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How much is your pallet rack really costing you?

Welded column protector
Snap-on Rack Guard
Hint: It may be more than the initial purchase cost.

Not all rack systems are created equal. From the warehouse environment to the steel gauge to the recipe of the steel itself, the true cost of a pallet rack over the life of the system depends on how much the buyer is willing to invest upfront to ensure high performance and keep maintenance and repairs to a minimum over the long term.

While the dimensions of the rack components certainly contribute to a rack’s capacity rating, many factors can adversely affect its performance and long-term cost. “It is all about price — pay upon initial purchase or pay much more later to upgrade a substandard system to meet requirements,” says Raymond Weber, eastern regional manager at Steel King.

The dimensions and gauge of steel aren’t the only measures of rack quality. When comparing two seemingly identical rack systems — for example, 3-in. columns of the same gauge of steel — profound capacity differences can lead to frequent repairs or replacement.

Consider the following when making a purchase:

·         How much bracing is designed into the system? Inadequate bracing will affect both capacity and impact resistance.

·         How much weld surface connects your uprights and braces? Frames are only as impact resistant as the welds that hold them.

·         Are upright columns a fully closed tube design or the common open-back configuration? A closed tubular column can withstand far more impact.

“These factors lead to a reduction in damage in the event of a collision and a far less likelihood of rack collapse and product loss or worker harm,” Weber says.

Once a load bearing component of a rack has been damaged, its capacity is reduced, which increases risk. Because replacement parts and labor often cost far more than parts in the original rack system, a lower-cost rack will often require large investments in maintenance and repair. And it’s not just the cost of the repair itself.

“Workflow disruption and downtime during rack replacement are costs that few companies take into account when assessing the cost of a rack,” Weber says.

More considerations

The steel used in a pallet rack system is another factor to consider. Not all steel is alike, and there can be considerable differences in strength. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, with the flexibility of having other elements alloyed into it. Steel made in the United States is carefully regulated and comes with mill certification, indicating that it has been manufactured using the correct mix of metals for optimal performance. Imported steel doesn’t carry that same certification and assurance. It may contain other elements or contaminants that diminish strength.

While all rack applications run the risk of collision or improper loading, some warehouse environments cause even greater wear and tear on rack systems.

Food industry cold storage applications can be particularly brutal because of frequent stocks rotation and high-traffic areas.

To reduce the cost of refrigeration facilities, processors should opt for denser product storage. In addition, slippery conditions in blast freezers can contribute to the vulnerability of racking.

Increasingly, building codes require that pallet rack systems be strong and durable enough to meet seismic standards.

Pallet rack systems built from stock components often do not meet these rigorous building codes. High-quality racking can be customized and built to meet the load rating capacity to withstand tremors.

Retrofitting a budget system to bring it up to code is not advised. The Rack Manufacturers Institute warns against adding products from one manufacturer to the rack of another.

Avoiding unseen costs

When evaluating the purchase of a pallet rack system, it’s important to look for the hidden costs that can dramatically increase the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the rack. Making sure that the purchased system can endure the environment for which it’s intended can far exceed the initial investment in terms of safety, maintenance and operation costs.

Because forklift impact is inevitable and under-reported, rack systems should be inspected regularly, and maintenance should be performed promptly to mitigate dangers and keep large-scale maintenance costs low.

A reputable rack design firm will also take into consideration the storage environment and work flow. By installing options such as oversized base plates or reinforced columns where the rack may be susceptible to impact, a majority of serious damage can be prevented upfront.

An investment in post protectors, end-of-row guards and safety guard rails will also contribute to the long-term durability and cost savings of the pallet rack system.

“Ultimately, even though they may cost more upfront, pallet rack systems that are built better from the beginning can save on costs throughout the lifetime of a pallet rack system,” Weber says.

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