Case study

How the fork lift truck evolution has greatly influenced pallet racking development.

Jul 15, 2021 | Pallet Racking

Where there’s pallet racking, there’s a fork lift truck. The two of them go hand in hand, but which one has the greater influence on the other?

The answer is the fork lift truck. This is because the fork lift truck is the decisive resource behind the progression of specialist pallet racking solutions that enable warehouses to save space, money and time. Warehouses succeed through efficiency at every stage of their operation and to achieve this, they rely on their storage systems and handling equipment working together effectively. The fork lift truck’s evolving technology has allowed pallet racking design to enhance creating the perfect partnership resulting in speed, strength, viability and competence.

The Fork Lift Truck Early Days

It was during the late 1800s that the concept of transporting heavy burdens to assist manufacturing industries was introduced through the invention of a wooden made hoisting machine. By the early 1900s the hoisting machine was engineered to raise the heavy loads further above the ground with the introduction of battery power and before long the wooden body of the truck was replaced with steel. The hoist itself was also replaced by a flat steel plate on which loads were carried. This attachment later changed shape and became the familiar two forks we see on today’s trucks to simplify the handling of the newly introduced pallets and subsequently the lifting truck became known as the fork lift truck. By the time of the Second World War, fork lift trucks could move using fluid power transmissions and became a common sight in large industrial facilities, assisting the war effort by transporting large loads of essentials such as food and assisting front line operations by carrying large quantities of war weapons.

The Fork Lift Truck Development

As businesses began to rebuild after the war, demand for the fork lift truck soared as warehouses turned to the idea of stacking high to make better use of space. Work began to further develop the fork lift truck and by the 1960s they had a roof to protect operators, they were slimmer which allowed safer warehouse navigation and soon after they could reach higher, resembling the fork lift trucks we see today.

fork lift truck

The Fork Lift Truck Evolution

The fork lift truck has continued to evolve which in turn has lead to the advancement of the modern day warehouse. Gas, diesel or even electric powered, the fork lift truck has become so sophisticated that there are numerous fork lift truck types and models all of which have their own capabilities including slim aisle navigation, high reach, balance technologies and enhanced visibility through seating positions. This has enabled warehouses to adopt innovative pallet racking systems because there is always a compatible fork lift truck.

The Fork Lift Truck and Pallet Racking Partnership

Warehouse pallet racking systems are designed to ensure optimal use of space whilst enabling safe and organised storage; however pallet racking design for an individual warehouse is influenced by the capabilities of the fork lift truck. Although warehouse storage is designed to maximise space and increase efficiency this is only possible where the fork lift truck is compatible; so to ensure the right partnership between the pallet racking system and the fork lift truck you will need to consider your intended handling equipment:

Does your warehouse currently use a particular fork lift truck?

Are you looking to adopt new handling equipment?

An example of this would be if you were looking to install a narrow aisle pallet racking system which is an ideal option in a warehouse with a high ceiling and limited floor space. This is a solution which can drastically increase storage capacity without the need to extend the building because the racks can be built up to ceiling height whilst the aisles between the racks are narrowed down. If the warehouse is currently using a standard counterbalance fork lift truck with no plans to change the truck, then this system wouldn’t be an option. For narrow aisle pallet racking, the warehouse would require the use of a specialist slim, high reaching fork lift truck. Its narrow body enables easy navigation between the closely configured racks and its high reaching capabilities allow the truck to load and pick the pallets at height with ease. The truck is guided down the aisle using guide rails along a very flat floor surface with no need to turn, eliminating the risk of collision between the racks and the truck.

Narrow aisle racking with fork lift truck


Most pallet racking systems are compatible to the counterbalance fork lift struck which is extremely robust and can manage extremely heavy loads thanks to the built in balancing technology. The counterbalance truck is much wider than the narrow aisle truck therefore it requires space to manoeuvre making it ideal for wide aisle pallet racking where the aisles give plenty of room for the truck to operate safely. Warehouses which operate using the narrow aisle racking will often use the counterbalance truck to transport pallets in the area around the racks if pick and deposit stations (P&Ds) are in use. This speeds up the process of moving pallets between HGV and racks whilst the narrow aisle truck remains between the racks where it operates most efficiently. Counterbalance forklift trucks are also well partnered to Compact pallet racking systems which allow warehouses to reduce their aisle numbers in exchange for more storage. Although compact, these systems are not usually too high for a counterbalance truck to reach. The drive-in and drive-through racking systems allow the trucks to enter the structure in order to access the pallets. Although a counterbalance fork lift truck is highly suitable, a side seated truck is often preferred because it provides increased visibility for the operator when the truck is within the racks.

Shuttle racking system and fork lift truck in operation


It’s not just pallet racking the fork lift truck provides handling assistance for. Racking systems for none palletised goods also rely on the fork lift truck to load and replenish stock. The cantilever racking system is the perfect solution when looking to store large, bulky, long and heavy items which are unsuitable for palletised storage. The counterbalance fork lift truck works perfectly well with cantilever racking and if the racks are particularly high, a reach truck is an ideal partner. Cantilever racking is suitable for outdoor use in which case a diesel or gas powered truck would be most viable option. A fork lift truck can even assist with carpet racking simply by adding a boom attachment which can be fitted and removed from the truck easily and quickly so the same fork lift truck can be used for other racking systems in the same warehouse. The boom is described as a long pole which enters the centre of the rolled item in order to place it into the racks or offload from the racks.

If you’re looking to improve your current warehouse racking system or looking to adopt a new solution and you’re not sure about handling equipment compatibility, contact WSL today on 0113 2045350 or email We can assist you by creating a cost-effective, space saving solution with excellent efficiency by ensuring the perfect match for your handling equipment.

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