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A Guide to Measuring Your Facility

How to measure warehouses, manufacturing plants, and other facilities for accurate layout and design

Warehousing Inquiry

layout of an industrial building

We measure many facilities on-site, but there are times our customers either want to or need to measure their own buildings. Here is a quick guide to measuring for conveyors, racks and other material handling equipment.

This guide can help you measure from a consistent baseline and appropriately size and space building columns.

The specific measurements it takes to calibrate equipment like racks, carton flow, lifts, shelving, mezzanines, conveyor systems and other material handling essentials require a certain level of knowledge about the various solutions and how they are implemented.

Do you have existing drawings, photos or other resources?


It’s helpful if you have a facility drawing in AutoCAD or other drafting program. Many companies have access to these, although over time (as new equipment is installed or work cells move around) they can change. Still, a CAD file is a great first step, even if it’s incomplete. We can accept any version of CAD. Our integration department works with and updates these types of files all the time. We also worked with Visio files, graphics programs and other starting points that help us visualize the situation.

If your drawing has building column locations, that is greatly helpful, as columns are always a top concern for laying out a facility (more on columns below).

Hand sketches are useful, and they don’t have to be precise as the process gets underway. They can help us visualize the situation and start the process.


Pictures are always good to have. They help us understand the environment in perspective. Take photos of the area with your phone from multiple perspectives. If the project involves high-bay racks or anything that’s ceiling mounted, take photos of the ceiling as well as the floor.

Measuring from an authoritative baseline

sketch with base line drawing

Accurate measurement relies on consistency. We use the baseline method, which helps make all the dimensions in a given area more consistent. To use this system, you establish base lines at one corner, and measure everything else out from them. In the drawing above, we have two baselines, north/south and east/west. These lines establish the dimensions for the entire area. In this example, point 1 is 33′-9″ from the east/west baseline, point 2 is 43′-9″ and point three is 53′-9″. The north/south distance from column line 6 to column line 5 is 24’6″ north/south.

Using baseline dimensions wherever possible helps eliminate a “cumulative” sum of dimensions and provides a consistent set of dimensions.

Building columns and how to measure them

types of building columns

When working on a facility layout, building columns are one of the first things we try to understand, since they always affect the layout. When the column sizes and spacing are measured correctly, we can build accurate layouts and plans. Columns are considered one of the most critical elements of facility design and layout.

measuring a round building column

Round columns

Round columns are extremely common. Here’s how to measure them:

  1. Measure around the column to obtain the circumference.
  2. Divide by 3.14 or multiply by 0.318 to find column diameter.
  3. Example: 18-7/8 or 18.875/ 3.14 = 6.01 (6” diameter column)   -or-   18-7/8 or 18.875 x 0.318 = 6.00 (6” diameter column).

Common round building column diameters:

Circumference Diameter
18-7/8″ 6″
25-1/8″ 8″
31-7/16″ 10″
37-5/8″ 12″

Other common types of building columns

plant and facility column types

  • Straight columns: Measure the column width and depth.
  • Tapered columns: Measure the width and depth. Add a second width measurement 72″ from the floor. Tapered columns are typically located on perimeter walls.
  • I-beam columns: Measure width and depth of the column.

Column centers & distances

Once we understand the type and size of the columns in your facility, it’s important to understand their spacing. The spacing is usually consistent in a room, but not always. If the facility has more than one room, or if expansions have been built, each area should be checked for column spacing.

If you have an accurate drawing of your facility or the area to be laid out, it’s very helpful, although we tend to measure to be sure.
column center layout sketch

  • When calculating column spacing, always label your map with a North arrow. Dimensions are read north/south and east/west on project drawings.
  • Count the number of columns in the application area. This may mean an entire facility, or may be just part of it where the project is being considered.
  • Label columns numerically south-to-north. Give them letters right-to-left, as seen in the drawing above. This would create column A1, A2, etc. and can help identify exactly where a project will occupy space, and the potential issues with columns in that space.
  • Remember that if there are multiple rooms, each may have different column spacing.

Establishing round column center lines:

round building column spacing sketch

As illustrated, to lay out round columns, you’ll need to calculate the center-to-center distance between each column. Usually this distance holds for a single room, but not always. You’ll also need the distance between columns and the center distance, which is the between column distance plus column diameter.

Establishing I-beam column center lines

I-beam column center calculation sketch

For I-beams, the process is similar to round columns. The necessary distances are beam center, between-beam, and the center distance as illustrated.

Measuring from center groove lines

As a secondary method, measurements can be taken from the center line groove (expansion joint) in the floor. These grooves are sometimes prominent and easy to use, sometimes not. To use center groove lines, measure distances between each north/south and east west line. These tend to be consistent throughout most areas, but not always.

measuring columns by centerline

Measuring up…

Our sales and project management teams are adept at field measurements, so we provide this guide as a place to get started. We will be publishing more tips on facility measurements and other ways to help you get projects off the ground in future editions of this series.

warehousing audit request

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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