California's Largest Fully Automated Parking Garage

  • September 08, 2015
  • Rittal Corporation
  • Rittal Corporation
  • Case Study

By Jim Reichert, Vice President of Sales at Rittal Corporation

Building the largest fully automated parking garage in California would seem quite an accomplishment for any developer, but AutoParkit wanted its contribution to easing parking congestion to last longer than the headlines about its “adaptive reuse” technology. AutoParkit Inc. (API), being California-based, knew the practical deliverables that would make its fully automated parking garage a success in an urban setting. That’s why it beat out other providers of automated parking systems whose technology might seem just as compelling, but lacked the practicality that government bodies respect when approving such projects.

Winning a high-profile project requires attention to detail at every level, and that included down to the system’s electrical panel enclosures.  In fact, Rittal Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial enclosures and power distribution products, was able to bring engineering improvements to its portion of the project that helped AutoParkit deliver on its promise.  The four level, 200-space ASRS-based (Automated Storage and Retrieval System) facility AutoParkit is building in the historic Helms Bakery District in West Los Angeles is slated for completion in late summer 2015.

Practical is Sexy in the City

What AutoParkit understands is that it’s one thing to provide technology; it’s another thing to be able to apply it to meet all the requirements necessary to build in a city like Los Angeles that typically has some of the strictest building codes in the United States. This vendor has expertise not only in meeting building codes, but rewriting them so that its technology used for a fully automated parking facility can be accepted in an urban environment. Whether it is column grids, shoring, setbacks, or staging – all of these are aspects of building design details that have to be considered.  This included details like the design of the system’s electrical panel enclosures.  Rittal won this business because of its quality, breath of standard products and integrated design flexibility. For example the panels have removable floors allowing the electrical piping fed from underneath to enter the panel without making field penetration. This saves installation time and eases layout of conduit runs since the openings provide additional margin for conduit location. These deliverables were so appealing to Shawn Adams, COO of AutoParkit, that at first he didn’t think he could afford them.

“I had used Rittal enclosures in my previous professional experience, and I had always considered them the cream of the crop when it came to enclosures,” he says. “I also think there was a reputation that they were at a premium price level. Nevertheless, we reached out to Rittal for this application.  We gave them some pretty tough requirements to match, not only in price and delivery, but certainly quality as well, and they were able to meet all three. We were very excited to be working with Rittal because we have great respect for their product and certainly you know you are getting a premium brand.” 

How Automated Parking Works

The AutoParkit ASRS is similar to the technology used in industrial automotive applications, but has been adapted to fit in an urban landscape. This technology has been around for more than 30 years and the efficiencies offered by such systems, both in space conservation and in overall functionality, have allowed AutoParkit to design and build parking structures that may make the behemoth concrete decks that are prevalent today an endangered species in the not too distant future.  An AutoParkit System can park nearly twice the number of cars in the same space as a traditional parking structure, for approximately the same cost. 

This is a good place to further illustrate the differences between AutoParkit and its competitors. Some of the most important are characteristics that an API does not include.  

“There are no hydraulics, pneumatics or robotics used,” Adams explains. “Hydraulics brings in a whole series of building codes that you have to meet, such as fire safety. Robotics are overly sophisticated for the necessary motion, and robotics maintenance is costly.” 

“API uses no custom components, which is important for developers because they need to be confident that the system will be running 30 years from now and not be dependent on custom or obsolete technology. AutoParkit uses standard contacts, standard drives, standard motors, and standard sensors, which are all off-the-shelf components.” 

AutoParkit System at Work

A vehicle enters the structure via a typical garage door and the driver is directed by a video monitor to park, exit, and lock their car. The driver then proceeds to a kiosk, accesses the user interface, whereupon their vehicle is shuttled away to an available space. When the driver wants to leave the structure, they access the kiosk again, and 40-120 seconds later, their car is delivered, nose out and ready to go. These are self-contained, smart structures that do not waste space, energy, or labor.  

Leveraging Partnerships 

AutoParkit has partnered with some of the leaders in ASRS technology, such as Omron and SEW Eurodrive, to adapt existing knowledge to its system.  For the Helms Bakery API, Rittal was brought in to reduce the installation time.  

The panel builder for the Auto Parkit System at Helms Bakery is Indicon, of Sterling Heights, Michigan. Indicon brought panel building and logic experience from the automotive industry, as they are a primary supplier of electrical panels to Ford Motor Company.  

Jeff Riley, a project manager with Indicon, says the use of Rittal enclosures was a good fit for the AutoParkit System. “Rittal’s enclosures have a lightweight modular design, which has the advantage of allowing a more unique panel design, so we were not limited by the constraints of a typical heavy gauge steel panel.” 

“That’s the idea behind our modular design. We can shrink the footprint of a traditional, gray box style cabinet,” says Andrew Prichard, a Sales Manager for Rittal who worked with Indicon on the Auto Parkit System. Prichard says Rittal supplied large, free-standing TS8 enclosures, various wall mounts, and smaller J boxes for the project, noting that the wide range of enclosure configurations allowed for the most efficient use of space possible.  

A Lesson in Psychology 

Along with the complexity of the design of the automated system, AutoParkit’s team had to consider human psychology in the design of the Helms Bakery API project.  

AutoParkit’s Adams explains, “If you look at a traditional parking structure, you walk through the structure to an elevator or a stairwell to get to your car, back out, and drive down the ramps to the exit.  The time that it takes to do that has been estimated to be 8 to 8.5 minutes. Our vehicles are delivered in 40 to 120 seconds. What we found was that even though we’re faster, the wait time for the customer seemed longer than it really was. So, we make sure we design in a window in the user passage door so that the driver would see that something was happening. At the Helms Bakery location, the entire wall of the lobby will be glass so that the driver will be visually stimulated while waiting for their car to be delivered. People have a natural curiosity, and this was a way to satisfy that.” 

Predictive Maintenance Allows Full Automation 

Because each API System is fully automated, there is no maintenance staff on site; it is all called out when needed. Each API System relies on a Predictive Maintenance Package, GarageFloor24, that continually monitors the system. 

Adams says, “We are basically counting the usage of every asset, and how long it is used and tracking that information. Everything is networked, so not only do we have the ability to control, but we also have the ability to gather information. We have set limits for maintenance time, and set limits for when equipment needs to be replaced, aside from conditions where we might see a reading for overcurrent or abnormal torque, that would allow us to do some preventative repairs or maintenance.” 

Adams continues, explaining that each API is designed to maintain low maintenance costs. “The way we do that is that 90-95 percent of the system is strictly mechanical - conveyors and the structure of the building. There are some subsystems - the lift, which moves the cars vertically, the shuttles, which move the cars horizontally, and the load bay which is where the cars are loaded and retrieved, that contain the majority of the electronics. These sub-systems are on a routine maintenance schedule, so there is little that can go wrong. And the fact there are no lights or operators required reduces operating cost by about 40 percent. The one at Helms will actually operate at a net neutral energy usage, because they will have solar panels on the roof of the structure which will be back-fed into the switch gear.” 

Limiting Risk 

Adams likes to focus on the collaborative effort that has led to AutoParkit’s success and promising future.  "We believe in partnerships. We have fostered some really good relationships, and those relationships working in concert with one another have allowed us to deliver a world class product. We leverage the relationships we have with suppliers like Omron, SEW Eurodrives, Vahel Rail, and Rittal. Property developers want to know that the product that they are installing is trusted, hardened, proven, reliable technology with which they can feel comfortable. They want to limit risk, and our partners allow us to do that.”

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