Narrowing Down The Right Rack

Key considerations to take into account when purchasing a new racking system.


Many of today’s food warehouses are in need of new racking systems. As companies grow, the need to better utilize space becomes increasingly apparent. The ideal racking system should not only create greater storage density, but also be strong, long-lasting and help reduce your workforce.

As is the case with all operations upgrades, the more efficiency they drive the more expensive they can be. But choosing a racking system based on sticker price alone is only looking at half the picture. Choosing the right system means narrowing down the most critical areas that need improving in the distribution center, and choosing a system that will meet those needs at an affordable price.

One of the first crucial decisions to make is how durable and strong a racking system is needed.

Cold Roll-Formed Vs. Structural

There are two basic categories of steel racking: structural steel and cold roll-formed steel. The difference lies in how the raw material (recycled steel from vehicles, appliances, etc.) is processed. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and the two materials can be used in combination to achieve the desired durability at a lower price point.

Structural steel racks are formed by heating steel into a liquid, and then forming it through rollers. Racking beams and frames made in this fashion are solid steel throughout, and thus stronger and more durable than the alternative.

Carlos Oliver, president of Frazier Industrial, Long Valley, NJ, says durability is key in food warehouses.

“Due to the fast pace of operations [in food warehouses], forklifts colliding with racks are quite common and can cause serious damage to the rack,” says Oliver. “Frazier only manufactures structural steel because we believe it is more durable and can better withstand those kinds of hits.”

Cory Flemings, executive sales manager, automated systems division, of Schaefer Systems International Inc., Charlotte, NC, agrees that structural steel has better resistance to buckling than cold roll-formed steel; however, he explains that the product isn’t without limitations.

“I-beams and posts are still hot when they’re formed and as they cool off they can change shape slightly,” says Flemings. “The ability to predict the exact shape of the rack may be difficult because it’s a less accurate process.”

The cold roll-formed steel manufacturing process begins with a cold sheet of steel. The sheet is then run through a 300- to 400-meter-long machine that bends the steel into hollow posts. The sheet is bent multiple times along each of the sides to add strength and durability.

One advantage of cold roll-formed steel is that it costs less by requiring fewer raw materials.

“They’re less expensive, but just as strong from a structural standpoint,” says Flemings. “Each bend gives it more strength, and our beams have about 20 bends in them. However, the difference is that the thinner gauge allows it to buckle when it takes a larger blow than it was designed to withstand.”

Although most racking manufacturers offer exclusively cold roll-formed or structural steel racks, Steel King Industries Inc., Stevens Point, WI, manufactures both, and even offers the two materials in the same rack.

“We recognize that there are various advantages to each, and we like to offer our customers strength and durability while remaining economical,” says Kurt Larson, central regional sales manager of Steel King. “Using both cold roll-formed and structural steel allows us to give them that option.”

Larson explains that many food companies prefer to use structural steel because of its added durability, but since forklift collisions usually occur with the frame as opposed to the beam, the company uses cold roll-formed (less durable) steel for the beams. This allows them to use fewer raw materials and save money, while providing the right amount of strength where it’s needed most.

Selecting The Right Rack

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