Take advantage of vertical storage to maximize your warehouse's efficiency. Look up to boost your warehouse's value in the space you currently have. By increasing vertical shelving space, you avoid the need to buy or rent another facility or construct additions to your warehouse. You'll find the return on investment in vertical storage solutions a pleasant surprise that makes it easier than ever to organize your warehouse.
Unused Space in Your Warehouse
With the rise of e-commerce, warehouses have become even more critical. But, the increasing need for warehouses makes finding space for new buildings problematic. In some major urban areas, vacancies for industrial buildings measure five percent or less. While finding an existing building for a warehouse is difficult, so is constructing a new one with rising land values. Additionally, many cities push back against the large trucks used for deliveries, making getting the permits required difficult. Rather than expanding outward, warehouses must build upward for more space.
The largest warehouse owner in the United States, Prologis, solved this problem by constructing the country's first multistory warehouse. But this is not an option for many smaller warehouse owners who cannot take this expensive course. Instead, they must maximize their available space. Pallet racking and other vertical storage systems increase useable space more easily and cheaply than constructing a new building.
Too often, warehouse owners purchase more building space when they already have plenty of storage room available in their current warehouse. Warehouse owners tend to ignore vertical storage space above levels that workers can easily reach. But this mistake could prove costly through unnecessary purchasing of more space. As in any room, better organization can maximize the storage value of the currently available space in a warehouse.
There are two main methods of increasing vertical space. Constructing a mezzanine level in your warehouse requires pulling permits for the construction to ensure you do not violate lighting and other building regulations. While you may want to consider this for a long-term investment in your facility, it is not the best option for all warehouse owners, especially those who cannot afford the work suspension required during the building and reorganization of the facility. Construction disrupts operations, and the permanent structures may not produce the expected return on investment. Most warehouse operators will benefit more from equipment to increase vertical storage space without changing the building's construction.
The average warehouse in the United States has up to 50 percent unused vertical space. This increase equates to only using 10 feet of the standard 32 feet of available height. Taking advantage of this unused space could increase efficiency by 40 percent. Storing items higher up reduces the travel time employees make through the warehouse. With less time spent walking, your employees can pull stored goods faster than before. Additionally, the increased use of vertical space allows for better organization of your warehouse, making it easier for your employees to find products.
According to industry experts Charles D. Spencer and Lawrence R. Armstrong, inventory space will be in increasing demand, which will make warehouses need to make more use of their vertical space. Additionally, they predict more businesses will add e-commerce options to their traditional sales, which will further increase the need for warehouse space. If you're not already looking up, you could be missing out on maximizing your warehouse's space.
Value of Going Vertical
Yes, installing the necessary equipment to increase the vertical storage space in your warehouse will cost money. But you'll see a return on your investment in increased efficiency. It might take less time to install pallet racking than you expect. One company, Northwest Petroleum Services, opted to install pallet racking in its warehouse. Installation only took one week. After the new racks were in place, the warehouse's vertical space doubled from eight feet to 16 feet. Additionally, thanks to the improved organization, workers at the warehouse have cut their picking and inventorying time by 50 percent, reports Northwest Petroleum Service's CEO, Bob Fromm.
When you know you want to add shelving or pallet racking, use the opportunity to evaluate your current warehouse organization. Consider rearranging your warehouse's inventory, making the products you retrieve most often the most easily accessible. Even in warehouse storage, the 80/20 rule applies — about 80 percent of the time, you'll pull 20 percent of the products you store. Goods pulled less often can fit on higher shelves. Better organization can make picking inventory faster for your employees.
Further improve your warehouse's efficiency with an upgraded inventory management system that tells employees exactly where to find a specific product. Using such a system speeds retrieval times. Software programs to direct your employees combined with scanners that update the database in real time creates a cost-effective means of taking charge of your warehouse. When combined with a well-organized warehouse that has frequently pulled products in an easily accessible place, the software system allows your employees to reach peak efficiency.
One of the most well-known Latin food and beverage companies, Goya Foods, implements specialized pallet racking and forklifts to maximize its warehouse efficiency. To make the most of the available space, Goya Foods' New Jersey distribution center employees will stack pallets six to nine high, when it is safe to do so. Higher stacks maximize the use of available space. But not all goods are stacked directly on top of each other. Goya Foods uses pallet racking to improve its distribution center's organization while protecting workers.
With pallet racking, employees have a safer working environment. Stockers stand behind the racks to restock from the back while forklifts pull pallets from the front as needed. Stockers are not working in the same aisles as those pulling inventory. With specific spots for stockers and pullers, the corridors have less traffic on them, reducing collisions. Apply this idea to your warehouse by dedicating particular aisles for forklifts and pedestrians. You may also restrict stockers to one side of the aisle while product pullers work exclusively on the other side.
The lift trucks used across the company's many distribution centers have multiple functions and dedicated employees specially trained to operate the vehicles. Forklifts designed for very narrow aisles can maximize use of horizontal floor space by reducing the area required between aisles. Goya uses its very narrow aisle storage for rarely pulled or specialty items. For more frequently pulled products that have a safely stackable design, such as canned goods, the warehouse employees stack several pallets on top of each other on the floor. Using floor space for frequently used items makes retrieval much faster. By implementing strategies to increase vertical space in its New Jersey distribution center, Goya improved its operations and allowed for future growth and expansion.
Even if you don't have a billion-dollar company like Goya Foods, you can still use vertical storage solutions to improve your warehouse's use of space. The right equipment makes the difference in your storage capabilities. And you probably won't need to invest as much money as you might think to get a quality vertical storage organization system when you use pallet racking systems and accessories.
Equipment for Vertical Storage
The right gear can make more efficient use of the space in a warehouse. Pallet racking, wire decking, forklifts and more can make organizing a warehouse much easier. Unlike permanent structures, pallet racking systems and their accessories are a more cost-effective means of improving your warehouse's organization.
1. Pallet Racking Systems
Pallet racking systems must have a secure design to ensure proper support for the pallets stored on them. Each component must have a long-lasting, sturdy structure. When selecting parts for a pallet racking system, you'll need to consider the size of the pallets and whether you will need customized systems.
Selective pallet racking systems have two main components — the uprights and the beams. The sizes and strengths of these parts will determine the load the system can tolerate. Most selective pallet racking systems hold pallets one deep. One-deep storage facilitates the conventional method of first-in, first-out stocking and picking.
2. Pallet Racking Uprights
The uprights support the beams. Upright heights depend on how far your lift trucks can reach. Heights for standard uprights are available in measurements between eight and 20 feet. For customized systems, you can purchase taller uprights. Always select pallet racking systems your employees can easily access safely. For instance, 20-foot-high racks may not serve you well if your facility lacks the equipment to reach the highest shelves.
Aside from the height of the uprights, you will need to consider the width of the pallet racking uprights. Uprights have standard widths of 36 inches, 42 inches, 44 inches and 48 inches. Of these, 42 inches wide is the most popular. With 42-inch wide uprights, 48-inch wide pallets have a slight overhang on both sides, which firmly places the weight of the pallets directly over the beams, for more secure support. Lift drivers also appreciate the overhang as they have an easier time of moving the pallets to or off the racks.
3. Step Beams
Step beams are one of the 2 most common styles of pallet racking components. They easily affix onto each side of the uprights to form a level shelving system for pallets. The name "step" is clearly demonstrated from the in-step design of the beam. They are compatible with step wire decking and most pallet support bars which will be discussed momentarily. Load capacities range depending on the construction, length, and height (face) of the step beam.
4. Box Beams
Box beams have a rectangular or square shape, which distinguishes them from step beams. They have the added benefit of providing a slightly larger flat top surface for pallets to sit on as compared to step beams. Box beams are compatible with flared or "universal" wire decks and pallets support bars specifically customized for box beams.
5. Pallet Support Bars
Support bars fit at a right angle to step or box beams. Though not required, adding support bars to a pallet racking system improves safety by holding up the middle of pallets that may sag under their loads. Ideally, two support bars are used to support a standard 40" x 48" pallet. Our two-inch wide support bars have capacities ranging from 1,250 lbs. to 1,550 lbs. per pair.
6. Wire Decking
Wire decking fills in the gaps between beams in a pallet racking system. Due to their wire mesh design these decks prevent product from falling in between the parallel beams bringing additional safety to the work place. Universal or flared wire decks fit over both step and box beams. Step wire decks get their name from their design to fit perfectly in the step of step beams. When purchasing wire decking, remember that the first measurement given indicates the depth of the decking in inches. The second number gives the width of the decking. For example, a 42" X 46" wire deck means a 42" deep by a 46" wide deck.
Forklifts are critical for safely picking and stocking products on high racks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) governs the use of forklifts and other industrial trucks in warehouses. When purchasing and using forklifts for your warehouse, always follow all regulations to avoid fines and disruptions.
Forklifts have multiple options, depending on their application. For instance, Goya Foods uses turret trucks and specialty articulated lift trucks for very narrow aisles (VNA). The flexibility to use an articulated lift truck in both VNA and standard corridors makes the specialty design a wiser choice. If you use forklifts, you will need certified drivers as well as maintenance crews for them. You can lease the trucks and hire contractors or permanent forklift employees to provide around the clock operations.
Vertical Storage Safety Tips
Warehouse storage can create a dangerous situation if you do not carefully follow the required rules for safety. OSHA outlines regulations for all industrial facilities. These regulations govern all operations in a warehouse, not just when you construct vertical storage space.
Not all these safety regulations will apply to every warehouse. For instance, you may not need fall protection for your workers if you do not have elevated workspaces. Aisle safety and clearance requirements will apply to any warehouse or storage facility.
1. Aisle Safety
OSHA requires permanent aisles used for traffic to have clear markings. Additionally, the marked walkways should not have products accumulate in them. Keeping the traffic lanes clear and open prevents accidents from vehicles or people moving out of the way to avoid obstacles. To prevent collisions between vehicles and personnel, consider creating separate lanes for pedestrian traffic and vehicle movement. Separating the two in an aisle may prevent accidents in your warehouse.
Do not store products in permanent aisles. Even frequently pulled items should not block the regular flow of traffic. If you intend to store your most commonly used inventory items on the floor, keep the products under racks or in a space that does not restrict the movements of forklifts or people. Additionally, do not stack items on the floor so high that it impedes the view of a forklift driver. To allow for better viewing around corners, install mirrors at the ends of aisles to give pedestrians and lift drivers a way to see if the area around the corner is clear of traffic.
To ensure the safety of the aisles, regularly keep the spaces well swept and free of debris. Even too much dust could pose a slipping hazard for workers. Any product spills require immediate cleanup to prevent accidents. Do not allow anyone in the aisle until the area is clean and dried.
2. Storage Capacity
If you purchase a pallet racking system for storage in your warehouse, the storage capacity listed indicates how much a pair of uprights or a pair of beams can hold. Always select a racking system that has a higher load-bearing ability than you will need. Never exceed the storage capacity of your racking to prevent severe injuries to your employees or severe damage to products. Keep your workers aware of the load bearings of all storage shelves with clear labels.
The labels in your warehouse not only have to inform your workers of the load capacities of the racking but also of clearance space in the area. Labeling clearance makes it safer for lift truck drivers, who need to know maximum heights allowed in the space. Federal safety standards also require these clearance labels.
3. Forklift Safety
Industrial trucks or forklifts have strict requirements in the OSHA guidelines. Operators must prove competence in driving a forklift by finishing a training program and test. This process includes training in specific locations on the site such as VNA or in areas with hazardous materials. Anytime an industrial truck driver does not have visual clearance at a crossing, he must honk his horn to alert other vehicles or pedestrians in the area. Additionally, should the load restrict the driver's view if carried in front, it will need to be pulled from behind instead.
Other rules governing the operation of forklifts include restricting the fuel type based on the materials stored in a warehouse to prevent combustion and operation procedures for when the truck is not in use. When parked, the forklift must have its fork locked in the down position, and it cannot block an aisle, stairway or fire exit.
You are not required to use forklifts in warehouse space, but the higher you build, the more safety precautions you must take for your workers. Forklifts allow them to pull pallets safely from high shelves. If you don't already have a forklift in your warehouse, consider renting one to see the difference it can make in warehouse efficiency, especially when retrieving or storing items on high vertical racks.
4. Fall Protection
When building vertically, you may have workers on platforms above the ground. Whether you construct platforms or more permanent mezzanines, you must have fall protection measures in place. Per OSHA regulations, you must install guardrails that measure at least 42 inches high on upper walkways. Guardrails need to have smooth surfaces that won't snag clothing or lifelines. The flat surfaces of the guardrails also prevent skin abrasions that could occur from brushing against the railing.
For workers on scaffolding, you must install fall arrest protection. Horizontal fall protection tethers keep workers from falling off scaffolding, but if they do fall, the ropes become vertical fall protection. Per OSHA guidelines, vertical fall systems must have at least a 5,000-pound breaking strength. All workers also need separate lifelines and cannot be tethered together. Keeping your workers protected from falls makes your vertical storage and workspace safer while preventing work stoppages due to accidents.
Get the Equipment Your Warehouse Needs for Better Storage
The future of material handling looks bright. With e-commerce and more companies shipping from warehouses rather than stocking brick-and-mortar stores, your space will become even more critical. Take advantage of the vertical space in your facility by building up and not out. Vertical storage can improve your facility's efficiency without the need for purchasing more real estate or constructing permanent structures such as additional stories or mezzanine levels.
Pallet racking systems are a cost-effective means of maximizing your space. At Material Handling, we stock all the pallet racking system components and accessories you need and even offer customized systems if you cannot find exactly what you want on our website. If you're ready to improve your facility's efficiency and usable storage space, contact us or give us a call at (877) 350-2729. We're here to help you make the most of your warehouse space.