Racks are the most effective storage system for storing goods

Storage systems: which one is right for your warehouse?

02 June 2021

There are various ways to store products in a facility, from stacking pallets directly on the floor (block stacking) to placing them in storage systems. The latter method is the most common as well as efficient, since depositing goods on racks optimizes warehouse space and, at the same time, maximizes operational productivity.

In a facility in which multiple products are managed, ideally, each one should be stored in the right system. So, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself: which storage system should I install? The choice depends on variables such as the goods’ characteristics, size, and turnover.

In this post, we’ll examine the various storage systems for palletized goods typically found in warehouses, in addition to their advantages and applications. In the case of handling goods in boxes or containers, you should opt for boltless shelving or miniload systems (AS/RS for boxes), which we’ll touch on at the end of this article.

What’s a storage system?

Let’s begin with the definition of a storage system: it’s a set of physical structures designed to store goods optimally while prioritizing the effective use of space, ease of access, and the organization of the products according to certain criteria.

It’s standard to employ industrial racks: structures that are fixed to the warehouse floor and made up of locations in which the goods are placed. We can differentiate between two categories of racking: with direct access or compact storage. The first, as its name indicates, provides full accessibility to the products, facilitating storage and order picking tasks. The second, on the other hand, optimizes space in order to accommodate a larger number of products.

Choosing between a system with direct access and a compact one will depend on factors such as the number of SKUs, number of units of each one, and consumption criteria. Based on the company’s needs the balance will tip to one side or the other.

Below, we’ll take a look at the particular features and storage solutions comprising these two groups.

Racks with direct access

Solutions with direct access are noted for making the goods directly accessible from the working aisles. This ensures that products are removed very quickly, at the cost of losing storage capacity. This category includes:

Pallet racks (single- and double-deep)

Pallet racks are commonly seen in facilities that manage many SKUs and few pallets per SKU and in warehouses with a high volume of goods movements. They’re recommended for small or medium-sized facilities and those that store bulky products.

One of the particular attributes of these racks is their ability to adapt to any unit load, weight, and volume. Therefore, logistics providers usually resort to them to store very diverse products and pallets of different sizes and characteristics. Plus, picking can be done directly on the first pallet level.

Case studies:
 

Pallet racks stand out for their versatility, low cost, and easy implementation
Pallet racks stand out for their versatility, low cost, and easy implementation

Mobile racking systems

These consist of racks installed on mobile bases that slide laterally and autonomously over rails in the floor. They incorporate motors and control devices to ensure their movement is smooth and safe.

Movirack mobile racking minimizes the number of aisles to house a larger number of pallets in a specific, limited space without forfeiting direct access to the products.

Although they’re apt for facilities operating at any temperature, they’re especially convenient in freezer warehouses or cold storage facilities and, thus, are often employed by food businesses.

Case studies:

Movirack mobile pallet racking ensures high-density storage as well as direct access to any pallet
Movirack mobile pallet racking ensures high-density storage as well as direct access to any pallet

Cantilever racks

Cantilever racks are designed to store very long unit loads such as metal profiles, pipes, molding, lumber, metal and plastic sheets, etc.

They are composed of two columns to which load-bearing arms are attached. One of their particular features is that the arms are easily attached, so their position can be changed based on the size of the goods.

They are characterized by the fact that they offer direct access to the merchandise and by their versatility in storing any type of unit load, regardless of size. Consequently, they are seen in the warehouses of businesses that manage extra-long products (automotive, spare parts, home decor, and machinery and component companies, for example).

Case study:

Effective management of extra-long products on cantilever racks
Effective management of extra-long products on cantilever racks

Compact racks

In contrast to racks providing direct access, these high-density racks make the most of the surface area and, therefore, offer a higher storage capacity. The following storage systems fall under this category:

Drive-in/drive-thru pallet racks

Geared towards homogeneous products with a large number of pallets per SKU, drive-in racks are constituted by racks with lanes formed inside them, equipped on both sides with support rails on which the loads are deposited. The forklifts drive inside these lanes with the load lifted above the level on which it will be deposited.

They are often implemented together with other storage systems (with pallet racks, for example). They are only used as a single system in facilities of manufacturers or logistics providers of raw materials or consumer products and in cold storage warehouses.

Case studies:

Drive-in racks leverage the available space in terms of both surface area and height
Drive-in racks leverage the available space in terms of both surface area and height

Push-back racks

Within the compact rack group, push-back racking systems (along with flow racks) provide more agility in goods management as well as better accessibility to the products.

The storage channels are set up on a slight incline so that the pallets can be pushed in. As the front part is lower than the back, when a pallet is removed, gravity moves the ones in the back forward towards the first position.

They’re a great option for products with few pallets per SKU and a high turnover.

Case studies:

Push-back racks manage loads according to the LIFO (last in, first out) criterion
Push-back racks manage loads according to the LIFO (last in, first out) criterion

Racks with the Pallet Shuttle system

This solution incorporates a motorized shuttle charged with loading and unloading the pallets, increasing the productivity of the compact storage systems.

The Pallet Shuttle system is ideal for facilities with high-density storage of homogeneous products, in cold storage warehouses, in storage buffers, and for orders already prepared.

Case studies:

The Pallet Shuttle is ideal for items requiring mass inflows and outflows
The Pallet Shuttle is ideal for items requiring mass inflows and outflows

Pallet flow racks

These are formed by slightly sloped channels equipped with rollers, enabling the pallets to move forward automatically by gravity and at a controlled speed.

As opposed to push-back racking, with these racks, the pallets are loaded on the higher end of the channel and move to the opposite end, ready for removal. The benefit of this solution is that it eliminates interference between the loading and unloading processes while facilitating management of the load in line with the FIFO principle (first in, first out).

Pallet flow racks are appropriate for facilities with perishable products. They can be set up between two working areas to streamline dispatches or can serve as a waiting area or storage buffer (for prepared orders, for instance).

Case studies:

Pallet flow racks manage goods according to the FIFO method
Pallet flow racks manage goods according to the FIFO method

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)

By automating your warehouse, you’ll increase productivity, agility, and safety in your facility, in addition to reducing costs.

Pallet racks, pallet flow racks, and the Pallet Shuttle system can be automated through the use of stacker cranes that insert and extract the pallets from their locations. The Pallet Shuttle system in particular can also incorporate transfer cars on each level to boost goods movement flows.

Stacker cranes require a narrower working aisle compared to standard forklifts, so more space can be allocated to the storage of goods. Likewise, they ensure continuous product entries and exits. For all of these reasons, automation is an extremely viable solution for managing high-turnover merchandise.

What about warehouses with boxes or small items?

Companies that handle small products and boxes tend to install carton flow racks for picking and wide span shelving for heavy loads. The main advantage is their flexibility and versatility, that is, the locations can easily be adapted to the size of the goods.

However, for much more agile and efficient management of these types of products, the best option is to install a miniload system (AS/RS for boxes). It consists of racks specifically designed to hold boxes and equipped with a stacker crane for boxes that inserts and removes the products from their locations automatically.

Pallet racks and an AS/RS for boxes (blue boxes) in the same facility
Pallet racks and an AS/RS for boxes (blue boxes) in the same facility

Criteria for choosing a storage system

The best storage system is the one that meets the needs and limitations of the warehouse in question in the most cost-effective way possible. When deciding on one, multiple factors should be considered, such as: expected storage capacity, number of SKUs and pallets per SKU, available space, handling equipment, and budget for the project.

Interlake Mecalux is a leading storage system manufacturer. Companies of all sectors manage their products using our racks. Be sure to get in touch. We’ll help you design the best warehousing solution for your logistics operations.