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Up and Away: Vertical is the Way to Grow

When it comes to storage, industrial shelving is often the Rodney Dangerfield of options for bulk products and packaged items—it may get little or no respect on a day-to-day basis, but it always does its job.

To make better use of existing warehouse and distribution center (DC) space and to accommodate the speed and velocity of omni-channel fulfillment (which relies on a seamless consumer experience), many companies look to rack, shelving and storage equipment manufacturers for assistance. Efficient storage systems can help improve efficiencies; keep workers safe; and comply with codes.


Typically made of heavy-duty metal, industrial shelving is available in two general types: open units and closed units.

  • Open units: This design allows for the easiest stocking and retrieval and works nicely for bulky or boxed items.
  • Closed units: If containment/separation is key, then closed units are your best bet; closed options are also a good choice for use in office environments or other semi-public or public areas.

Both types of shelving are typically easy to install and usually adjustable to various heights to enable maximum storage options.

Particle board shelves and wire decking work well for lighter loads; heavy-duty industrial shelving often uses heavy-gauge steel shelves with powder-coated finishes for high-capacity storage.

Boltless design is also now in vogue. A boltless rivet design can provide for easy installation without nuts, bolts or shelf clips. Shelves are usually accessible from all four sides and can be adjusted. Boltless shelving is typically available with particle board, white laminated particle board or flat wire grid decking. A wide range of sizes are also available, which explains this particular solution’s popularity.

Pallet Racks 

Basically, a warehouse pallet rack is a material handling storage system designed to store products and materials on wood pallets in horizontal rows and vertical levels. Horizontal beams attach to vertical upright frames, creating industrial shelving to support pallets of material that can be accessed by forklifts.

Industrial pallet racks enable users to truly maximize warehouse space by stacking vertically and, of course, by storing pallet load by pallet load. Frames and beams are, again, high-gauge steel.

When deciding which type of pallet rack is best for your needs, here are some factors to consider:

  • Cost
  • Size of the facility
  • Clear height of the facility’s ceiling
  • What type of product is being stored
  • What size pallets are used
  • What is the product turn-around
  • What type of fork lift truck is being used

Roll-formed pallet racks are the most common type of construction. They are typically manufactured in the teardrop style; meaning the teardrop-shaped holes on the column of the uprights. They are cold-rolled and often have a rivet connection.

There are a few circumstances when roll-formed has a bolted connection. This type of pallet rack also tends to be less expensive; it is made up of less steel than structural. Roll-formed construction uses mounting clips that can easily be adjusted to different heights, according to load size. For warehouses that store a wide variety of product sizes, this can be a huge plus.

Structural pallet racks are hot-rolled. Their components are almost always bolted together (the main difference between spot structural vs. roll-formed pallet racks). The horizontal load beams connect to the uprights with bolts, helping with weight capacities. Structural pallet racks are made of thicker steel c-channels, making them costlier, but more durable options. In warehouses where inventory has a quick turnover, durability becomes more important, especially when forklift traffic is a factor.

Looking Up

One of the more interesting trends in material handling storage solutions is the multi-level storage structure. As companies incorporate these multi-level storage structures into their warehouses, many also want to go even higher—this can be achieved, mainly due to the evolution of wire-guided, man-aboard (or man-up) order-pickers.

The surge in e-commerce and omni-channel fulfillment is also driving the need for warehouses and DCs to have access to better space-utilization techniques. Thankfully, much of the new construction throughout the country accommodates these multi-level systems. This makes vertical storage even more attainable.

One of the strategies employed frequently for companies wanting to use vertical space and gain efficiencies is to reduce the number of product “touches” that occur in any given warehouse. This depends a great deal upon an efficient warehouse management system, but it can also be positively affected by the right rack and storage strategies.

The distance an item travels per order and the total number of touches it receives can be improved. Structural speed-racking or using platforms and mezzanines—or a combination of them, along with pick- and flow-type modules and warehouse automation, can greatly improve any warehouse or DC operation’s rack, shelving and storage goals. These can, in turn, play a role in helping companies utilize space efficiently and contain costs, while increasing efficiency. WMHS

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