Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are a marvel of engineering. They're speedy, efficient, and often in motion around the clock. To keep up the pace, every part and component must be in perfect working order—and the pallet racks must be precisely fitted and calibrated to the application.
But that's not always the case, says Skip Eastman, vice president of sales at Steel King, a manufacturer of pallet rack and custom storage rack solutions. In Eastman's view, for an AS/RS to operate most efficiently, the pallet racks must be built to FEM (Federation of European Material Handling) specifications—a standard that not all pallet racks meet.
Furthermore, the rack tolerances must be exact for the computer-controlled storage and retrieval system to work properly. "If the tolerances are significantly off, loads could be deposited into a beam, upright, or the wrong storage location," Eastman warns. Pallet rack tolerances for mini-load AS/RS (which carry lots weighing less than 1,000 pounds in totes, trays, or cartons) can be especially demanding, since the storage locations are smaller, and the loading device may still travel at a high speed, he adds.
Considering that the racks must be able to support stored pallet loads or mini-loads at heights of 40 feet or more, it's no surprise that rack strength is another concern. Add in the need for racking to comply with fire, seismic, and municipal building codes and you have a complicated situation indeed.
A good source of information about racks of all types is the Rack Manufacturers Institute, which is part of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). Specifications and technical data are available on the group's Web site.