Is a Drive-In or Drive-Through Racking System Right for Your Facility?

Byline: Maureen Paraventi, Editor

Among the many different pallet racking systems available for use in warehouses, distribution centers and other facilities are drive-in and drive-through systems. With drive-in and drive-through systems, there are fewer aisles and product is stored in a high-density manner several pallets deep, thus allowing for the use of space to be optimized. Compared to a standard pallet rack configuration, drive-in or drive-through systems may reduce square footage requirements by as much as a third.

Both eliminate the need for down-aisle picking aisles. They are relatively easy to install and, when located in a standard warehouse, do not require any overhead attachment (although one may be used for specialized applications).

Both consist of uprights that provide vertical support and rail beams that facilitate dense pallet storage that is stored back-to-back and floor-to-ceiling.

Forklift trucks have easy access to the product. Both last-in-first-out (LIFO) and first-in-first-out (FIFO) inventory management can be used, depending upon which type you select. They are able to be customized, and components come in a variety of heights and depths.

But are they for everybody?

What is the difference between the two?

The differences between drive-in and drive-through racking systems start with location. Drive-in rack systems are usually located against a wall. In contrast, drive-through systems are located in an open area, away from walls, so that forklifts can drive through the complete array of shelving.

With a drive-in pallet racking system, operators use the LIFO method, filling the system back to front, in order to access all of the pallet positions. Pallets are loaded onto horizontal rails and later removed from the same entry point. Drive-in systems are closed off at one end.

Drive-through racking systems use the FIFO workflow, where a forklift operator loads on one side and unloads on the other side. They have a separate entry/exit point, as opposed to drive-in systems. One side is usually used to load the product and the other side to unload it.


Both systems increase the depth of lane storage, which improves space usage and cuts costs, because more loads can be stored in available footage. By eliminating aisles and having pallet positions be even deeper, drive-in systems take storage density even further. Pallets are stored back-to-back from two to ten pallets deep, per pallet position.

With the drive-through system, loading and picking are very efficient processes. Pickers pick the first pallet placed in the system. Forklifts enter lanes less often for product removal, minimizing damage to racks.

The drive-in system offers maximum pallet storage and less potential damage from forklifts.

Drive-in systems can be combined with other rack systems for customization of selectivity and storage density.


Drive-through systems offer storage that is less dense than drive-through racks because they require an additional aisle.

Drive-in storage endures more wear and tear through interactions with forklifts compared with other rack configurations. Damage to racking systems constitutes a safety issue, so drive-in rack systems must be inspected regularly. A lack of structural integrity endangers workers and could damage the product and the racking system. Damaged components should be repaired or replaced promptly. Damage can be minimized by having frames reinforced or installing guards on columns and recessing uprights in high traffic areas in a cant-back style. Operators should practice safe loading and unloading. Additionally, they should enter and exit the system at slow speeds and take care to avoid collisions with the system’s upright frames.

Who should use these systems?

Because the drive-in system is LIFO, it is ideal for companies that ship relatively low SKU items that are low-rotations and not time sensitive. Seasonal items that require large, one-time moves are an example of products that are a fit for drive-in systems. They also work well when common-size pallets are being stored. Drive-in rack storage is not suitable for high-rotation inventory.

The FIFO method used in drive-through pallet racking systems makes them more suitable for products that are date-sensitive, such as perishable items.

Choosing either drive-in or drive-through systems will result in an increase in efficiency and productivity and a cost savings. Both result in less time spent stocking and picking, as well as lower fuel costs for both lift trucks and the heating and cooling of your facility.

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