Once viewed as a commodity, storage rack systems have taken their rightful place in the warehousing world as specialized, engineered systems designed with worker protection and high productivity in mind.
Storage racks are an essential part of any warehouse, their layout and design a considerable undertaking no matter what a facility’s size or purpose. As systems become more complex to handle growth in e-commerce and a generally faster-paced business environment, they are also taking on a higher profile when it comes to safety and efficiency. A poorly designed rack system can fail on many fronts, including potentially causing worker injury if it can’t properly support the items it’s designed to hold. A well-designed system, by contrast, can protect workers from the danger of falling items or rack collapses and also help streamline the flow of products through the facility.
Today, racking system designers must take into account a range of factors when planning a system, including the geographic location of the project, maximum pallet size and the weight of the items being stored, facility layout and design, and the customer’s preferred style or type of racking. Doing so allows designers to create the best possible system for the operation.
Here’s a look at some key considerations to keep in mind when designing or redesigning your storage rack system with an eye toward safety and efficiency.
PUT SAFETY FIRST
Designing for safety means ensuring that your rack system will stand up to internal operational damage from forklifts and other material handling equipment as well as external threats, such as earthquakes or hurricanes. Both types of threats require attention in the early stages of design to ensure both an adequate and a safe rack system.
To meet those requirements, designers must account for all loading conditions, which include the size and weight of items being stored and moved, the complexity of the racking structure being used, and seismic conditions and the location of the racking itself (indoors or out, for instance). More complex racking structures can sometimes include a mix of different structures like pick modules, multilevel platforms, and stairways—all of which can affect the load on the entire system.
In addition to adhering to building codes, rack system designers and installers will often recommend extra safety measures to protect against other types of damage and injury. Special structures can help protect against internal damage from forklifts, for example. These can include a variety of rack column protectors, end-of-aisle protectors, free-standing guard railing, pallet support bars, beam safety locks, safety netting, load plaques (affixed to racks as a reminder of their load capacity), and so on. Wire-guided vehicles can help as well; these are very narrow-aisle (VNA) forklifts that use an electromechanical system to control steering. The system is guided by an energized wire secured in the floor. Such systems help boost forklift driver confidence in narrow aisles at increased heights, helping to reduce the risk of a forklift’s hitting and damaging the racking, according to Rooney.
INSPECT FOR DAMAGE
Regardless of the threat, experts point to regular inspection and repair of damage as an essential part of maintaining rack system integrity.
Many companies will do more frequent formal inspections—quarterly or even monthly—but the experts emphasize that continuous monitoring by all warehouse or distribution center staff is important. On top of that, recommends conducting a complete re-evaluation of a system every three years to make sure it continues to be safe and meet a business’s changing demands.
In the end, it all circles back to safety.