric is easier to install and handle versus traditional steel or fabrics that are heavier , thus reducing the risk of rubbing or abrasion during installation and essentially providing a longer-lasting cover. Furthermore, common fabric installation systems used by fabric structure manufacturers are individual keder cover systems which offer air tightness and water tightness, completely sealing out the elements lending to a better energy-efficient building.
The Installation of Fabric
It takes approximately one-third of the time to install fabric structures for cold storage versus traditional steel structures. Buildings can be delivered and installed in weeks rather than months.
Proper tensioning, both vertically and horizontally, is critical to ensuring a long lifespan of your cold storage fabric building. Individual keder panels offer a faster, stronger, tighter application making for an extremely tight fit fabric structure as they are essentially installed using attachment points for pull ropes at the top panels that allow the fabric to stretch over the frame and slide the keder through tracks.
For cold storage facilities, a quicker installation that saves time and therefore money on labour can offset more critical costs such as refrigeration controls, for example, thus lending towards the project’s overall budget considerations and cost-efficiency.
The Cost-Efficiency of Fabric
Depending on size, customization, and manufacturer, some fabric structures’ cost per square foot may be similar to that of more traditional steel structures. At first glance, opting for fabric over steel may not seem to make sense. However, it is critical to assess all relevant aspects that, in the long-term, make fabric structures more cost-efficient.
In addition to a quicker, and therefore more affordable, production cycle and installation time, there are a few other key factors you must consider when looking at the cost-efficiency of a fabric structure for cold storage, both short-term and long-term:
Given the staggering energy demands of cold storage facilities, it is critical to construct a thermally-efficient building that doesn’t compromise on integrity. The very nature of the fabric in fabric buildings is that they are conductive, meaning they offer thermal regulation as well as anti-bacterial properties. Sometimes, liners and insulation are required so to maintain the interior temperature of the building. Many fabric structure companies can provide optional insulation along with climate control systems, either to the entire building or only part of it
Electrical Utility Costs
Loss of power in a cold storage facility can lead to significant financial losses. While it is critical to keep any necessary refrigeration controls in good working condition, where you can save long-term is by reducing electricity costs on artificial lighting. Since the fabric in fabric structures offer translucency up to 16% on non-fire retardant fabric and 19% translucency on fire-retardant fabric, the amount of natural daylight that filters in creates the exact feeling of being outdoors. Additionally, white liners can be added that reflect and magnify the available light inside the structure, creating an even brighter and well-lit interior without the use of artificial lighting.
Replacement or Repair Costs
Fabric is only as good as the structure beneath it. While it is not impossible for a fabric structure to damage, the longevity of the fabric strongly depends on the type of fabric (ie. HDPE) but also the engineering and construction of the building itself.
A common contributor to increased wear and tear on fabric is when a fabric structure company doesn’t properly engineer their structure. Meaning, they apply a linear analysis when engineering the fabric structure causing the fabric to bow and take a shape in indirect proportion to the weight of environmental loads. This results in unnecessary repairs and replacements, sooner.
For cold storage fabric structures, the fabric structure manufacture should apply a 3D Nonlinear analysis, meaning they should properly model the shape of the fabric under load. By accurately determining various environmental loads that are applied to the steel framework of the fabric structure, the optimal design of the steel is determined for your fabric building, ensuring a strong, durable, reliable structure while reducing repair or replacement costs.
Fabric structures for cold storage are an extremely cost-efficient, energy-efficient, and time-saving alternative to traditional steel. The durability and longevity, installation, and other cost-saving tactics allow you to carefully balance your operational demands and ROI criteria. With proper engineering and installation, a fabric building can last for decades. Calhoun Super Structure has been a leader in the fabric structures industry for more than 30 years. If you are interested in seeing what Calhoun can do for you, contact us today.
You may also be interested in watching this project showcase video: Calhoun VP Series 140 x 700 for Cold Storage.