If you’re a warehouse manager, you know how vital maximizing available floor space is to the efficiency of your business — every inch counts. However, expanding floor space horizontally can be a costly endeavor.
Other options, such as installing a mezzanine floor, are also expensive and can interfere with your ongoing operation. Instead, many businesses choose to expand warehouse storage space vertically. While pallet racking systems are the standard for warehousing operations, mobile racking systems run in tracks.
However, maximizing usable space isn’t simply a question of choosing the right racking system. The layout of your warehouse, how you store, retrieve, and track inventory, and how your pickers are trained all work to enhance or impede warehousing efficiency.
Planning is essential to the installation of shelving and racking systems, whether mobile or static. The space you have available is already valuable. However, you also have to account for the space requirements specific to forklift drivers and pickers working on foot. This includes how you arrange your aisles.
To get a better picture of how mobile storage racking systems can improve warehouse efficiency, you should first calculate the total warehouse space available.
This enables you to determine exactly what storage systems you need to maximize space.
Start by calculating the total square footage of your warehouse, minus space not assigned for storage purposes. Non-storage space would include those areas designated for administrative, recreational, and other purposes—for example, offices, breakrooms, and cafeterias. Multiply the storage-specific square footage by the clear height.
Part of the planning phase includes budgeting for the installation and, potentially, the design of custom storage solutions to meet the specific needs of your warehouse.
Clear height refers to the usable distance, or height, from the floor to the lowest-hanging object. That could be a light fixture or sprinkler system. As the demand for increased warehouse volume continues to grow, warehouse operators have had to find new ways of increasing storage capacity. This means determining to what extent you can increase the verticality of your storage solutions.
Once you’ve determined your warehouse’s clear height, you can explore verticality. This is one of the most efficient ways of optimizing available storage space when horizontal expansion is not possible or cost-prohibitive: using mobile storage racking systems. These can dramatically improve your warehouse layout, improving material handling in the process.
As you calculate usable vertical space, you should check building codes to ensure you remain compliant with regulations.
There are a wide variety of storage solutions available to the warehouse or factory manager. Before discussing the specifics of warehousing inventory management, it’s worth explaining how some of the most common racking systems work. Racking systems include the following:
Also called gravity-flow racking, in this system, warehouse workers load pallets from the loading aisle, flowing toward the front of the system on rollers. The roller tracks are usually angled to promote a downward feed.
When they reach the end of their travel, they hit pallet stops. As one pallet is retrieved, the one behind it flows forward. To ensure that the flow speed is gradual, the rollers have brakes. Pallet-flow racking operates in a first-in, first-out (FIFO) sequence. Pallet-flow racking is efficient, low maintenance, and delivers high-density storage. It is, however, relatively expensive and limits selectivity.
Push back uses a system of nested wheeled carts loaded and unloaded from the front. This type of product rotation is called last-in, last-out (LIFO). As a pallet is removed, the one behind it moves forward and takes its position in the rack structure.
Drive-in pallet racking
In this system, a forklift driver transports a pallet into the racking system and lowers it onto a set of rails. As drive-in racking systems are closed, the forklift operator will have to reverse to exit.
Drive-thru pallet racking
The principal difference between drive-in and drive-thru systems is that the former is closed and the latter is open. Once the forklift driver has loaded or retrieved a pallet, the driver can simply leave through the system. In both drive-in and drive-thru systems, there is an increased risk of forklift collision and damage. You may consider column guards or racking systems with reinforced frames to minimize the damage that a forklift driver can cause.
The selective racking system’s primary advantage compared with other systems is that it provides access to every pallet immediately — no FIFO or LIFO sequencing. Retrieve what you need when you need it. Selective racking is also comparatively inexpensive and simple to erect.
Consisting of vertical columns attached to a broad base and horizontal arms, the cantilever is designed to store long, oddly shaped, and heavy products. Lumber, metal tubing/piping, bar stock, and other larger items.
Mobile Racking/Shelving Systems
Shelving and racking systems are not necessarily fixed — you can choose to install mobile high-density systems, which can allow you to optimize the space in your warehouse without costly additions. By opening and closing aisles as needed, you can increase the space available to you and your pickers.
Mobile storage racking is available in several different configurations, depending on the budgetary constraints and technology demands.
Electrically operated carriage systems move in floor-mounted tracks. There are also comparatively low-tech options that use a mechanical hand-crank. Either system can help to eliminate unused aisle space, significantly the storage capacity of your warehouse. As one racking system moves, an aisle opens, permitting access by pickers and forklift drivers.
Other Types of Mobile Systems
Not every mobile shelving or racking system is mechanically or electrically driven. If you’re searching for a less capital-intensive solution, as mobile high-density racking systems require the installation of tracks in the slab floor, there are also caster-equipped options.
For small parts or items, or small warehousing operations, you may also find that mobile shelving trucks offer the maneuverability and capacity needed for constantly changing inventory and shifting priorities. These types of systems are also suitable for machine shops and other industrial enterprises.
Shelving systems are available in both closed and open configurations. This affects rigidity, air circulation, durability, and accessibility to pickers. You should also consider lockable casters for increased safety.
Custom Shelving/Rack Solutions
You may be wondering whether you need a custom shelving or racking system for your warehouse. There may be specialized circumstances under which having a custom racking system built is necessary. However, under most conditions, it’s preferable to seek racking systems made for general use. This significantly reduces the lead time necessary for installation.
Regardless of whether you choose a stationary or mobile racking or shelving system, safety should always be of paramount concern to the warehouse or factory manager. Powered systems have various safety mechanisms and failsafe measures to ensure that the risk of injury is minimized or eliminated. These include motion detectors, photoelectric sensors, and mechanical shut-offs.
As a result, all warehousing/factory personnel should be well acquainted with safety protocols and material handling best practices.
The efficient use and optimization of space streamlines and improves your warehousing operation in other ways. Pickers and forklift drivers should not have to search for merchandise during the picking process — this costs valuable time that could be allocated to retrieving more stock and directly affects your bottom line.
Part of the solution here is to ensure that your warehouse’s layout is conducive to inventory access and retrieval. This means taking a careful look at how you arrange your aisles and prioritize your inventory. Some goods are more in demand during certain seasons than others. These should be more readily accessible to order pickers. You should also evaluate the location of high-demand inventory in relation to shipping and receiving docks.
When selecting storage systems, whether racking or shelving, you must remain aware of quality, durability, and weight limits. The shelving/racking system you choose should withstand impact damage from forklift collisions and protect inventory. These storage solutions are a long-term investment — they should remain operational for years. This also means that your personnel should know how to perform maintenance on the racking system, if necessary.
You should also choose your racking system according to the environment in which it’s needed. For example, corrosion-resistant coatings or platings are more critical in humid or cold environments.
Ensure the shelving/racking system is securely attached to the wall or floor, and periodically evaluate the system, assessing its exterior for damage and signs of wear.
Don’t overload pallet racking systems. The best way to avoid this problem is to know what kind of inventory you need the racking system to store ahead of time. Light-, medium-, and heavy-duty construction can accommodate loads ranging from relatively lightweight consumer goods to heavy industrial equipment, such as machine tools, castings, and gears.
In addition to the importance of not exceeding the maximum load capacity of shelves or racks, you should also ensure that your racking systems are not top-heavy. You should place heavy loads on the bottom and light loads on top. This creates the proper balance, increasing stability. Instruct all employees in this practice to avoid accidents or damage to inventory.
The dimensions, weight, type, and quantity of merchandise that you’ll need to store and retrieve have a direct influence on the shelving and racking systems that are appropriate for your warehouse. The warehouse management system (WMS) also plays a role in how efficiently you can manage such functions as picking and packing and inventory tracking.
Other Ways of Maximizing Usable Space
Mobile storage racks aren’t the only way of increasing efficiency. You must keep your warehouse clean. Unused pallets expired or damaged stock, and debris can cause clutter and reduce valuable storage space. It can also pose a safety hazard for warehouse personnel. If you have tools, small items, or other equipment lying around, consider investing in plastic storage bins. Rather than wooden crates, plastic containers are durable, water-resistant, and can be color-coded.
Evaluate aisle space to determine whether the current width is necessary. The narrower the gap between racking systems, the more space you can allocate to storage.
Optimize Your Warehouse Efficiency
At Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc., we specialize in storage and efficient supply-chain management solutions. We understand that every warehouse manager constantly strives to improve how their facility stores, retrieves and distributes goods. We’re at the forefront of supplying the equipment and expertise necessary to meet these needs. Give us a call at (800) 589-7225, and we’ll help you find the best combination to suit your business.