Your warehouse storage system can have a significant impact on your operation—and your inventory. The right pallet racking system can create efficiencies, protect your inventory from damage, and make it easier for your team to handle your stock.


The wrong storage racking system, though, can cost you time and money—and take a toll on your warehouse staff.


In this article, we’ll give you a thorough introduction to warehouse racking: What it is, what advantages it can offer, and what types you’ll find so you can select the right one for your operation. Whether you use this information for your own warehouse setup or to evaluate potential warehousing providers you’ll outsource to, you’ll get a full understanding of how warehouse racking works.


What Is Warehouse Racking?

Warehouse racking, also known as pallet racking or storage racking, is a method of storing pallets on a series of strong, metal shelves. These shelves allow warehouses to maximize their vertical space and, depending on their design, their horizontal space, as well. Pallets are loaded and unloaded from these shelves via forklifts.

If you’ve ever walked through a Home Depot or Lowe’s and seen the large shelving units that stack inventory to the ceiling, you’ve seen a type of pallet rack.


A number of different types of warehouse racking systems are available, but they share a few consistent components as pictured to the left.

  • Upright frames, which are the vertical beams that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. Upright frames often come with series of holes, which allow you to change the height of the shelf.
  • Cross-beams, which are the horizontal beams that form each shelf.
  • Decking, which gets installed onto the cross-beams for reinforcement. Wire decking is common, although other options are available, like perforated steel, solid steel, wood, or pallet flow designs that include rollers. (More on flow racking systems below!)

You may also see post protectors at the base of a pallet rack frame. Post protectors may be made of steel or rubber, and they protect the frame—and the integrity of the racking system—from potential damage from forklifts.


Finally, you also might see safety panels, made of wire mesh, or safety nets attached to warehouse racks. These provide an extra layer of security to keep pallets in place.

What’s the Difference Between Warehouse Racking and Warehouse Shelving?

Warehouse shelving is usually meant for smaller items, while racking is designed to accommodate pallets of goods. Shelving is also usually loaded and unloaded by hand, whereas racking gets loaded and unloaded by forklift.


You might see both racking and shelving in the same warehouse, but they’re usually used in different ways. For example, a warehouse might have one area to store open inventory that gets picked and packed into small parcel shipments. That same warehouse may have a racking system for storing pallets.


What Is the Purpose of Racking in Warehousing?

Warehouse racking has a number of benefits, the most obvious being a more efficient use of space. By stacking pallets vertically, a warehouse operator can fit much more inventory in their existing space. Additionally, if you position your racks efficiently—or stack your pallets two, three, four or more deep—you can maximize your horizontal square footage. (More on that in the next section!)


A solid pallet racking system that’s been thoughtfully conceived can also create efficiencies in a warehousing operation. It can make all of your stock easier to access—especially the more popular items that move in and out frequently—reducing the workload on your team.


With a strong inventory management system, pallet racking can also minimize the amount of reshuffling of stock that your team will have to do. This means more efficient operations, and it also reduces the possibility of damage by reducing handling.


Finally, pallet racking also keeps your goods safe from damage by placing them largely out of reach until needed.

What Types of Warehouse Racking is Available?

There are a number of different warehouse racking systems on the market. By investigating several different storage racking systems, warehouse managers can select the right system for the type of stock they’re storing, maximize their footprint, establish an efficient flow of inventory, and streamline operations.


Below, we’ll run through the most popular types of warehouse racking currently available.


Selective Racks

Selective racks are the most common types of pallet racking systems. Palletized goods are loaded in and out of racks via an access aisle. Goods are generally loaded to a single pallet depth.


Selective racks allow for significant ease of access. However, they require a pretty large footprint, so they don’t offer the most efficient use of space.

Drive-In Racks & Drive-Through Racks

If you need a solution for storing pallets at a higher density than selective racks, you might look to drive-in or drive-through racks.


Just as the name sounds, drive-in/drive-through racks are arranged in lanes large enough that a forklift can actually drive into the racks to place or retrieve pallets.

In a drive-in configuration, the forklift enters and exits from the same side of the rack. As a result, the first pallet placed in the bay will be the last pallet removed. This is also called the “last in, first out” (LIFO) storage system.


Drive-through racks can be accessed from both sides, offering the possibility for “first in, first out” (FIFO) storage. The first pallet is driven all the way to the end of the bay, and then retrieved from the other side once it’s needed. If your inventory has an expiration date, drive-through racks will make it easier to use your older stock first.

Cantilever Racks

Cantilever racks often don’t have decking. Instead, items are balanced on top of two or more horizontal arms that project from the frame. Cantilever racks are perfect for storing inventory of notable length, like pipes, plywood, or lumber. Rolled carpets can also be stored efficiently on cantilever racks.

Push-Back Racks

In a push-back racking system, each pallet is placed on a wheeled cart, set on rails. Pallets are stacked several deep, and when the pallet in front is removed, the next one slides forward. Because they’re loaded and unloaded from the same side, inventory on push-back racking systems leverage the “last in, first out” (LIFO) system.


Since pallets can be stacked several deep, push-back racking offers greater pallet density than selective racking. Additionally, the rails are often angled so that gravity assists in moving these pallets forward, saving a tremendous amount of energy.

Flow Racks

Like push-back racks, flow racks also offer high-density storage—and are also slightly inclined so they can leverage gravity for a little assist.


But rather than leveraging wheeled carts like push-back racks, flow racks incorporate rollers that allow pallets to “flow” from one end of the rack to the other. Additionally, unlike push-back racks, flow racks are loaded from one end (the higher end) and unloaded from the other (the lower end), allowing warehouse managers to leverage a “first in, first out” (FIFO) system.

Choosing the Right Warehousing Solution

Whether you’re considering installing a racking system in your warehouse or evaluating potential warehousing partners, it’s important to understand the principles of warehouse racking, the different types of racking in use, and the advantages each offers.

With that information, you’ll be better positioned to find the right warehousing solution for you—whether that means installing a selective racking system to store your pallets in your own warehouse or finding a partner that utilizes flow racks to keep your inventory moving efficiently and effectively.

Looking for a warehousing partner for your operation? With warehouses near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and across Hawaii, we’ve got solutions to create efficiencies in your Pacific freight. Reach out to one of our experts for a complimentary consultation.

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