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Which storage rack system is right for your company?
John T. Phelan, Jr., P.E. is Chief Operating Officer of TriFactor, LLC
John T. Phelan, Jr., P.E. is Chief Operating Officer of TriFactor, LLC

Before selecting the storage medium for either a new distribution center or an existing facility, the first step is to analyze the products that will be handled.

Whether it's 150-pound mattresses, cases of bottled water or 10,000-pound rolls of paper, the product determines the proper storage. To help facilitate the process, there are guidelines for evaluating which storage medium best meets your needs:

  1. Is the product First In, First Out (FIFO) or Last In, First Out (LIFO)?
  2. How much storage density (items stored in a given area) do you need?
  3. Are there specific product flow requirements?
  4. How much forklift access do you require?
  5. What is the capacity of your loads?
  6. Do you normally pick pallets, cases or pieces?

It's important to make sure that whatever rack storage medium you choose will fit in the footprint of the facility. Ask questions such as these: "What is the space allocated for storage?" and "What limits are there within the area?"

In an ideal scenario, the storage medium should be identified and designed prior to site selection or building design, although this isn't always possible.

Critical components of a building footprint as it relates to a storage medium are:

a. Building column layout

b. Building clear height (useable vertical space below the roof or ceiling)

c. Overall square footage

d. Permanent and semi-permanent obstructions (HVAC, offices, electrical, sprinklers, lighting, etc.)

e. Simplicity of building layout (a rectangular building is typically more conducive to efficient storage design than one that has large square footage through multiple build-outs)

f. Dock door placement

g. Safety requirements (egress paths, forklift aisles vs. foot traffic, etc)

Although conventional thought may be that racking is just racking and there is nothing very complex about it, selecting the most effective rack system is almost never simple. This is especially true when your business operates in a dynamic environment, as most do. Balancing building layout, product mix and type of access required for that product, warehouse and distribution managers have some tough choices to make. Below are some thoughts from those making it happen, followed by descriptions of different rack types.

For Penser SC, a 3rd Party Logistics company based in Jacksonville, FL, operating over one million square feet of warehouse space throughout the state, choosing a rack storage system presented a particular challenge.

"Since we deal with products of every size and shape, from pharmaceuticals, to food products, to paper, we face many challenges when designing a rack storage system," explains Penser SC's CEO Shawn Barnett. "We design by planning how much racking we will need, while making sure we can evolve that design to accommodate the different types of products we have in the mix. Some products can change every two years and then we have to be able to easily reset all of the shelves and racks."

Tom Single, Director of Solutions Development for Saddle Creek Corporation, a 3PL based in Lakeland, FL, concurs. "We work with everything from small items to 10,000-pound rolls of paper, so we need the flexibility to adapt quickly."

Adds Barnett, "When selecting a rack system we always look at the heaviest possible product we will have to store, to make sure we choose the strongest rack possible. We can't put ourselves in the dangerous position of being forced to place 2,500-pound pallets of canned food on the fifth beam up with a 1,500-pound capacity. We need to have the ability to literally morph our building to accommodate our client's products."

When choosing a storage system, it's also important to understand the specifications and limitations of the lift trucks that will be accessing the racks. All of the factors discussed thus far can affect the type, overall cost and utilization of lift equipment, so careful consideration should be taken to make the correct choices.

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