Robotics and automation may be all the rage in warehousing circles these days, but the building blocks of the modern warehouse haven’t strayed far from their roots. Storage racks—the traditional, nonautomated kind—are a prime example and an often overlooked aspect of today’s fast-moving, high-tech facilities. These warehouse staples can help maximize storage space, speed throughput, and create a safer work environment in facilities of all shapes and sizes—provided you have the right system in place to meet your needs.
Wondering how to choose the right storage racking for your warehouse—or determine if your current system is the right one? These three steps can help guide the way.
In warehousing and logistics, industrial storage racks typically hold pallets, cases, and large individual items that will be picked, packaged, and shipped. Some of the most common types of racks include:
These are some of the simplest racks available and are often used in warehouses that store a high number of different stock-keeping units (SKUs), but a low volume of each SKU, according to Diane Domingues, vice president of marketing and customer service for rack manufacturer Frazier Industrial Co. She describes selective rack as “a great solution for any industry, especially those with changing needs.”
Drive-in rack systems are versatile and cost-effective, allowing products to be stored multiple-positions deep, which can “cut down on aisle space compared to other systems,” according to Eric Andres, national sales manager for rack manufacturer Hannibal Industries.
These systems are typically used in manufacturing and construction, and also by some specialty retailers such as hardware stores.
Because warehouses often store different types of products, with differing volume throughputs, the ideal storage solution often includes more than one type of racking. The first step to determining what you need is to review “unit, method, and area,” according to Domingues. Unit refers to the product load or loads being stored; method is the type of equipment being used to handle the products; and area refers to the space available in your warehouse for racking.
“Your answer to each question will dictate what types of racking are most [suitable] for your specific needs,” Domingues explains. “If you’re unsure what type of rack is best, a racking supplier can help you determine the ideal solution.”
Andres agrees, adding that it’s also important to work with a supplier who understands the rules and regulations for constructing racking systems. Such requirements are often guided by local building codes and can include seismic considerations, which vary by region, as well as safety measures that can help guard against system damage and worker injury.
“We think it starts with finding a trusted partner,” Andres says. “You need to look for someone who understands the requirements for the building space and how those needs may change over time. It’s also critically important that they understand local, state, and federal requirements for the building or warehouse space.”
Customers used to select racking systems based on the here and now, but not anymore, Domingues and Andres agree.
“Once upon a time, buyers were selecting rack systems based on their immediate needs. When those needs changed, they bought new racking,” Domingues says. “Now, they are buying systems that take both their immediate needs and projected future needs into account. The modern warehouse can’t wait the time it takes to remove an old rack … and replace it with a new one, so buyers are thinking longer term, with resiliency in mind.”
Lately, that means designing systems that maximize storage capacity, largely in response to a tight warehousing market, according to Andres. Accelerating e-commerce activity, inflation, and a variety of other factors have combined to increase both demand for and the cost of warehouse space, so companies are looking to get the most out of new and existing facilities. Andres advises designing systems that optimize storage in a smaller warehouse footprint and free up space for picking and other value-added activities, for example.
He says seismic considerations are an important aspect of long-term design as well. Rack installers can reinforce their designs based on local building code requirements, and there are also specific rack products designed with seismic protections in mind. Hannibal Industries’ patented TubeRack system was designed specifically to withstand the dangers of earthquakes, for example.
“It’s really about designing a safer system,” Andres says.
Domingues agrees that safety is taking on a greater role in rack design today, especially when it comes to ergonomics and worker protection. Storage systems that provide easier access to items, for example, can help reduce injuries and increase productivity—two factors that also address the industry’s labor crunch by keeping workers on the job and maintaining the flow of products through the warehouse.
“Racks have grown to keep up with the needs and demands of the modern warehouse. They’ve become a lot more agile, adaptable, and flexible in their design to accommodate the ever-evolving warehouse environment,” Domingues says, emphasizing the need to focus on the safety aspect in particular. “There is a greater premium on worker, equipment, and product safety than ever before. And today’s racking solutions are designed with a greater emphasis on all of those [considerations].”