Uline Distribution Center

How Uline Ensured Efficiency Using EPS Rigid Insulation

A family-owned business established in 1980, Uline is North America’s largest distributor of shipping, industrial, packaging, and janitorial products to businesses across the continent. With a product catalog of more than 37,500 items and a same-day shipping promise on all orders made by 6 p.m., Uline is committed to the highest levels of customer service and quality products. Meeting a next-day delivery guarantee means that every product Uline carries must be in stock at all times and that operational efficiency is essential to brand success.

The same high expectations Uline has of their brand extends to their employees and, just as importantly, is embodied in their 28 office and distribution facilities spread across the United States. Operational excellence is how Uline does business from the way they start the day to how they make decisions on the design and construction of their buildings. Building on experience is key to efficiency in many ways, so when Uline began construction of a new 1,000,000 square-foot distribution center at their Headquarters in Pleasant Prairie, WI, incorporating many of the design and construction decisions of previous distribution facilities was wisely instrumental.

The Challenge

Taking advantage of lessons learned on previous facility building projects was critical to meeting Uline’s internal expectations for quality and operational efficiency. Choosing the right insulation material on such a large open floor plan facility had to account for Wisconsin’s dramatic annual temperature swings, which range from the upper 90s in the summer to as low as minus 20 degrees during harsh winters. Among the primary considerations applied to Uline’s material specification process, product durability, first-term and long-term costs, and lifetime R-value headlined the list.

Another factor significantly adding to the challenge of this project was the sheer size of the facility. Installing a roof on a single-story structure of a million square feet is no small challenge. Doing it perfectly was a puzzle of parts, people, processes, and persistence. SRS Roofing and Sheet Metal of Waterford, WI, was awarded the roofing scope of work through a competitive cost, hard-bid process. This roof would be the largest roof SRS ever installed in firm history and doing so from a hard bid starting point made every aspect of material purchasing, installation, labor, equipment, and scheduling critical to achieving profitability. Not only did SRS’s bid have to account for the entire purchase order and required manhours of labor to install it, but their schedule had to account for the lead-time on manufacturing 2.75 million board feet of insulation. Fundamentally, there are very few rigid foam insulation manufacturers in the U.S. that could efficiently fill an order of this magnitude.

The Solution

Atlas Molded Products has maintained a unique, long-standing relationship as both one of Uline’s trusted packaging product suppliers and a key customer. Company representatives explored the use of Atlas’ molded polystyrene rigid foam insulation for the roof from the intersection of first costs and long-term operational savings, product durability, and lifetime R-value. Atlas’ molded polystyrene insultations come with full-warrantied R-values that will maintain thermal insulation effectiveness for 50 years or more. While other types of insulations may claim R-values that are initially higher when purchased, 3rd-party testing shows that over time off-gassing occurs that degrades the insulation's effectiveness.

Extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulations use hydrofluorocarbons in the manufacturing process, which have a high global warming potential and slowly dissipate while in service. This leaves a void in the material that is filled by air and causes the in-service R-value of XPS products to diminish with time. Molded polystyrene rigid insulations, on the other hand, are expanded using a blowing agent with a low global warming potential that is replaced by air shortly after being manufactured. The polystyrene particles are molded into a large block of material that is then cut into sheets of insulation, which maintain their R-values as manufactured for the life of the product.

Reacting to the size of the facility and the incredible volume of work was a challenge for roofing contractor SRS. Not only did their hard bid selection mean they had to be extremely diligent about purchasing their required materials, but to maximize productivity they had to streamline crew efficiency in making sure all of the required product was available on site for installation each day without substantial excess. This process was greatly facilitated by the selection of Atlas Molded Products as the insulation manufacturer.

As North America’s largest manufacturer of molded polystyrene products for construction, Atlas was able to supply a steady stream of insulation to the job site in a just in time delivery method. Meeting the overall purchase order from two of Atlas’ 15 product manufacturing locations, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and Washington, Iowa enabled the required volume of material to be made and shipped so a new load of insulation arrived every day for the duration of the roof installation.

Molded polystyrene’s durability also came into play. Due to the size of the facility, the SRS team had to account for a significant volume of ancillary traffic moving across the new roof surface as it was being installed. Some 940 skylights, along with extensive mechanical and electrical equipment located on the roof, required daily roof access by many other subcontractors moving people and equipment across the partially finished surface each day. Since it was critically important to avoid even the smallest penetration in the finished sections of the roof, SRS developed an honor system with the other subcontracted project partners. If anyone reported damage to the roof in any way, SRS repaired the damage immediately for free. However, if unreported damage was discovered the cost of repairs fell to the responsible party.

Molded polystyrene roofing insulation from Atlas Molded Products played a vital role in meeting Uline’s expectations for product effectiveness, durability, and lasting value. Atlas’ ability to supply this massive project with enough but not too much material on a daily basis throughout the project’s roofing duration was greatly facilitated by Atlas’ ability to fill the purchase order from two nearby facilities as opposed to just one. Atlas takes pride in being a project partner to all our customers. Atlas works with owners, suppliers, builders, and subcontractors to pre-think construction challenges on projects big or small with a confident, can-do attitude and our exceptionally versatile line of molded polystyrene products.

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