Factors to Consider Before Installing Industrial Warehouse Shelving Units

Metal Shelving for Warehouses

There are several factors to consider when you’re in the market to buy and install industrial warehouse shelving and racking systems. While shelving and racking are sometimes used interchangeably, there are important differences between them.

A shelving unit allows human order pickers to retrieve merchandise without using specialized material handling equipment. Racking systems are designed to store heavy inventory items, such as pallets, for retrieval by forklift trucks. Regardless of whether you need shelves, racks, or a combination of the two, the organizational requirements are often the same.

Evaluate Your Storage Requirements

You should first evaluate the available space in your warehouse and your inventory storage and retrieval needs. This enables you to determine whether you need racks or shelving units. Shelving and racking systems fall into several different categories, depending on factors specific to your storage requirements.

You’ll need to consider the types and quantities of inventory you’ll need to store, including the number of pallets deep; dimensions (height, width, depth); inventory weight; and method of stock rotation. For example, if you’re storing perishable or fashion-related products, the preferred method of stock rotation is FIFO (first in, first out).

Shelving Systems

Because they’re designed to store smaller items for retrieval by warehouse workers, shelving units take up less space and cost less than racking systems. They can also generally support less weight. There are several types of shelving systems, depending on your specific needs. These include the following:

Box shelving

Exemplified by the Boxer, box shelving is available in either open or closed configurations, depending on whether you need increased visibility or strength. The Boxer is fully welded using 20- or 22-gauge steel shelves and durable 14-gauge uprights. For increased corrosion resistance, the Boxer has an oven-cured enamel finish. With a 600- and 850 lb. weight capacity, the Boxer is a medium-duty shelving system.

Wire shelving

If you need a lightweight storage system, consider wire shelving. Consisting of a steel wire mesh supported by an upright frame, the open design promotes air circulation, increases visibility, reduces dust accumulation, and allows overhead fire suppression systems to access the shelves.

Highly versatile, the uprights have locking grooves spaced 1” apart, allowing you to adjust the height of the shelves according to your storage needs. To prevent the shelving from rusting, you can choose a green epoxy, black powder-coated, or chrome-plated finish.

Rivet Shelving

Also called boltless, rivet shelving uses shelves with rivets that attach to uprights via teardrop-shaped holes. This simplifies the assembly process, allowing for easy installation.


To increase the mobility of shelving systems, you can also install casters. “Caster” is often used interchangeably with “wheel”; however, the wheel is the rotating disc itself. The caster is the assembly, including the forks. Lockable casters allow you to move the shelving system from one location to another as needed without compromising stability. Once you’ve determined where the shelving system should be, you can lock the casters to secure it.

Racking Systems

warehouse shelving units

If you need to store palletized inventory or heavy or bulky inventory, consider purchasing a racking system. Racks are available in various configurations, each designed to meet a different set of inventory storage and retrieval needs. Some common types of racking include:

Selective racks

Selective racks are one of the most common types of pallet racking systems in modern warehouses. Inexpensive and simple to install, selective racks provide a high degree of access to inventory based on FIFO rotation. Selective racks are not ideal for high-volume operations, but they allow multiple forklift operators to access racks simultaneously.

Push-back racking

A push-back rack is a high-density storage system. Push-back racks store pallets on nested carts that move along inclined rails. Loading and unloading from the same aisle, when a forklift driver loads a pallet, it pushes the pallet behind it one position deeper, hence the name.

Drive-in racking

Drive-in and drive-thru racking systems are designed specifically for loading and retrieval by forklift trucks. The forklift enters a racking lane to load pallet-size merchandise in a drive-in system, reversing to exit. In drive-thru systems, the forklift doesn’t need to reverse to exit the system.

Cantilever racking

Cantilever racks are not designed to store pallets. Instead, a cantilever uses two horizontal arms to support long, heavy, and awkwardly shaped inventory items, such as bar stock, metal tubing, lumber, drywall sheets, and furniture.

Oversee Installation

Whether you buy pallet racking systems, shelving systems, or something else, proper installation is critical for safety and optimum functionality. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. One factor you should be aware of regarding racking systems is the manufacturing and assembly method. The two dominant methods are:

Roll formed racking

Roll formed racks use cold-rolled steel and a boltless assembly method to simplify installation and keep costs down. This is similar to rivet shelving in that it uses teardrop-shaped holes in the uprights. While roll formed racking is relatively inexpensive and easy to adjust, it’s also not as strong. As roll formed racking can’t withstand the same abuse or handle the same weights, it should be relegated to relatively low-traffic areas.

Structural racking

Made from hot-rolled steel components that the manufacturer welds and bolts together, structural racks are designed for heavy-duty applications where increased strength is necessary. Structural racking is preferable if you need a strong storage rack that can more effectively resist forklift impact.

Take Advantage of Vertical Space

When horizontal space is at a premium, you can often take advantage of the vertical space. This verticality must be balanced against other factors, such as clear height limitations, budgetary constraints, and storage and retrieval methods.

In warehouses with high ceilings where floor space is limited, you can consider automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), such as vertical lift modules. These types of systems are not viable in warehouses with low ceilings.

Maximize Forklift Safety

Forklift collisions are among the most common causes of damage to warehouse racks, deforming upright columns, and increasing deflection. If you can diagnose deflection and other signs of damage early, you can avoid potentially catastrophic rack failures from occurring.

To save yourself money repairing racking systems or replacing damaged components, review your forklift safety guidelines.

Ensure your forklift drivers have sufficient clearance to safely maneuver, avoiding colliding with upright columns and other obstacles. This requires that you evaluate the width of aisles between racking systems, finding a balance between storage space and safety. Narrow aisles can exacerbate the accident rate.

Enforce reasonable speed limits, and install adequate overhead lighting. A properly lit warehouse helps your workers avoid accidents and helps you identify causes of damage.

Shelving or Racking?

At Shelving + Racking Systems, Inc., we offer a variety of shelving and racking systems for various applications.

Warehouse space is always at a premium, and you need to maximize usable space without compromising the ability of your workers to navigate the property safely. If you need help determining the best storage system for your warehouse, give us a call at (800) 589-7225.