Operations and facilities specialists working in the field of warehousing know that one of the best ways to create space is to do so vertically – quite literally, from the ground up. Taking this approach allows for inventory and important pieces of equipment to be stored in strategic arrangements that promote organization, reduce clutter, and allow for streamlined picking and handling. When complementary racking systems are installed in warehouses, the benefits are immediate; productivity surges and managers can rest assured knowing that each and every piece of inventory is simple to locate and easy to access.
Although there are a variety of different types of racking systems available to warehouses, the one that we are focusing on today is pallet racking. Pallet racking is currently the most popular solution, and it is also one that includes well over a dozen separate, often customizable configurations. This allows for adaptability in a warehouse’s infrastructure, one that is especially valuable during unexpected peaks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, pallet racking is such a commonly-used model because of its flexibility, but it should also be noted that these systems are not one-size-fits-all. In order to make an educated storage decision for your operation, you will need to first assess your own warehouse’s needs, capabilities, assets, and workforce resources. Through reading this guide, you will gain a clearer perspective on your options.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- The Basics of Pallet Racking
- Tips for Selecting a Pallet Rack System
- Advice on Configuring Your Pallet Rack System
- Pallet Racking Damage Protection and OSHA Standards
- Additional Resources on Pallet Racking Design and Configuration
The Basics of Pallet Racking
As mentioned, pallet racking systems have surpassed most other industrial storage systems in popularity for the past 80 years, since first being introduced to warehouses and other industrial storage facilities during World War II.
While there are a variety of different practical reasons for this, the favorable distinction is most often attributed to their flexibility. Whether constructed in their crude or high-tech forms, these storage systems bring to life a simple solution to the common problem of available space. Because all options within these systems hold the common goal of “adding” more floor space by storing vertically, users experience immediate augmented storage density upon installation.
In terms of basic design, all pallet racking systems are constructed using pallets, sometimes known as “skids.” Depending on the vertical height available in the given facility space and the safety codes that are attached to it, pallet racking systems consist of various horizontal rows of pallets stacked atop one another. The height between each horizontal row is determined by factors such as the sizes of the items stored, the ability for industrial vehicles, like forklifts, to access the pallets, and the amount of provided aisle space reserved alongside the system.
Although there are numerous pallet racking design options available, some of which are customizable depending upon the abilities of the pallet racking manufacturer, Logistics Bureau reports that there remains a handful of classic designs:
- Selective Pallet Racking: The most common pallet racking system, selective offers a generous amount of accessibility when compared to other configurations supporting the first in, first out (FIFO) model. Generally, these designs are recommended to operations whose number of pallets is substantially lower than its stored SKUs. It’s an especially solid system for those who deal with changing inventory rotations, thus needing constant access to the pallets. Also, this system is particularly promising for operations that stack inventory at lower levels. Storage utilization: 90%
- Push Back Pallet Racking: This racking system is very different from selective in the sense that it does not offer the same accessibility, as pallets are layered vertically, sometimes up to four deep. In fact, push back pallet racking systems are not recommended to operations that plan to store inventory that requires frequent picking. That said, push back is a great option for those who subscribe to first in, last out (FILO) and have more pallets per SKU. Storage utilization: 85-90%
- Drive-In Pallet Racking: Drive-in pallet racking systems are suitable options for operations who have a lot of space, but also require a lot of storage options. Drive-in systems can be 6 to 7 stacked pallets high and up 10 to 12 pallets deep. Predictably, this system is not necessarily suitable for order picking, but it does work well in the instances where staging and SKU separation is the focus. Storage utilization: 50 to 60%
- Mobile Pallet Racking: This racking system is unique in the sense that is built upon wheels. While the design element may sound dangerous, today’s mobile pallet racks come equipped with electronic stop and lock designs, with some being completely earthquake-proof. Mobile pallet racking systems are suitable for operations willing to move full pallets at a time, and also ones with a high amount of storage and fairly low levels of pallet movement. Generally, high-cost operations, like cool and cold stores make use of this design. Storage utilization: 90%
- Narrow Aisle Racking: Just as it sounds, narrow aisle racking systems are built for operations who have very little aisle space to spare – at times as little as 65″. It’s a good option for those storing a high number of SKUs in relatively small quantities and have the need for plenty of selection time. That said, since the system creates aisles that are so narrow, only one machine or vehicle will be able to navigate the area at a time. Storage utilization: 90%
As noted, there are even more pallet racking design options available, from very deeply-packed systems, such as satellite racking to AS/RS high-rise racking solutions. The options outlined above are simply the most universally-used in today’s market.
Tips for Selecting a Pallet Racking Systems
In order to successfully select and eventually integrate a pallet racking system into your facility, you must first sit down with your team to discuss and confirm a number of factors, including your space utilization goals, warehouse layout, your current and future inventory management processes, your available space, your budget, your available equipment, and your workforce’s capabilities. Let’s expand on these points:
- Current and Future Inventory Management Processes: If you don’t have a solid idea of turnover rate, both now, at your peaks, and in the future, then it will be impossible to determine your needs. Speak with your planners and study your operation’s forecast carefully. It is this very data that will be the most helpful for you in the selection process.
- Available Space: Now that you’ve taken a closer look at your inventory, it’s time to focus in on your warehouse’s current layout and the infrastructure built within it. Consult your design team and facilities personnel to establish the exact amount of space that is available for the proposed pallet racking system.
- Space Utilization Goals: Chances are, your reason for investigating pallet racking systems is that you need to make better use of your storage space. In order to optimize yours, as mentioned above, you should have a clear idea of how much space you have available – or could make available with adjustments to your warehouse floor plan. Additionally, you should know how much inventory you need to store in pallet racks and have a figure in mind when it comes to total space utilization. This will make all future communications with the manufacturer much simpler.
- Budget: Pallet racking systems run the gamut when it comes to price. For instance, a basic Selective system could set you back $46-60 per pallet, while a Mobile racking system could cost you upwards of $700-$800 per pallet. In a perfect world, all operations would have the capacity to favor practicality over cost, but, unfortunately, a tight budget usually has the last say in the matter.
- Available Equipment: Unless they contain automated components, most all pallet racking systems require the use of a forklift, or in the cases of busy warehouses, a fleet of them. Take a look at your available equipment, including forklifts and their accessories, and double-check that these vehicles match well with your new system.
- Your Workforce’s Capabilities: Speaking of forklifts, you will also need licensed, capable forklift drivers who ideally have experience working with your chosen system. Be ready to provide the necessary training upon installation.
Advice on Configuring Your Pallet Racking System
Once you’ve selected a system that will work with your budget, available space, and workforce, it’s time to install it in your warehouse and integrate it so that it fits your current systems.
You can do this by first gathering the beam length and height, paying specific attention to the length between the upright beams. It is this very measurement that allows you to determine the number of pallets that you can safely stack. In an article published in East Coast Storage Equipment Co.’s blog, we get a good example of how to properly measure the upright beam lengths.
“…let’s say the width between the upright beams is 96”. That means if you store two 40” x 48” pallets per pallet rack, a total of 80” of width is used by the two pallets, leaving 16”.”
But, the beam length measuring doesn’t stop there, you must also figure in any and all applicable compliance laws, as well, particularly those that concern aisle width and beam heights. “Building and fire codes require five inches of space between the upright and pallet along with another six inches between the two pallets. In other words, a 96” beam safely holds two standard pallets with the required spacing.”
In addition to beam lengths, you must also factor in both rack and pallet depth. Generally, about 3″ of pallet overhang is typical, both on the front end of the racking system as well as the back. This means that, if you are using standard pallets, which are 40″ x 48″, then your depth should be 42″.
These are the very measurements that will help you determine the exact amount of space that you will need, but they are also the very measurements that, with a smart design team, can help you potentially create even more space. Take the numbers into careful consideration and, as mentioned, always take care that you are configuring your system in accordance with applicable safety regulations.
Pallet Racking Damage Protection and OSHA Standards
Now that you have your pallet racking selection and configuration squared away, take the time to learn about maintenance, specifically damage protection.
Pallet racking systems incur the most damage from forklift collisions. These accidents might not always be visible, but they can have detrimental effects on the integrity of the system. In order to guarantee that yours is always in perfect shape, perform routine, in-house pallet racking inspections. These inspections should consist of a visual examination that focuses on visible wear and tear and an identification of any beams that might no longer be level. Additionally, check for corrosion, damaged uprights, overloading, and, of course, the quality of the floor beneath the system.
Also, take the time to get to know any and all safety standards and codes associated with the racking system. Here are the three current OSHA regulations concerning pallet racking, published in its Materials Handling and Storage manual.
176(a): “Where mechanical handling equipment is used, sufficient safe clearances shall be allowed for aisles, at loading docks, through doorways and wherever turns or passage must be made. Aisles and passageways shall be kept clear and in good repair, with no obstruction across or in aisles that could create a hazard. Permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked.”
176(b): “Storage of material shall not create a hazard. Bags, containers, bundles, etc., stored in tiers shall be stacked, blocked, interlocked and limited in height so that they are stable and secure against sliding or collapse.”
176(c): “Storage areas shall be kept free from accumulation of materials that constitute hazards from tripping, fire, explosion, or pest harborage. Vegetation control will be exercised when necessary.”
After you’ve selected and configured your warehouse pallet racks, outfit your warehouse racks with Camcode’s warehouse rack label solutions to streamline warehouse processes and boost productivity.
Additional Resources on Pallet Racking Design and Configuration
To learn more about the ins and outs of pallet racking design configuration, safety, selection, compliance, and more, visit the following resources:
- Pallet Rack Buyers’ Guide
- Pallet Racking Safety – Quick Tips 401
- Pallet Rack Basics: Behind the Backbone
- Best Practices for Preventing Pallet Rack Damage
- How Much Does Pallet Racking Cost?
- Warehouse Racking and Pallet Rack Systems: Different Types and Design
- How to Secure Your Storage Racks (and Keep OSHA Off Your Back)
- How Pallet Racking Helps Store Bulk Materials More Effectively
- How Does Pallet Racking Optimize Your Warehouse Efficiency?
- Pallet Flow Racking vs Selective Racking