Pallet racks are invaluable to warehouses. Without the ability to store pallets in columns, warehouses would have to be much larger. Thankfully, these sturdy shelving options allow warehouses with forklifts to place pallets above each other, effectively doubling or tripling the warehouse’s storage capacity.
However, warehouses did not always have a pallet rack system. In fact, prior to World War I, pallet racking was not common at all. Here is how today’s modern pallet racking system came into being.
The Use of Packaging and Pallets
During the early 1900s, companies began looking for better, cheaper, and easier ways of packaging their products. Most products were being transported by trucks and by railway at this time, but even those being exported to other companies via boat needed some kind of more efficient and cost-effective shipping containers. The solution was corrugated packaging. These cardboard boxes were cheap to make, easy to pack, and could be thrown away after being used.
The only downside is that each box still had to be moved individually, and if the products being placed in the box were heavy, the box could not be that large. Therefore, even though the packing was cheap, the labor was not.
The Invention of the Forklift
In 1915, forklifts became popular. Different forms of the forklift had been in development by a variety of companies, but Clark, a transmission manufacturer, and Yale & Towne Manufacturing, a hoist manufacturer, created what were perhaps the best versions of this vehicle. In terms of warehousing and pallet racks, the forklift became a vital piece of the puzzle that made the entire system work.
With a forklift, pallets of boxes could be moved regardless of the weight of each individual box. This allowed for much faster loading and unloading times. Instead of men carrying each individual box onto a truck or ship, the forklift could be used to move entire pallets of products quickly and efficiently. As technology evolved, the forklift was eventually modified to lift pallets several meters into the air. This gave rise to the pallet rack.
Vertical Storage Systems
In the late 1920s, the first vertical pallet storage systems came into use. Now warehouses were able to expand upward instead of outward, which was much more cost-effective. This also changed how warehouses were built. Now, instead of squat, wide buildings, they were made taller, allowing pallets to be stacked two, three, or even four high. The foundations of the warehouses had to be made stronger, of course, to support such weight.
The first pallet racks were only capable of holding one layer of pallets, but as manufacturers built more systems, they designed ways of distributing the weight that allowed for multi-level pallet racks. Crossbeams helped support heavy pallets, while square, plumb bases made certain the racks were stable and would not tip. Of course, strong anchor bolts were also introduced to keep the racks upright.
Today, pallet racks are not just useful, they have become an industry all their own. As shipping has increased the need for more pallets and pallet racks has as well. Billions of dollars are spent on warehousing every year, and a good portion of that is on pallet racks and shelving systems.