While shelving and racking may seem static (mobiles excluded) there is nothing static about the trends sweeping though the logistics industry, which should highlight the need for a flexible racking/shelving approach. The seismic shift towards on-line etailing is forcing many high street fashion and retail brands, for example, to adopt new strategies, says Paul Davies, sales and marketing director at Link 51, and that means providing e-tail friendly systems. These must facilitate fast and accurate deliveries, be they to shops, click and collect or home delivery.

A particular challenge in all of this are peak periods for warehouses catering to online retail brought on, especially, by manic one-day discounted sales promotions. “It is clear why companies are seeking flexible picking systems that can be scaled up or down to accommodate large variances in volumes, SKU range and SKU profile,” says Edward Hutchison, BITO’s managing director. “This will require a mix of systems for different pick rates – for example adjustable shelving for slower moving items and carton flow racks, which offer a greater density of pick locations within a short distance.” A good choice here would be boltless versions of these systems because they can be quickly reconfigured.

The concern over fire risks is also encouraging warehouse operators to install sprinkler-friendly shelving and recent developments revolve around the increasingly common use of racking and shelving as selfsupporting, multi-tier picking systems (‘pick towers’) instead of purpose-built mezzanines, says SSI Schaefer’s Mike Alibone.

Another trend warehouse operators should watch is the use of Euro-sized pallets and containers in the UK, which while still a small fraction of the total pallets in use, is growing. Mr Hutchison says: “we are seeing a big move from traditional, one-metre wide shelving towards widths of 1300mm because that will accommodate two lots of Euro containers 600mm wide or three lots of 400mm wide containers,” he says.

Owing, in part, to high land values in certain areas the trend to higher warehouses continues, with a 15mt-high speculatively built warehouse now the norm compared with only 10mt 15 years ago. If, however, intending to make use of ample room above the racking’s top by going higher it is important to check the load carrying specification of the warehouse floor.

If forced to confront a major internal reorganisation of racking/shelving types there are various means open which now make such tasks less costly and onerous. But before considering any hardware changes it may pay to think software first. A good stock forecasting program, for example, that reacts in real time to relevant demand influences, such as sharp weather changes, can reduce total inventory levels by one third without harming customer service.That frees up a lot of space for any proposed expansion and can deliver a remarkably low ROI, such as a two-week payback period.

There is often potential to realize much more storage space without going higher or extending laterally with the racking, as when an operation is using many 3.5mt-wide aisles for conventional counterbalance forklifts. There have been VNA trucks like combis and man-up order pickers for over 30 years but these are inflexible, costly machines when compared with articulated forklifts developed in the 1980s. Such trucks like the Bendi, Flexi and Aisle Master can work in aisles only 1.6 mt wide, accessing loads either side, and deliver up to 50% more pallet spaces compared with a conventional counterbalance truck. Such a switch in truck types would, of course, involve racking /shelving rearrangements, once a disruptive and costly business.

However, Flexi Warehouse Systems have devised a new method that sharply cuts relocation times and operational disruption, lowering the net cost by over 50% compared with traditional methods. Another racking relocation cost saver is the Gondola Skate’s Rhino II introduced this year.