10 Insider Tips for Selecting and Installing Pallet Racks

Installing Pallet Racks

Are you considering installing pallet racking in your warehouse or industrial workspace? Choosing and installing pallet racking may, on the surface, seem like a fairly simple task. However, given the plethora of options now available, careful consideration must be taken to maximize warehouse or workspace efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Before making a purchase, be aware of exactly how much to budget. Purchasing a system beyond the means of the business is an obvious problem and easily avoided, especially if you consider buying used pallet racking.

Consideration of warehouse space and company growth projections can help you find the right sized pallet racking system to grow with the company.

Below are ten tips to consider before purchasing a pallet racking system.

#1 Roll Formed or Structural?

The difference between the two comes down to money and strength. Roll formed pallet racking is by far the cheaper option, with lower gauge steel and moveable beams that snap in and out of place easily compared to structural racking. Roll formed are boltless, easy to move around and can be installed – and re-installed – faster than structural racking.

On the other hand, paying extra for structural pallet racking often pays off in the long run. It is far more durable, using higher gauge steel, and will not have to be replaced as often as roll formed. Busy, refrigerated or industrial warehouses should opt for structural racking systems as they are built to withstand these environments.

A structural system is not as easy to assemble and reassemble as roll formed due to the hardware requirements such as bolts and pins. However, these systems can be built in an array of configurations such as selective, drive-in, pushback, and more.

#2 Selective and Double-Deep Systems: The Standard

Selective pallet racking systems are one of the most common racking systems on the market and arguably the simplest. They can either be roll formed or structural and are simply single rows of beams on uprights, on top of one another. They are ideal for SKU heavy warehouses since every single pallet can be accessed at once. On the other hand, they are not the most space efficient systems.

warehouse pallet racking system

Double-deep systems are similar to selective but differ in that they are placed one behind the other, allowing for double the storage in an aisle. Ideal for fewer SKUs than selective racking, this racking is a cost-effective option compared to other high-density racking involving rails or rollers.

It is important to note that these types of systems can be formed using either structural or roll formed steel. A selective, roll formed system would be amongst the cheapest options available, but also the weakest in terms of load-bearing capacity.

#3 Are Gravity Flow Racks the Answer?

Also known as pallet flow racks, gravity flow racks are an efficient way to store a high volume of only a few items. Operating on a first in, first out (FIFO) method, lift operators feed a pallet into one end of the rack, and rollers carry the pallet slowly down a decline to the other end. Another lift operator can retrieve that pallet on the other side, making this system extremely flexible.

Gravity flow racks are flexible because they can be outfitted with different types of rollers or wheels to accommodate heavier loads or harsher environments. The drawback is that it isn’t ideal for SKU heavy operations. As well, not all the pallets can be accessed at any one time. If there is a flow rack that can go 15 or more pallets deep, that could mean there are 10 or more pallets between the two pallets at the end of each rack.

pallet racking system

#4 Alternatives to Gravity Flow Racks: Pushback Racks

Pushback racks are similar to gravity flow racks in that they rely on moveable parts on the rack to move pallets. Small carts carry pallets to the back of the rack on a slight incline. The lift pushes the pallet back, and this system is considered last in, first out.

There are many reasons to choose pushback racks. The primary one is space. If a warehouse has size constraints, then pushback may be a more acceptable option as the lift only operates on one side of the rack. While it also is not conducive to a high number of SKUs, it is suitable for quick loading and unloading. Pushback racks may also not be ideal for perishable items as the first in, last out method could result in damage to the product.

#5 Drive Thru or Drive-in: What’s the Difference?

Installing Pallet Racks

Drive-in and drive-thru racking are similar, but with a few critical differences. Designed to carry a very high volume of product while taking up less space, these systems are for busy warehouses with limited SKUs. This type of racking often takes much more abuse from lifts, so repair issues are more common.

Drive-in racking is for warehouse spaces that are more constrained, but that still do a high volume of movement. Lifts can enter the actual rack structure, but instead of putting pallets on beams, they slide onto rails. The lift can go into an aisle and deposit pallets on varying levels, then drive back out. For single SKU, high volume products is an ideal system.

Drive-thru racking is similar to drive-in, except that these racks can be accessed from either side, allowing faster movement of product. This is more conducive to the food industry and other products that move quickly. The problem with drive-thru racking is that it will always require an extra aisle, making it less space-friendly than drive-in racking.

#6 Varied Product Movement: Carton Flow Racking

Carton flow racking is a very flexible industrial shelving option. It is exactly like gravity flow, except that it is for individual units taken from pallets. Picture a pallet of boxes containing textbooks. Since these are not a fast-moving product, employees will remove individual boxes from the pallet and put them on carton flow racks. This is an excellent option for product that is picked at least once a week but doesn’t move more than about half a pallet in a week.

A warehouse that experiences varied product movement would almost certainly stand to utilize carton flow racking. Cartons slide forward on rollers and allow users to split product, as well. Many industries use carton racking, such as the automotive parts industry where they deal with many SKUs, high volume, and split cartons.

Some warehouses, instead of using carton flow racking, will just open single cartons on a pallet and have employees pull items from those aisles. This is not a cost-effective option and potentially dangerous. Gravity flow racks keep employees out of aisles meant for lifts and also protects the product. Even though a warehouse might save money on the purchase of carton flow racking, it will lose out in the long run from product damage and potential employee injury.

#7 Understanding Warehouse or Workspace Capacity

The most critical element when selecting a pallet racking system is knowing the exact dimensions of the available space in a warehouse. Many of these systems are very similar, with the differences often coming down to systems being more or less efficient in terms of space.

Warehouses that are cramped for space but doing high volumes should consider pushback or drive-in racking systems, as they are more space efficient than comparable alternatives.

On the other hand, warehouses with space to spare can consider drive-thru or gravity flow racking. Although these options require more aisles, they allow for a considerably higher amount of product movement. Also, product that is perishable or time-sensitive is better served by this racking as it can move in and out more quickly.

Every business must factor future growth into its selection of a racking system. Some systems are more conducive to higher volumes of product than others. Typically, racking systems that are not as space friendly hold less product. So, if a warehouse is very high volume and movement-heavy, a larger space will be necessary regardless of the type of racking system chosen.

#8 How to Measure for a Racking System

  • Measure the entire building in order to know available space.
  • Take into account columns, fire doors, and other mandatory fire equipment, electrical boxes, and other doors.
  • Measure ceiling height – account for pitched roofs.
  • Understand the specifications of lifts that will be picking from the racking – they have to fit!
  • The floor matters – know the capacity and depth of the warehouse floor in order to understand it’s load-bearing capacity.

After these measurements have been completed, a racking system can be plotted out. Every system will need dimensions clearly outlined, so it is a matter of finding the best type of system to fit the needs of the company. Unless the warehouse space is extremely limited or unorthodox, most systems can be constructed to accommodate the available space.

#9 Keeping Employees Safe

At all times, employee safety must be the primary concern for any employer. When hundreds of thousands of pounds are high above employee’s heads, it is critical that any pallet racking system is constructed correctly and made for the type of product it contains.

Before workers even begin working at a workplace that has a new pallet racking system, several essential items must be covered:

  • Proper training for all workers, including instruction on how to operate pallet racks, their specifications, and constant supervision during the actual work.
  • Lift drivers must also be properly qualified on top of any other training they have received and must have paperwork to verify that training.
  • There must be proper lighting, clean and unobstructed floors, and aisles, and every single pallet must be undamaged.
  • Daily inspections of racking must be performed – and a process should be in place to track them.
  • Reporting methods to report racking damage should be in place and made aware to every employee.
  • Finally, never exceed the manufacturer recommended loads.

#10 Proper Maintenance and Care

As an offshoot of employee safety, proper maintenance and care of a pallet racking system can significantly offset potential money loss in terms of system repair or replacement. In order to ensure a warehouse and pallet racking system is functioning at peak capacity, these steps can be taken to minimize risk and cost while maximizing functionality:

  • Ensure all uprights are anchored properly to the floor and inspect them daily.
  • Installing guard and handrails along with high traffic areas and near corner uprights help keep racking systems safe.
  • Usage of beam seals, on every beam, will alert employees and supervisors to tampering or alteration of the racking system.
  • Make sure all beams and uprights are straight, square, and level – daily visual inspections can ensure all are up to code.
  • Make sure there are signs to inform employees where they can and cannot travel by foot – to avoid lift collisions – as well the proper way to care and use racking systems.
  • Remove all damaged parts as quickly as possible or discontinue use if an immediate replacement is not possible.

Also, it is important to remember that choosing the wrong pallet racking system could result in employee injury. Busy warehouses or industrial workspaces looking to save some money might choose roll formed racks, even if they may have loads heavier than manufacturer recommendations.


Not all racking systems are created equal, and a business should do their research before investing in a racking system. Once installed, it is challenging and costly to remove and install a different system if the first one was unsuitable to the needs of the business.

Racking systems are a critical component to any warehouse or industrial workspace, and employee safety should be the highest priority. Always follow manufacturer guidelines when installing and maintaining a system.

Finally, be sure to understand and follow all governmental regulations surrounding racking systems to avoid costly fines and injuries.

Our team at Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc can assist you with designing, supplying, and installing the most efficient pallet racking system for your space and product. Please call us toll free at 1-800-589-7225 or complete our online contact form to speak to a member of our team.