Industrial Shelving vs. Pallet Racking: What’s the Difference?

Some people assume that shelves and racks are the same thing, but those in the warehouse business know that they are actually different. Warehouse shelving is a catchall term that’s often applied to both industrial shelving and pallet racks, and while the two are both used to hold goods or pallets of goods, they are also used in different situations. Which is right for you? It depends on what you need to store.

Industrial Shelving

Shelving is the basic type of storage system. Your typical industrial shelf is used for small goods. People pick up and place these goods by hand, not by using a forklift or other vehicle. They are generally shelved individually, not by pallet, although small goods may be bundled together or be in small boxes. However, today more and more warehouses are using automated drone systems that can reach into shelves and pick up items.

Physically, shelving is made out of metal or, rarely nowadays, wood. Shelving may be any height and have any number of solid shelves on it. These shelves usually are made out of a solid piece of metal or wood rather than mesh, and some actually have a solid back on them as well. While most shelves sit on the ground (some are even bolted), there are some that are on wheels or that are mechanized. These mechanized shelves can be moved apart when someone needs to access the middle section, helping save on space.

Pallet Racking

Pallet racks, on the other hand, are usually designed to be accessed only by machines such as forklifts, cherry pickers, or automated systems. Racks are taller and deeper than shelves because they don’t need to be limited by a person’s height or by the length of their arms. Pallets full of goods or products in large boxes can be stored on pallet racks.

Racks are made out of heavy-duty materials and are almost always attached to the floor or the wall for extra safety. They can be any height, although most warehouses do avoid stacking pallets above a certain height for safety reasons. Instead of a solid shelf, pallet racks have mesh shelves or even no shelves at all. Some feature special rails that the pallets slide into.

Which is Right for you?

Do you need shelves or racks? The answer really depends on what you’re storing on them. If you’re going to store pharmaceuticals, for example, you probably want to go with shelving because you’ll more than likely hand-select what you need. If you were storing large quantities of products like shoes, sporting goods, or toys, you would probably want a pallet rack system because these items are usually bound in stacks on pallets.

Some warehouses are strictly one type of system or the other. However, there are a number of warehouses that make use of both shelves and pallet racks. It really comes down to your needs. If you don’t think you’ll be using forklifts to move large pallets of products, shelving may be the way to go. If you’re going to be moving large amounts of goods on pallets, you’ll need racks.

What questions do you have about industrial shelving? Pallet racking? Comment below to join the conversation!

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