Rack and shelving market reaching new highs
Focused on maximizing existing floor space and going up as high as possible, companies are poised to keep rack and shelving providers’ order pipelines brimming during the year ahead.
Known for their organizational capabilities, rack and shelving help cut down on clutter while helping to maximize existing floor space in a warehouse or DC. They also allow workers to use that space in a safer and more efficient manner—both of which can boost operational productivity. In a business environment where labor and real estate are costly and hard to come by, these warehouse mainstays continue to prove their worth.
Focused on maximizing the capacity of their existing floor space, more companies are asking their rack and shelving suppliers to help them achieve that goal. “Everyone is under an increasing amount of pressure to get their products out the door as quickly as possible,” says Kelly Kamlager, Wildeck’s director of marketing.
“Racking and shelving, as well as freestanding mezzanine solutions, provide a fast and cost-effective way to achieve the goal of more space,” Kamlager continues, noting that unlike costly and time-consuming renovations/new construction projects, racking, shelving and mezzanine solutions can be installed in a fraction of the time. “This creates minimal disruptions [while] maintaining facility productivity.”
When purchasing new or upgrading existing systems, more companies are factoring worker safety into their plans. On a pick module, for example, safety gates help protect personnel from potential fall hazards while allowing the safe transfer of materials onto it.
“Solutions that strike the right balance between safety compliance and efficient design are in high demand,” says Kamlager, who points to Wildeck’s XpressLift vertical lift as one product that’s helping companies achieve that balance.
Kevin Curry, national accounts manager at Steel King, says high demand for rack and shelving put some manufacturers behind schedule in 2018. He expects that backlog to continue this year, what with the high number of big box stores and e-tailers investing in new warehouse and DC equipment.
“The Walmarts and Amazons of the world are building centrally located DCs that allow them to deliver to customers in major markets within a day or two,” says Curry. “They’re also looking at how to better utilize the cube—a trend that’s pushing more companies to go with higher, taller racks.”
For example, when Curry got into the industry in the 1980s, the standard rack was 20 feet high. Today, that’s more than doubled to 40 feet to 50 feet, with some automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) using racking that reaches 125 feet into the air. “It’s all about making use of that vertical space, and then installing the automation needed to get up there and store/retrieve those products,” says Curry, noting that Steel King is currently working on several AS/RS projects in large DCs around the country.
Rack suppliers are seeing more demand for selective racking solutions and pick modules, the latter of which usually include some type of automation.
Companies are also asking for new features that protect their investments, including reinforcements that keep the rack from being damaged when hit by a forklift and nets that prevent items from being “pushed” through the rack and onto the floor. Curry says Steel King is also installing more guardrails that help minimize damage to the racking. “When a forklift hits a rack, guess who wins?” he asks. “Typically not the rack.”
Selective racking solutions
Scott Renninger, vice president of design solutions at Next Level Storage, says more companies are asking for racking versus shelving, with a particular emphasis on bulk picking and more selective racking solutions. “We’ve also started getting more requests for higher storage now,” Renninger says. “Companies want to utilize the taller building spaces and really maximize the area.”
To fill those requests, Next Level Storage stocks 28-foot-tall frames for its national quick-ship program. “The lead times for racking are pretty long right now, and customers are looking for fast deliveries on their orders,” says Renninger. “We’re trying to keep our quick-ship inventory up, and particularly on the tall products.”
At Interlake Mecalux, national accounts manager Bob Novak says he’s also seeing more demand for selective racking solutions and pick modules, the latter of which usually include some type of automation. To manage pallets, he says more companies are investing in pallet shuttles, while others still need the versatility of pallet flow or drive-in systems.
“In facilities where pallets are standard, pallet shuttles are becoming more popular,” says Novak. “They’ve been around for a while, but seem to have gained some real momentum in the last five years or so.” He says that momentum is being driven by the cost differential between pallet shuttle and pallet flow projects, with the former being the more expensive choice.
With both welded and bolted product lines, Interlake Mecalux can accommodate shorter lead times even in an environment where project pipelines are filled to capacity. “At this point, anything we can do to get companies up and running as quickly as possible seems to be a benefit; those lead times are becoming a key part of the buying decision,” says Novak.
“We can provide exceptional lead time on our bolted products, and it works out in the customer’s favor,” Novak adds. “Plus, welded options are usually constrained by the number of fixtures that companies have on their floors and how quickly they can perform changeovers either during or between shifts. With bolted options, you don’t have those constraints.”
Unlike renovations/new construction projects, racking, shelving and mezzanine solutions can be installed in a fraction of the time.
Dave Olson, national sales and marketing manager at Ridg-U-Rak, says the third-party logistics (3PL) sector is particularly interested in upgrading its rack and shelving to better meet its own customers’ needs. “That market is quite strong, and probably will be for the foreseeable future,” says Olson. Overall, he says Ridg-U-Rak is running at an “all-time high” right now and not expecting much of a slowdown in 2019 (barring any unforeseen economic or world circumstances).
Right now, Olson says more companies are using more pick modules and multi-level platforms that allow them to make better use of their space and accommodate a faster fulfillment process. Firms that traditionally used forklifts, orderpickers, and narrow-aisle options are adding more pick modules, he says, to get shipments out the door faster. “If you’re not a two- or three-day shipper right now, you’re not in the game anymore,” says Olson. “That in and of itself is adding a whole new dimension to warehouse and DC dynamics.”
To keep up, companies are installing more pallet rack vertical frames, pallet race beams, and shelving in different arrangements than they’ve historically used. So, where traditional racking systems haven’t changed that much in recent years, Olson says where those structures are placed and how they’re being used have changed significantly.
To companies that have racking or shelving projects on their “to do” lists in 2019, Renninger says the best approach is to plan ahead and not wait until the 11th hour to make that buying decision. With 2018’s product backlogs still impacting delivery times, supply could remain low through most of the first quarter and even further into 2019. “Don’t wait until the last minute,” Renninger advises, “and plan your projects accordingly.”
When reviewing quotes from vendors, Curry says companies should also make sure everything is “apples to apples” and to always factor the rack’s total weight into the selection process. “Look at the price and the total weight of the rack,” he says. Where one vendor may come in 10% lower on price, for example, that quoted product may be 20% lighter than the more expensive option.
“That means you’ll wind up with a thinner, lighter-duty product, so be careful on this point,” Curry adds. “You want your investment to last; you don’t want it being damaged and broken before you’re even finished installing it.”
A parallel universe
Looking ahead, Olson says even though rack and shelving are the static, consistent workhorses of the warehouse or DC, more and more of those products are being blended into larger automation projects.
“Companies like Amazon are doing amazing things with their Kiva robots,” says Olson, “and while we may not be directly involved with that automation, we really do operate in a parallel universe.”
Kamlager tells companies to “keep the future in mind” when investing in rack and shelving products, knowing that the fulfillment environment is evolving rapidly. In its recent “Future of Fulfillment Vision” study, for example, Zebra Technologies predicts that 40% of all parcels will be delivered within two-hour delivery windows by 2028.
“The demand for additional capacity in warehouses/DCs will continue to grow, so it’s imperative that companies select racking and shelving solutions that can easily be modified to handle additional growth,” Kamlager advises, noting that freestanding mezzanines that are integrated with racking and shelving can be used to increase both capacity and flexibility.
“In the heat of the moment, it is tempting to select a solution that will resolve the most pressing concerns,” says Kamlager. “However, organizations can save themselves both time and money by investing in products that can easily be modified.”
Companies mentioned in this article
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