What is dark warehousing?

Did you know insomniac super sheds work while you sleep tonight?

A new breed of sleepless, high-tech commercial sheds are here and coming to a capital city near you.

Dark warehousing

These industrial warehouse giants are able to receive orders from all around Australia, potentially the world.  They are fitted with multimillion dollar automation systems and hardwired to receive orders instantly from a web customer, for example, for a pair of sneakers. The warehouse then generates a goods order, which triggers a robotic forklift goods retrieval process, selects the purchased item from vast racks of stock and delivers it to a sophisticated dispatch area.

Loaded on a waiting truck, that pair of sneakers, if in stock, can arrive at your door within 48 hours.

The order may have been placed at 11.30pm on Tuesday. Its dispatch occurred at 5am on Wednesday. You could be wearing the shoes by lunchtime.

Read more: Industrial warehouse space the new, big thing

Welcome to the wonderful world of web-savvy dark warehouses

While some dark warehouses exist in Melbourne and Sydney, they are still a rarity in Australia. But across Europe and North America, several automated retail and logistics super sheds are popping up, says Garry McNamara, Director of IDG Projects in Brisbane.

boxes on conveyor belt in factory


The biggest sheds overseas are more than 100,000 square metres, says the industrial development group boss.

“Overseas there are a lot of these big ticket automated sheds, like those run by Apple,” McNamara says.

The biggest sheds overseas are more than 100,000 square metres.

Dark warehousing in Australia

Down under, you are a heavyweight if you measure 50,000 to 60,000 square metres, although wholesale distribution and marketing company Metcash reportedly paid $120 million for a 82,853 square metre distribution centre in Bungarribee Industrial Estate in western Sydney in 2011.

Its retail brands include Cellarbrations Liquor and IGA Supermarkets.

A state-of-the-art feature of the 18 hectare shed is its 19,320 square metres of refrigerated space to speed up deliveries.

Fellow retail giant The Reject Shop recently bought a 25,000 square metre shed with a fully automated racking system that can robotically select and dispatch items around the clock.

That’s as big as:

  • The MCG oval plus 200 double-decker buses
  • Two Buckingham Palaces
  • About 35% of the footprint of Uluru

OK, we get it. Sheds are super-sizing. So why isn’t everyone trading non-stop by using automated fit-outs?

Why isn’t everyone using automated fit-outs?


E-commerce is forever changing the way we shop and do business as more consumers demand goods delivery days or even hours after purchase.

Product-based businesses who want to trade beyond their local patch and stay competitive must now engage a third-party logistics company – whose high-tech warehouses store and distribute other businesses’ goods – or fork out for their own high-tech sheds.

The latter option can set you back tens of millions, depending on the size of your business, McNamara reports.

coloured boxes in warehouse

So what can you expect for your super-sized money?

  • A fully automated and motorised racking and stock picking system
  • Hard-wired cabling throughout the site
  • On-grade receipt docks for unpacking goods containers
  • Thicker, heavier and laser sharp level concrete floors
  • Higher ceilings (up to 10m is common)
  • Recessed dispatch docks so goods can be loaded straight on the back of a truck
  • An open-plan design with minimum columns
  • Cross-docking facilities, making the sheds essentially empty at any given time and allowing goods to unload on one side and reload on the other

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