Case study

In plain English – What are my pallet racking options?

Sep 22, 2021 | Pallet Racking

Pallet racking is a serious investment, but at the same time smart decisions have earning power that can see your investment return and then some. To help you achieve this, we’ll guide you through the diverse forms of pallet racking systems outlining their capacities and extents through descriptions, images and simple diagrams. You will learn the different forms and functions to help you make the very best-informed decision. So let’s get started….

What do all pallet racking systems have in common?

In general terms, pallet racking is a supportive steel structure in which high volumes of fully laden pallets can be stored. Networks of steel components are assembled to form a multi-lined and multi-levelled pallet storage solution which enables coordination and optimal space utilisation. Designed to simplify the material handling process, pallet racking functionality is supported by the fork lift truck (FLT) which has the capacity to load and pick the large, weighty pallets swiftly and with ease.

This all sounds straightforward, however things can seemingly become more complex as you start to grasp the many different pallet racking models, their configurations and competencies. This adds pressure as you consider the individual aspects of your operation because you now have a number of different options, so what are they?

With so many options, it helps to familiarise yourself with the variances among them, so here’s a brief outline of each pallet racking type to get you started:

The standard wide aisle racking system

In brief – A very basic format and simple system, standard wide aisle racking is the most traditionally used across all types of industries and probably the system that initially sprung to mind. Its patterned formation of alternated rows and broad aisles promote easy navigation and use, whilst easy adaptability allows changing needs to be met.

Industries and inventories – Wide aisle racking could be seen as an all-rounder given that it can support countless inventory types, even at the same time. Where inventory is changeable, the structure can adapt in terms of beam levels, system height and length to suit.

Structural components and specialist equipment – Other than the main component parts which include uprights, beams and frames there isn’t much more to wide aisle racking and with fewer specialist components, the system is very economical. There is however optional features such as decking which enables the safe storage of varying pallet or crate sizes. Decking prevents the smaller units from falling between the beams and is available in varying materials to ensure individual requirements can be supported. Protection is always a key recommendation for any pallet racking system and these include upright protection and end barriers which are placed to shield the structure from damaging FLT collisions.

An extra advantage – Without much effort, storage capacity can be increased further by implementing the double deep racking configuration. The single racking rows are converted into double rows instead having been placed back to back and as a result, a percentage of rarely used aisle space is taken and utilised for storage instead.

Key traits – Affordable, direct access, high visibility, adjustable, versatile, popular, standard FLT compatibility

Considerations – The wide aisle are great for FLT movement, however storage capacity is less than that of a more compact system.

Wide aisle pallet racking system

The Narrow or Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) Racking System

In Brief – The same configuration as wide aisle racking, however the aisles are much narrower and the racks and much taller. Narrow aisle racking or VNA is ideal if the ceiling is high raised, floor space is limited and inventory levels are high.

Industries and inventories – Narrow aisle racking is suited to many inventory types, however the high racks can be utilised for increased security by keeping delicate or high value stock at less compromising levels. The system is also great for seasonal goods as the furthest racks can be used to store less frequently picked products.

Structural components and specialist equipment – Because the racks are particularly tall and aisles very narrow, there is a need to incorporate safety features and equipment to ensure safety and functionality. Guide rails are used to ensure safe FLT navigation, eliminating risk of collision into the very tall racks. Wired guide rails are the more regular option. These are very thin, long, straight wires that are fitted to the floor running central between the rows and uses transmissions to guide the FLT in a straight central line. Alternatively steel plates running along the outline of each row can be fitted to prevent the FLT from swaying. The FLT used to navigate and operate the system is specialist in terms of its narrow width and high reaching abilities. These specialist trucks make in-aisle navigation swift and easy, however beyond the aisle they can be a little less effective. The option to use the standard counterbalance FLT for activities beyond the racks such as loading and unloading HGVs is an effective solution. The standard FLT has better, unrestricted movement and can feed the pallets to the specialist trucks whilst they remain between the racks by using pick and deposit stations (P&Ds)

Key traits – Utilisation of overhead space with a significant increase in storage capacity and extra security, direct access and little risk of damage

Considerations –  There are variants between the narrow aisle and VNA racking systems to be mindful of when assessing your options. These include the initial investment being greater for the VNA system due to the need for specialist equipment, however heightened productivity will result in the investment being returned. Or the storage density being greater in the VNA system than it is in the narrow aisle system, although the narrow aisle system still offers considerably more in terms of storage density than the standard wide aisle system. Another consideration is that the floor of the warehouse must be completely flat to prevent the risk of tilting when incorporating taller racks. If the floor is uneven, this would need to be rectified prior to the racking installation which may put the project back and incur additional costs.

Narrow Ailse Pallet Racking with the specialist FLT

The Drive-in/Drive-through Racking System

In brief – Offering high density storage, drive-in/drive-through racking is an ideal, space saving, systemised solution. Pallets are stored in a bottom to top, back to front sequence within a highly compact structure made up of multiple lanes and levels. There is a slight difference between the drive-in and drive-through configuration in that the drive-in has one access aisle and the drive-through has two; one at either side. The drive-through with two aisles allows access from both directions increasing speed and incorporating the First-in-First-out (FIFO) method which means stock rotation is assisted automatically (more on FIFO in the next section). The drive-in option with only one working aisle operates by the First-in Last-out (FILO) method however it offers greater storage capacity than drive-though which is ideal if space utilisation is prioritised over the need to rotate stock.

Industries and inventories – Drive-in drive-through is suited to high volumes of the same product and is highly popular in temperature controlled environments due to its ability to reduce energy consumption by storing compactly. For inventory with low turnover, the system can store pallets safely for long periods within the deep structure and perishable goods can be better managed with less waste with the drive-through configuration.

Structural components and specialist equipment – The rows are condensed, eliminating aisle space between each row and by taking away the beam across each level, long tall lanes are formed allowing the FLT to enter the structure itself. Guide rails placed along the entire length of the lane help protect the structure from knocks and bumps as the FLT operates. Backstops are also a necessary feature and these are placed on the very back of the racks to ensure the pallets are not accidentally pushed over the edge of the rack. Although a standard FLT is compatible, the side seated stacker provides better visibility whilst operating within the structure.

Key traits – compact, energy efficient, FIFO/FILO options,

Considerations –Every pallet cannot be immediate accessed.

Drive-in Drive-through racking system

The Pallet Live and Push Back Racking Systems

In brief – Both are semi automatic systems offering high compact storage however pallet live racking is configured to offer assisted stock rotation by using the FIFO method and push back racking operates using the FILO method. The structure which houses multiple rows and levels of long deep racking lanes has a slight incline to allow gravity assisted movement of the pallets within in the structure.

Industries and inventories – Highly versatile, pallet live and push back racking are used in a wide range of industries, and is particularly effective in high turnover inventory management. The denseness of the structure allows more to be stored within a limited surface area, making this another great candidate for cold or frozen chambers. The pallet live option provides assisted stock rotation through the FIFO method, saving costs and time however the advantage of push back is that storage capacity is greater.

Structural components and specialist equipment – Rollers are fitted to the base of each tilted lane running the whole way though allow the pallet to travel independently. Breaking systems are also installed to prevent the pallets from going over the edge and pallet guides are fitted to assist central loading.

Key Traits – highly compact, energy efficient, FILO/FIFO options, reduced labour, cost effective

Considerations– No direct access to each and every pallet.

Push back Pallet Racking System

The Shuttle Racking System

In brief – Fully automated, shuttle racking is first-class when it comes to limiting labour time and costs. Another highly compact option, shuttle racking saves space by eliminating working aisles to create dense storage and pallet movement within the structure is supported by technology-lead automation.

Industries and inventories –As the system offers high density storage perfect for high volume, low turnover inventory. The compact storage ability is ideal for reducing energy consumption in temperature controlled spaces. The gentle shuttle movement eliminates the risk of pallet collisions so there’s harm reduction to high value or delicate stock.

Structural components and specialist equipment – The shuttle is the specialist feature on this pallet racking system. The flat, electronically powered shuttle waits at the mouth of the lane for a pallet to be loaded onto it then a remote control is used to transport the pallet sitting on the shuttle through the structure. The shuttle then releases the pallet at the intended destination.

Key Traits – highly compact, energy efficient, FILO/FIFO options, reduced labour, cost effective

Considerations– Multiple shuttles are required in order to increase speed. Power is required to charge the shuttles. Deeper lanes results in lower selectivity.

Shuttle Racking - view of shuttle waiting to be loaded

The Mobile Racking System

In brief – On a mobile base, standard pallet racks are fitted making the rows moveable. The multiple rows are closed together to save space and increase storage capacity. When access is required a temporary aisle is formed simply by opening the gap between rows.

Industries and inventoriesMobile racking is ideal for high volumes of low turnover inventory and is highly effective in cold stores where running costs can be driven down.  The security offered through its enclosed configuration makes it a highly effective solution for items of greater value or high sensitivity.

Structural components and specialist equipment – As well as the mobile base, rails are fitted to the floor on which the base is guided. Whether operated manually or electronically, a control mechanism is fitted to enable the operator to move the racks.

Key Traits – highly compact, energy efficient, FILO/FIFO options, reduced labour, cost effective, 90% floor space utilisation, high level of security and compatible with standard FLT.

Considerations – Although mobile racking offers optimal space utilisation, it is less effective if inventory turnover is high.

Powered Mobile Racking

Which aspects of my operation will be deciding factors when choosing the right pallet racking system?

Now you have a general idea of the different pallet racking types available, its time to consider your operational requirements which will help narrow down your options. Crucially the biggest influence will be your inventory characteristics so you will need to ask:

Is my inventory perishable?

Goods with a limited shelf-life are at higher risk of wastage therefore stock-rotation management is a priority. Fortunately there are pallet racking systems that can simplify this processes though the FIFO method which helps achieve fail-safe stock rotation without much effort, saving time and costs.

This flow chart shows the journey to finding the options available if your goods are perishable:

Diagram 1 Perishable Goods - Racking Options

What is FIFO and how does it work?

FIFO is the short title for the First-in First-out method which works to provide assisted stock rotation through systemised coordination. Put simply, the first pallet to enter the structure is the first to be picked. The FIFO method is implemented by the incorporation of two access aisles; the loading aisle and the picking aisle, each running parallel to each other outside a compact structure. This allows the pallets to enter the structure on one side before being picked on the opposite side. The last pallet loaded will be picked once the previously loaded pallets have been picked and this often means the pallets within the structure are lined up in shelf-life order with the closer date at the front.

This diagram shows how the FIFO method works

Diagram 2 - First in first out

Does my inventory require temperature controlled storage?

When managing temperature controlled inventory, the process is far more demanding as expected cold chain efficiencies are much more elevated. The cold chain product range includes perishable, frozen and medicinal goods all of which require quality maintenance throughout their journey. Failure to ensure preserved product quality will break the chain and incur costs, so to avoid this cold store warehouses must keep storage space at the precise temperature, continuously.

The running costs of cold or frozen warehouse spaces can be significant due to the energy consumption needed to maintain low temperatures. To help drive this down, cold store warehouses opt for a compact storage configuration. As you can see on the diagram bellow, compact storage uses less space to store the same or higher number of pallets which results in lower energy consumption and money savings.

Diagram 3 - Comparison - Compact Vs Standard

What other inventory traits should I consider?

To ensure the most optimal solution you should consider the following:

  • Speed of your inventory – At whatever speed your inventory moves, there is a pallet racking solution to suit, however it is a crucial consideration because inadequate speed support can hinder your operation. A mobile racking system for example may secure your fragile goods but if access is needed on a high frequency basis, the system would slow the operation down.
  • Volume of your inventory – If inventory volume is high and you have limited space then the wrong system cold see pallets being placed incorrectly and sometimes on the floor where they pose risk of being damaged, lost or a collision hazard. Wide aisle racking for example may give you direct access to all your pallets and ease of use, however the double deep configuration has higher storage capacity so you can store every pallet you need to with ease.
  • Inventory variations – SKUs represent the volume of pallets with the same product. Where this is high you will be looking for a solution that will allow access to each different product type like the wide racking aisle system. If high density storage is priority for high SKU numbers then push-back pallet racking is another option.

Why do the specifics of the warehouse space itself matter?

Pallet racking is a sizable structure and although it is designed to save space, it will need space to accomplish this. One aspect is the floor space; where this is limited a compact pallet racking structure ticks all the boxes, but what about height space? This is actually very useful too and there is a way to utilise it through pallet racking. The diagram bellow shows how tall racking with narrow aisles can utilise both floor and height space and with immediate aisle access, every pallet can be accessed directly too.

Diagram 4 - height space utilisation

Where do I go for expert advice on pallet racking solutions?

WSL of course! Take advantage of our 32 year strong industry experience and knowledge! We offer free site surveys so you can discuss your individual requirements in person with one of our expert designers who will assess your space before talking you through your options. Using computer assisted drafting software a plan can be drawn up so you can visualise your potential storage solutions in place along with a quotation. What’s more, we strive to produce a solution that will meet your exact needs and your budget so call WSL today on 0113 2045350 or email to discover your optimum pallet racking solution!

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