Strong Room Installations – Safe Storage of Controlled Drugs and Pharmaceuticals

ACR is a multi-disciplinary building practice in the UK that offers services from Building Design to Property Maintenance & Facilities Management. The skilled staff includes architects, civil engineers, structural engineers, project managers, health and safety consultants and facilities managers.

Background –

The company ACR has existed for 50 years and Simon Robinson took over from his father as managing director 20 years ago. Under Simon’s leadership ACR has diversified from its initial focus on structural engineering to the broader services that it offers today. ACR works a lot with the pharmaceutical sector, which makes up around 60% of its business.

ACR has a long, positive history of working with Gunnebo on Controlled Drug (CD) strong rooms dating back 20 years. “We first started cooperation with Gunnebo around 2000 when they arrived on the market with custom-made CD strong rooms,” explains Simon. “These solutions were approved by the Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and they offered big advantages over the previous, more complicated methods of building CD storage. Gunnebo offered a one-stop shop where they designed and certified the room, making projects much simpler.”

Challenges –

Over the years Gunnebo has worked closely with ACR and its pharmaceutical clients on numerous projects and supplied some of the largest strong rooms in the UK.  Today pharmaceutical wholesalers often operate tall secure warehouses that have ceilings as high as 17 m. And, with floor space at a premium, they want their CD room to utilise the maximum height of the building.

For one UK pharmaceutical wholesaler, ACR was asked to design a 15 m tall CD strong room. Working with heights like that, says Simon, can be very challenging but it is also a great way to use the space efficiently. “The higher you go, the more cubic meters of storage space you get based on the same square meters of floor space. You’re paying for those cubic meters of air, so why not use them for storing your product?”

One of the challenges with such heights is that only certain types of forklift trucks can raise pallets that high. They have a very tall mast, so the strong room door needs to be up to 5 m high to give a clear opening for transfer of stock in and out.

For fire protection, sprinkler feed pipes need to be incorporated into the design without compromising theft protection. Another issue concerns warehouse floors which may not suitable for the extra weight of the strong room and therefore require strengthening.

When it comes to building a CD strong room, it’s not just a case of supplying some panels and a door; the total room needs to be safe, and security features need to be designed in from start. There are many challenges to be overcome, to make sure the Strong Room you get fully meets the Drugs & Firearms Licencing Unit (DFLU) guidance – to obtain a licence to operate the room.

Finally, it is rare that strong rooms are built inside an empty warehouse. Most often it is done in an existing building, and installation needs to be co-ordinated to ensure ongoing operations continue safely.

Arc Strongroom

How Gunnebo solve challenges of large size strong rooms –

By being involved from the beginning of a new feasibility study and visiting the location under consideration for a new strong room, we can better understand a customer’s requirements. On this project, together with ACR, we presented our ideas and supported them with design drawings and structural calculations to satisfy building regulations. Gunnebo strong rooms are designed to minimise point load and make sure the internal rack layout and aisle width suit the forklift truck to be used. Furthermore, following DFLU guidance, we have provided ACR customers with solutions for strong room doors to suit high forklift masts and sprinkler pipes for fire suppression inside the strong room.

Because Gunnebo manufactures strong rooms, we can tailor the design to meet site restrictions and ensure installation of each strong room panel and door is co-ordinated, for the highest CD security.


Results –

The strong room constructed by ACR and Gunnebo for this client was at the time the tallest in Europe, measuring 46 m long x 10 m wide x 15 m high. A total of 1137 panels from Gunnebo were supplied and two 1.8 m wide x 5 m high doors provide a clear opening for the forklifts. Combined weight, including the support structure, is 749 tonnes and the room provides secure storage capacity for 2050 pallets of controlled drugs.

As far as the cooperation with Gunnebo, Simon Robinson at ACR is clearly satisfied. “We have been specifying Gunnebo’s custom-made Controlled Drug Strong Rooms for over 20 years. From Feasibility Stage to Handover, their professionalism and customer service is excellent. With Gunnebo you know you are in safe hands.”


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