To the uninitiated eye a look at warehouse racking may seem a straightforward, uncomplicated exercise but nothing could be further from the truth. For a start, the choice of racking is often complex owing to the wide range of stored items and storage options. The latter include the most common racking system, adjustable pallet racking (APR), mobile, live or flow, drive in/drive through, push-back, post pallet block stacking and a variety of automated solutions, like mini stackers.

chazThe type of application, i.e. cold stores, and the stored products’ dynamics will govern the choice of racking type and in large warehouses this is usually a mixture of methods. One should also not forget how interfacing handling equipment, like forklifts, can also affect the amount of racking chosen and the overall construction costs of a new warehouse. If, for example, a new cold store operator, aware that energy costs can absorb 25% of total running costs, nevertheless decides to go for APR because they value 100% instant stock access above the denser form of much slower mobile racking, then it’s important to minimise aisle widths because of the energy factor. The wiser choice, therefore, would seem to be articulated forklifts rather than reach or conventional counterbalance trucks which need much wider racking aisles. It is, therefore, important that all warehouse operators are aware of all the different types of forklifts and automated storage solutions on the market.

The height of a warehouse can also affect the construction method for racking. Automated warehouses, for example, often go higher than 25 metres, in which case one should consider the clad-rack method, whereby the racking is put up first and the walls then affixed to the racking. It is a significantly cheaper method than more conventional construction techniques.

Whether buying used or new racking it makes sense to cut damage with rack defences like column deflectors or protection posts and also rack net systems which will control load falls from a height caused by faulty truck work and seriously damaged pallets.

When economies struggle it becomes more tempting to buy second hand racking, but while it might be going a tad too far for to advise against it such a move can often be more trouble than its worth, and lead one to fall foul of the law. It is common, for example, for up to 25% of used racking to be unusable owing to missing or mismatched parts, damage from forklifts, improper use, shipping and handling or disassembly-reassembly. This could mean that putting up used racking takes far longer than if one had bought new. Such a serious delay could have a knock-on effect of losing sales because products are not available in racks.

Unless one thoroughly examines every inch of used racking one cannot be sure about possible lurking dangers. Used racking will almost always have suffered damage and this is particularly true of drive in/drive through, notorious for accidents with forklifts. One particular important point to bear in mind is to ensure that the used racking is labelled to identify the carrying capacity, because many manufacturers use different material thicknesses in their frames and beams. This identification could be difficult if the rack maker has gone out of business.

Apart from the hidden dangers within used racking one must also be careful when making alterations to new racking because this can threaten racking integrity if not done according to the rack maker’s rules. Changing beam levels, for example, will affect frame loading. Repairs should be done according to manufacturers’ guidelines, and racking audits following accidents are best left to experienced engineers.

Racking maintenance is probably still the most neglected part of overall warehouse maintenance and so it is hardly surprising that hundreds of racking accidents occur every year. The law demands due diligence, which calls for regular, annual rack audits, prompt repairs, and strict procedures governing layout changes. One should not forget, however, that no amount of good training and maintenance will be much good if aisle widths are too tight, floors substandard and forklift drivers encouraged to drive fast by piece rate payments or pressure to meet deliveries.

Guidance on maintenance and safety issues can be had from the Storage & Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) codes of practice.