High-Tech Facility Case Study: High-Tech Housing

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the January 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

RoboVault storage high-tech facility managementAdvances in technology have made facility management (FM), and life in general, easier in many ways. The manner with which facility managers (fms) can operate the systems in their buildings and track purchasing and maintenance activities are just two examples of how automated developments are impacting FM. But technology can also be used to facilitate the core mission of an organization, and it is in these crossover scenarios where FM strategies work to achieve organizational goals.

In Fort Lauderdale, FL, an enterprising owner/fm capitalized on such an opportunity to incorporate available technology as a centerpiece of the business he opened in June 2009. Marvin Chaney conceived of the idea for RoboVault, a storage facility to house big ticket items including expensive cars, artwork, antiques, wine, and other valuables, after gauging the potential of the regional market for this type of service.

“South Florida is the second largest market in the United States for exotic cars,” says Chaney, who has worked in the self storage industry for more than 30 years. “The idea for RoboVault was conceived in 2005, and from then until 2008, we conducted due diligence, and during that time, the business scope expanded to wine storage and other items.”

RoboVault’s customer base consists of primarily two types of groups—individuals who have valued personal property that needs to be stored, and commercial users (such as law firms, trust and estate management advisors, title companies, art dealers, appraisers, private collector services, and governmental agencies) that need to store their possessions.

Streamlined Service

The centerpiece of the company’s secure storage service is a robotic system that employs automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) technology to deliver a customer’s storage container to them, rather than customers traveling to where their items are located inside the facility. The AS/RS system handles five levels of storage situated in the 155,000 square foot facility. There are 456 individual storage containers measuring 10’W x 20’L x 8’H; these can be divided into smaller footprints of 5’x5′, 5’x10′, 10’x10′, and 10’x15′.

A Chat With Marvin Chaney, Founder, Developer, and Owner, RoboVault

RoboVault storage high-tech facility management

What are your responsibilities at RoboVault? As owner I oversee all aspects of the operation of the business, which includes how the facility is run. There are staff members always on-site to observe building conditions and provide customer service. I have regular involvement at the facility to ensure the building is being maintained with the ideal conditions we set out for it during its design.

Have you and your team made any changes or improvements to the facility since its opening in June 2009? We took into account so many factors when designing the building, and the systems are operating as intended, that we have not found the need for significant changes. For instance, we have one client who stores his Bentley here, and he’s remarked to me when he comes to pick it up that there is not one speck of dust on this black vehicle. That is one example of the effectiveness of the air filtration system.

What changes have you seen in self storage management during your years in the industry?
I began in the self storage industry in the 1970s in Michigan. In 1983, I began developing conventional self storage facilities in Florida, with a focus on high rise structures. In deciding to introduce RoboVault, I spent several years in the early 2000s seeking key trends and technologies to serve the needs of storage clients better. What I found was they were looking for a safe and convenient place to store their items. And in focusing on the high-end storage market, it became clear I needed to focus on security and climate control.

Explains Chaney, “The robotic nature of the facility serves to provide a desirable security and climate control situation, because other clients, staff members, and any other visitors do not have access to the storage units.”

There are three levels of access control that customers use to retrieve their storage containers. Upon approaching the facility’s exterior in their cars, they use a key fob issued by RoboVault to gain access into one of the seven bays located along one side of the concrete facility. They drive into the bay, the door closes, and the customer is the only one in the space.

In keeping with the core operation of secure storage using the robotic transfer system, Chaney and his team installed cutting-edge, multilayered security measures in and around the rest of the facility. Equipment includes networked closed circuit network television, motion sensors, and photoelectric beams monitored by staff members.

Ensuring no one but authorized persons have access to the building’s interior is a prime directive of the RoboVault mission, but Chaney also focuses on two other aspects crucial to protecting client belongings—environmental conditions and disaster prevention.

In order to maintain the condition of client items, climate control was key to the design of the building. HVAC technologies and airtight doors create and maintain a museum quality environment with optimum humidity and controls that prevents airborne particles from entering any area where stored items will be present.

The storage vaults handled by the robotic transfer system, for instance, are maintained at 75°F with 50% relative humidity. Wireless environmental sensors constantly monitor the interior and automatically maintain humidity at appropriate levels. Staff members also watch the conditions reported by these sensors.

Further, in the robotic portion of the storage facility there is no direct light.RoboVault storage high-tech security facility management

RoboVault is also built to withstand virtually any disaster. To start, the site is 30′ above sea level, which serves to protect against tidal storm surges and flooding, while the structure itself is built of concrete with reinforced steel, features a solid concrete roof, and has double pane resistant glass. These features mean the building is rated to withstand a Category 5 hurricane (resistant to winds up to 200 miles per hour).

During a hurricane’s approach, the facility’s emergency plan calls for the location to remain open 24 hours a day and fully staged regardless of mandates to evacuate by emergency management officials. Chaney explains, “Staff members come here to help ensure the safety of clients’ belongings. But also, with its Category 5 designation this facility is one of the safest places to be during a storm.”

As part of the contingency plans for a hurricane or other emergency event, Chaney specified the facility to have access to power for critical systems for up to two weeks. To that end, a 600 kilowatt generator fueled by an 8,000 gallon diesel underground tank is located on-site. This is capable of powering all of the facility’s critical systems at 100% capacity for up to 14 days.

RoboVault storage high-tech security facility managementThe facility is also positioned on the electricity grid of the adjacent Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which further ensures system stability.

Other catastrophic events the facility is equipped to combat include chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats. Defense technologies consisting of a permanently installed management, monitoring, and messaging software platform are positioned to detect these threats.

Because of the structural and operational measures present in the RoboVault facility, major insurance carriers AXA Art, Chartis, Chubb, and Fireman’s Fund certify the company as a preferred storage vendor.

Automobiles, Artwork, Wine, And More

The impetus for launching the RoboVault facility was the prevalence of the exotic car market in South Florida, but as Chaney researched other storage needs in the region, the company’s capabilities eventually expanded to housing artwork, wine, and any other valuables a customer would want to store securely.

In order to meet the needs of the various items he anticipated encountering, Chaney specified storage spaces beyond the warehouse where the robotic transfer system operates. To that end, the facility also includes a wine storage area, a safe deposit vault room, and a precious metals depository (which is insured by Lloyd’s of London).RoboVault storage high-tech security facility management

The wine vault refrigeration is monitored constantly to ensure the ideal atmosphere of 55°F and 70% relative humidity. Clients also have access to a wine tasting lounge, and appraisal and indexing services are available.

The safe deposit vault room, located near where facility staff reside, provides a place to store smaller items (e.g., jewelry, currency, documents) that do not require one of the facility’s larger storage containers. To access these items, customers swipe an access card, enter a pin, and scan their fingertip. One aspect offered to clients is secure drive in access, alleviating the need to walk through a parking lot with valuables. The safe deposit boxes are regulated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for fire rating and burglary.

Chaney explains the process: “When the client is past the security system, the office staff is notified and meets the individual to provide access into the safe deposit box room. Once they are inside, the dual locking system can be accessed by the client and RoboVault staff. The client then has the option to enter into one of two small viewing rooms. An important feature is that there is one entry and exit out of the safe deposit box room. Each member of RoboVault personnel is bonded and has gone through background checks to ensure complete reliability.”

Capable Hands For Capable Systems

With such exacting standards required for the facility’s core operations, it is crucial that all building systems are maintained in the intended manner. There is a dedicated chief security consultant on staff, and Chaney has contracts in place for the mechanical, security, and fire protection systems. The need for in-house expertise was recognized from before the building was even constructed, and as such, the on-site staff is also trained to have some knowledge of the facility systems to identify when there are issues that need to be addressed. With the end goal firmly in sight during design, the RoboVault facility is fulfilling its mission.

This article was based on an interview with Chaney (www.robovault.com).

Project Information:

Name Of Facility: RoboVault. Type of Facility: New. Function of Facility: Storage. Location: Fort Lauderdale, FL. Square Footage: 155,000. Budget: $22 million. Construction Timetable: June 2008 to June 2009. Facility Management Staff: Marvin Chaney, founder, developer, and owner; Matt Pici, director of business development. Architect: Gustavo J. Carbonnell, P.A. General Contractor: Miller Construction. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Kamm Consulting. Structural Engineer: Bryntesen. Landscape Architect: George Keen. Other Consultants: Hernacki Engineering & Construction Services, Inc.; John B. Smith Engineers; Schirmer Engineering; Westfalia USA.

Product Information:

Robotic Conveyance Systems: Automated Self Storage Systems, LLC Driven by Westfalia. Office Furniture: Gunlocke. Ceilings: 3M. Paint: Benjamin Moore. Building Management System: Savanna Custom Database. Security System Components: Security 101. HVAC Equipment: Carrier. Climate Control: Onset Computer Corp. (wireless environmental sensors).