What is pallet racking?

If you have ever wondered, what is pallet racking? Well, we have you covered.

Warehouses use these metal structures to store palletized goods. Generally configured using a series of steel vertical uprights and horizontal beams. Pallet racking comes in a variety of heights and levels. Forklifts move pallets from around from one area to and from the racks.

Components of a Pallet Rack System

The makeup of a pallet rack system is fairly simple. Using only a few components to make it sturdy and durable.

  • Pallet Rack Frame (also known as an Upright)
  • Pallet Rack Cross Beam
  • Wire mesh (also known as wire deck.)

Although the components of a pallet rack system are typically standard, there’s still a wide variety of different options when purchasing pallet rack systems.

Types of Pallet Racking:

Generally speaking, there are about 6 different types of pallet rack systems and each has its individual aspects that are important to understand when assessing your storage needs.

1. Selective Pallet Rack

Selective pallet racks are the most cost-effective methods for storing pallets. It is also the most common. Selective pallet racks come in two types, roll-formed and structural. Roll-formed commonly known as teardrop uses a boltless design and therefore racks are easily adjustable. Structural pallet racks use a bolt design. This can be built into the facility itself.

Pros of using selective pallet rack systems:

  • Most cost-efficient pallet racking method
  • Operates well with FIFO inventory management
  • Can accommodate a wide variety of forklifts & machinery in the aisles

Cons of using selective pallet rack systems:

  • Lowest pallet storage capacity
  • Can increase loading & unloading times

2. Drive-in Pallet Rack

Drive-in pallet racks are an efficient and affordable way to maximize warehouse and storage capabilities. A drive-in pallet rack allows for forklifts to move through the aisles in order to continue stocking and adding additional pallets. Typically used for LIFO (Last In, First Out) storage.

Pros of using drive-in pallet racking:

  • Drive-in pallet racks allow for high-density storage
  • Drive-in pallets require fewer aisles for the same amount of storage
  • Because of the saved space, drive-in pallet racks are cost-efficient

Cons of using drive-in pallet racking:

  • Drive-in pallet racks are not great for specific inventory selection
  • Drive-in pallet racks create issues for an inventory that needs to be rotated
  • Complications arise when there’s an insufficient amount of forklifts.

3. Push Back Rack

Push back racks are ideal for efficient storage while enabling inventory rotation. Unlike other pallet racks, push back racks are great to increase the visibility of products, allowing for a specific selection of inventory items. Like the drive-in pallet rack, push back racks also allow for Last In, First Out (LIFO) inventory management.

Pros of using push back racks:

  • Push back racks eliminate honeycombing by allowing for individual storage levels.
  • Push back racks are space-efficient and increases stability
  • Less opportunity for damage of pallet racks by forklifts
  • Increased selectivity among the inventory

Cons of using push back racks:

  • Push back racks may not be ideal for inventory that operates on First In, First Out (FIFO) inventory management

4. Pallet Flow

Unlike the systems previously mentioned, pallet flows operate on a First In, First Out (FIFO) inventory management systems. Pallet flow systems get inventory moving and create easier inventory rotation. Because of the nature of the pallet flow systems, it increases the selectivity of inventory compared to other structures, like drive-in pallet racks.

Pros of using pallet flow racks:

  • Easy inventory management for FIFO inventories
  • Works great with easily perishable items
  • Increased selectivity
  • Immediate access to every product

Cons of using pallet flow racks:

  • Not ideal for inventories that use LIFO management

5. Cantilever Rack Systems

One of the unique options of pallet racks, cantilever rack systems is freestanding rack systems with front access available. Essentially, cantilever racks act as an industrial storage shelf with no front. Multiple large horizontal arms extend from a single vertical column, creating easy access to all the products and inventory.

Pros of using cantilever rack systems:

  • Easy access to all of your inventory
  • Can hold products of various weights and sizes.
  • Works well with non-uniformed items like building materials, pipe, bar and more.

Cons of using cantilever rack systems:

  • Cantilever arms work best for evenly distributed weight items. Not so much when this is not true.
  • Cantilever racks  are not the most space-efficient pallet racking systems available

6. Carton Flow Racking

Like the pallet flow system, carton flow racking offers great storage for inventories that operate by First In, First Out (FIFO) management.  Carton flow racking systems use a rear load design, allowing for easily managed and operated inventory. Unlike other pallet rack types, carton flow racking systems automatically rotate products by design, allowing for maximum efficiency and storage organization.

Pros of using carton flow rack systems:

  • Carton flow rack systems increase productivity without requiring much work on the operator’s part
  • Carton flow rack systems are ideal for an inventory that is perishable or works best with FIFO management
  • Inventory is fully visible at all times

Cons of using carton flow rack systems:

  • Designed only to work with FIFO, not LIFO.

Safety and Liability Considerations for Pallet Racking Structures

Internal structures such as pallet racking can pose a hazard for falling items. Thus, most cities and counties will require permitting. Rules and regulation govern designing a sound and safe structure. There are various factors that need to be considered in planning your racking. These include:

  • The size and weight of the pallets.
  • The commodity type and fire hazard rating.
  • The slab thickness.
  • Fire sprinkler system.
  • Seismic requirements or in the case of outdoors wind ratings.
  • The type of material handling equipment in use.
  • Aisle width.

The potential for items to fall from the pallet rack may require additional containment accessories.

As the warehouse or distribution center manager or owner, your company is responsible for keeping your employees or anyone in the warehouse safe. It is therefore important that when searching for a vendor, that you make sure all the necessary steps to engineer your structure are followed.

Designing Your Pallet Racking Structure

While there is no doubt that no-one knows your warehouse and products better than you, it is best to leave the full design to the professionals. Your pallet racking vendor has the experience and the resources to research the best options to fit your budget.

The design process of a medium to large size warehouse may include the following:

  • Slab testing
    Storing heavy items may require slab testing. This is to verify that the concrete will hold a sound structure.
  • Preliminaries
    A licensed state engineer will use the measurements of your structure to ensure it will be safe. In most cases, the engineer may come back with revisions or adjustments.
  • Calculations
    A state-licensed engineer will create a Calculations package. The math from this process ensures your racking is safe.
  • Fire Sprinkler System
    The fire sprinkler system must be strong enough to put out fires based on the type of products you store.
  • High Pile Permit
    Items stored at certain heights will require this type of permit.
  • Requesting a Permit
    A typical permit request packet includes drawings, fees, and sometimes an application. Submission is typically in person.
  • The city and fire review process can take weeks depending on a variety of factors. Revisions elongate the approval process.
  • Post-install Inspections
    After installation, an inspection visits the facility and may approve the permit(s).
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