Pallet racking systems are the most frequently used storage system type for warehousing facilities. Although every warehouse has different needs and requirements, pallet racks are the standard by which all other storage solutions are compared, making it the first choice by default.
Learn all about pallet racking systems, their elements and accessories, how to choose the best types and dimensions for your facility, and whether you should go for new or used racks.
Pallet Racking Basics
Pallet racking storage systems are ubiquitous in any material handling environment.
They are an ideal choice for storing and organizing palletized goods, making them a common sight in any location that frequently uses and holds pallets, from warehouses to manufacturing plants and shipping companies.
Although there are different pallet racking storage systems, all have the same essential purpose: to help you store and organize palletized merchandise. Each type functions in a different manner to accommodate a corresponding inventory and organization method.
Components of a Pallet Rack
A typical pallet rack comprises four elements: the beams, the uprights, the decking, and the sway braces. Alternative racking systems may use additional parts, but for the most part, these systems use the following essential components in their construction:
- Beams: The beams are the horizontal support structures of a pallet racking system. Their purpose is to connect the uprights, provide balance to the entire unit, and serve as the mounting surface for the decking. Beams are usually made of heavy-gauge steel, as they have to support most of the weight loaded onto a pallet rack.
- Uprights: The uprights are the vertical support structures of a pallet rack, acting as structural beams. They possess a set of mounting interfaces, the style of which determines the unit’s compatibility with beams and other accessories.
- Decking: The decking is the surface on which palletized goods rest, essentially serving as the shelf of a pallet rack.
- Sway braces: Sway braces are extra structural bars connected between the uprights and found at the edges of each unit. They are typically arranged diagonally and grant additional strength to the racking, preventing it from bending under the weight of loaded items.
Guide to pallet rack styles
The style and shape of the holes found on the uprights are mounting points for installing beams, anchor bolts, beam clips, upright protectors, spacers, and other accessories.
Although you may find different styles and standards in today’s market, the most common is the teardrop style (Old-style teardrop). Teardrop uprights feature holes patterned after inverted teardrops, allowing for the easy installation and removal of accessories, often without tools.
Another typical upright style is the Interlake or New-style teardrop, featuring a hole pattern similar to the traditional teardrop shape but with square edges. Initially, Interlake was intended to replace the standard teardrop.
However, the New-style uprights are now out of production and only available on the used market, whereas the Old-style teardrops are still made today and available to order both new and used.
Interestingly, accessories compatible with New-style teardrop uprights could fit into Old-style holes, but not the other way around. Keep this in mind if you plan to buy your pallet racks used, as the difference may be confusing to newcomers.
Other uprights may employ entirely different and proprietary mounting systems, such as hybrid and double-slot hole patterns. Some brand examples include Ridg-U-Rak, Slide & Lock, Lynx, Paltier, and Prest.
Specific models do not even use teardrop or double-slot holes, relying instead on bolts and screw nuts to secure beams and accessories. Such systems are known as structural pallet racks. Brand examples include Burtman, Hiline, and T-Bolt.
Pallet racking systems are compatible with a wide variety of helpful accessories. Some allow you to organize and store your goods with more ease, while others are intended mainly to strengthen the pallet racks and improve safety.
Many decking types for pallet racks are available. While it’s also possible to store your pallets directly on bare beams, sometimes you may want to use decking, particularly if you have smaller or irregularly shaped objects as part of your inventory.
Three of the most common decking types are wire decks, support bars, and punchdecks. Specific pallet rack types may employ unique decking as part of their construction (e.g., rollers in gravity flow racks).
- Support bar decking: Support bars are the simplest type of decking, consisting of lattices made of wood or metal attached between the decks. Their purpose is to help with the weight distribution of loaded pallets and prevent misplaced pallets from falling between the decks.
- Wire decking: Wire decking has the same purpose as support bars, but instead of employing wood or metal lattices, they use metal wire mesh, similar in shape to the sides of a shopping cart. Wire decks offer high strength (holding up to 3,000 lbs. per pallet position) and are very cost-effective.
- Punchdeck decking: Punchdecks are rigid, perforated metal bars, providing a relatively flat and uniform surface between the decks. They are ideal for storing archives, paper, furniture, and anything that can burn quickly, as they allow for the passage of air and water, adhering to fire safety protocols.
Row Spacers and Dividers
Dividers are metal fences constructed similarly to wire deck mesh. Their purpose is to divide a pallet rack into smaller positions, allowing warehouse employees to load and unload goods of a specific size, such as cartons, bins, crates, or boxes.
Most dividers are vertical and intended to stand upright, used to separate boxes and crates. Some models are vertical and M-shaped, ideally suited for lumber and other tall, flat objects.
Safety netting is a vertical safety device mounted to the front or the back of a rack. Its purpose is to prevent stored goods and pallets from falling. They are helpful in facilities storing many differently-sized objects, especially when stacked non-uniformly, such as postal warehouses or distribution centers.
A post protector (also called a post guard or rack guard) is a plastic, rubber, or metal shield mounted to the feet of a pallet rack’s uprights.
The purpose of a protector is to absorb shocks and impacts, especially from forklifts and other fast-moving, heavy objects. They are considered essential warehouse safety accessories.
Pallet Rack Types
Depending on your inventory and your business’ specific needs, you may want to consider purchasing more than one type of warehouse pallet racking system.
Selective Pallet Rack
You may already be aware of the traditional warehouse pallet racking system, better known as a selective pallet rack (or single-deep pallet rack). Single-deeps are the most frequently used pallet racking system in the United States and abroad.
Selective pallet racks are efficient and cost-effective, providing forklift operators with fast and direct access to every level. The only drawback of a selective pallet rack is that each unit can only store one pallet deep (hence the name single-deep), limiting its usefulness for high-density storage.
Selective pallet racks are suitable for general-purpose warehousing. They are among the least expensive, especially if you purchase good-quality used units.
Double-Deep Pallet Rack
A double-deep pallet rack works on the same basic design and principle as a selective or single-deep, but it can store two pallets deep per unit instead of just one.
Double-deep pallet racking systems are nothing more than two single-deeps bolted together. They are the least expensive way to increase your storage density, with the main drawback being that they occupy twice as much floor space.
You might have to adapt your inventory management methods depending on the unit’s placement. For example, a double-deep rack placed in the middle of an aisle may still allow access to both sides (and therefore reach pallets from both ends). In contrast, a unit installed against a wall will block access to the back pallets without first removing the front pallet.
Double-deep pallet racks are suitable for general-purpose warehousing and in manufacturing environments.
Push-Back Pallet Rack
A push-back racking system does not use static beams and decking. Instead, they employ a series of rolling carts mounted on inclined rails.
In this storage system, an operator must place a pallet on the first available cart, then push the loaded cart back by one position, allowing the following cart to become available for the next pallet. Upon unloading the first loaded cart, gravity allows the next one to roll forward, guided by the inclined rails.
Push-back systems may have a maximum depth of anywhere between three and six carts, making them three- to six-deep systems. As a result, this storage system is highly space-efficient, best suited for high-density warehousing and retail storage.
Gravity Flow Racks
A gravity flow rack (also called a pallet flow rack) also utilizes gravity, but instead of rolling cars, they merely employ sloping racks with inclined beams.
By design, gravity flow racking systems are suited only for first-in/first-out (FIFO) inventory systems. Forklift operators load pallets on one end (the highest end), letting the pallets slide towards the other end. The first pallet loaded is the first pallet available for unloading. Most gravity flow racks possess a capacity of three to five deep.
Multiple variations exist for products of different lengths and sizes, such as cartons, bins, or small boxes. They are ideal for projects requiring high-density storage and FIFO management.
Although drive-in and drive-through racking systems are technically two distinct types, they are very similar in principle, allowing warehouse managers to maximize floor space and efficiency.
In both systems, forklift operators can drive directly into the racking system, loading and unloading pallets as needed without getting off the forklift. The only difference is the method of entry and exit.
In a drive-in rack system, there is only one entry. Pallets loaded first must be placed in the rearmost position to avoid wasting space, effectively enforcing first-in/last-out (FILO) inventory management.
In a drive-through rack system, there are two entries. One side is reserved for loading, and the other for unloading. Pallets loaded first are also the first to leave, making them ideal for FIFO inventory.
Drive-in and drive-through racking systems typically feature high-strength welded frames made of roll-formed or structural steel. Such construction grants these racking systems high natural strength, making them resistant to accidental forklift impacts.
They are the highest-density storage systems available, with six-deep and higher capacities available.
Buying New vs. Buying Used
Whether you are setting up a new business or refurbishing existing floor space with new equipment, one of the essential questions on your mind is whether you should buy your pallet racks new or used. The answer depends mainly on your needs, budget, and specific considerations.
When to Buy New
Very few pallet racks possess specific markings identifying the original manufacturer, making it challenging to track down the particular model and verify whether the manufacturer is reputable or meets safety requirements. You’ll often find the only distinctive element of a used pallet rack is the style of its mounting points.
If meeting the latest standards is among your primary concerns, you may want to avoid non-packaged used models. Buying new from a reputable manufacturer is the only way to ensure you’re getting a quality product that meets all code and RMI requirements.
The provenance and past usage history of used racks are often unknown, meaning that a great price might conceal damage or significant wear and tear. Buying new pallet racks also ensures you’re purchasing a product capable of supporting its manufacturer-listed total load capacity.
Additionally, new racks have a clean look that can revitalize your facility’s appearance, potentially improving your employees’ morale.
When to Consider Buying Used
The most evident factor to consider when looking at a used pallet rack system is its cost. Used pallet racks are up to 50% less expensive than equivalent new models.
Used models are typically shipped as-is, resulting in faster delivery times compared to new models. This speedy delivery allows you to outfit a facility quickly. If you’re primarily concerned about replacing a few units, buying used can help ensure your warehouse returns to full capacity within a reasonable time frame.
Many used models are sold at slashed prices because they feature a non-standard or rarer mounting point style. Although buying racks with the standard teardrop holes is the decision that makes the most sense, if you buy a pallet racking system that does not feature them, you may be able to save money in the long run if you can source compatible accessories.
Although you should always keep an eye for damage, wear, and tear, many used pallet racks have never seen significant usage, making it possible to score a great deal if you know where to look.
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Shelving + Rack Systems Inc. offers material handling equipment and solutions for all applications since 1979. From single pallet racks to complete turnkey facilities, we offer a wide selection of products and services to help you outfit and equip your facility, regardless of size.
If you’d like to request a quote or information regarding our new and used pallet racks or any other product in our inventory, call us at (800) 589-7225.
Do pallet racks need to be anchored?
Yes. All pallet rack uprights should be secured to the floor with bolts to meet RMI and ANSI requirements.
What are the typical applications of a selective pallet rack?
Selective pallet racks are suitable for general-purpose, low-density warehousing, making them a versatile choice.