Optimize Your Warehouse Racking [The Definitive Guide for 2019]

Improving space, efficiency and productivity in your storage space is rarely an easy task. Balancing space consumption, pick selectivity and storage density is a challenge no matter your application.

We’ll tackle all these challenges and more! Our complete guide will take you through the many steps to optimize your warehouse racking.

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1. What Aisle Width is Right For Your Warehouse?

Before getting into the various types of racking, you’ll want to consider aisle widths. The ideal width for your warehouse depends on your loads and your forklifts. Typically aisles are broken into the three categories listed below.


Regular/Wide Aisle - 10.5 Feet or More

Your average sit-down forklift will utilize wide aisles. Which means you won’t need to invest in specialty equipment. Much of the available storage space is devoted to the aisles rather than the racking.

narrow aisle width

Narrow Aisle (NA) - 8.5 to 10.5

Narrow aisles allow you to pack more product into your facility. But it’ll require equipment with a tight turn radius to avoid hitting the racking. 3-Wheel forklifts have a tighter turning radius and would be able to work in narrow aisles. Order pickers and reach trucks are other options for narrow aisle operation.

very narrow aisle width

Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) - 5 to 7 Feet

Very narrow aisles give you the ability to greatly increase capacity without expanding the footprint of your facility. You should take into account the added costs of very narrow aisle forklifts, if you don’t have any in your fleet. Training your employees on the new equipment will incur additional costs as well.

Find out which Toyota forklift is right for your aisle width.

If you aren’t interested in purchasing new equipment to suit your aisles, you can easily calculate the minimum aisle width you’ll need based on your current fleet.

Calculating Forklift Aisle Widths

Use this simple equation to determine the minimum aisle width you’ll need to accommodate your forklifts. Just add the basic right angle stack of the forklift, plus 12 inches of clearance, plus the maximum load length. See below:

Minimum Aisle Width Equation

Basic Right Angle Stack: minimum amount of space a forklift needs to turn and enter pallet. Found in specification manuals. (Doesn’t include length of load)

Clearance: 12 inches of clearance gives enough space to turn forklift in aisle and gives a margin of error for operators without damage to the racking.

Load Length: varies depending on circumstances. Standard pallet is 48 inches in length – good rule of thumb for preliminary calculations. Make sure to use the exact load length for a more accurate representation.

Don't forget to use the same unit of measurement for all areas of the formula. Take a look at the example below!

Example of Minimum Aisle Width Equation

In this example you end up with a 142 in. minimum aisle width. Or almost a 12 foot aisle. This would be a regular aisle width (not narrow or very narrow).

Now that you’ve calculated the aisle width you’ll need, let’s look at the different storage systems you could use.

2. Pallet Racking to Optimize Your Warehouse

It’s time to determine: do you need racking? Many storage systems involve racking, however for certain applications, racking may not be necessary.

And if you need racking, what the best kind for your operation? Keep in mind that many businesses use a variety of racking types to store different items. They might use three different types of racking in the same facility.

Let's go through the common types of racking, their advantages and disadvantages, and common industries they're used in.

Floor Stacking/Block Stacking

Floor Stacking

Floor stacking is a common technique used in warehousing. Pallets are simply stacked on the floor in rows. This system can be arranged to provide extremely high density storage if the pallets or loads can be stacked directly on top of each other. Generally floor stacking works best for First-In, Last-Out inventory management.

What is First-In, Last-Out Inventory Management?
  • No cost for racking system
  • Opportunity for high storage density
  • Low pick selectivity – requires more labor to retrieve the right pallet
  • High space consumption
Common Industries
Black Warehousing Icon

General Warehousing

What is Pick Selectivity?

For applications that require a racking system there are several options ranging in cost, accessibility and storage density. Racking systems can be custom designed by your dealer or purchased individually.

Selective Racking: One pallet Deep

Selective Racking

Since selective racking is one pallet deep, the racks themselves can be placed either back-to-back or against walkways. This system provides unobstructed access to each pallet within the system which is ideal for the First In, First Out inventory systems. Selective racking is well-suited to applications with low inventory turnover along with high product differentiation.

What is First-In, First-Out Inventory Management?
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • No specialty forklifts required
  • Accommodates products of any volume, weight, or size
  • All stock is visible and accessible
  • Low risk of product damage
  • Low storage density
Common Industries
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General Warehousing

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General Manufacturing

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What is Storage Density?

Double-Reach Racking: Two Rows Deep

Double Deep Racking

Double-reach racking or double deep racking systems are very similar to selective racking. Instead of using one row of racking, or back-to-back rows, racking is placed two rows deep. Racking could even be placed both back-to-back and two rows deep on each side, therefore maximizing density.

This system offers more pallet positions by reducing the number of aisles and must use a First-In, Last-Out (FILO) inventory system.

Double-reach racking is well suited for applications with multiples of the same stock.

  • Cost effective
  • Higher storage density
  • Reduces pick selectivity
  • Specialty forklift required – which may add cost if not currently part of fleet
Common Industries
Black Warehousing Icon

General Warehousing

Black General Manufacturing Icon

General Manufacturing

Drive-In or Drive-Through: Rails

Drive-In Racking

With drive-in or drive-through racking, pallets are stored on rails in place of shelf beams. These rails extend the length of the rack and allow forklifts to drive into the racking structure for pallet placement and removal.

These racking systems work best with a First-In, Last-Out (FILO) inventory system.

Drive-in racking is ideal for storing a limited number of SKUs with uniform pallets sizes and load measurements. Which allows for consistent load rail heights.

What is an SKU?
  • Increases pallet positions
  • Requires less warehouse space
  • Reduced pick selectivity
  • More opportunities for impacts or contact between forklift and racking
Common Industries
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General Warehousing

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Push-Back Racking: Nesting Carts

Push-Back Racking

Push-back racking consists of a series of nested, mobile carts which then glide on rails. The pallets are placed on carts and stored in bays two to six pallets deep. When a new pallet is loaded onto a cart, it pushes the other carts back.

This system is ideal for First-In, Last-Out inventory management.

Push-back racking is best used when there is minimum storage space available and when the product being stored is consistent in size and weight.

  • High storage density
  • Reduces picking time
  • Requires fewer aisles
  • No specialty equipment necessary
  • More expensive storage option
  • Potential for lost pallet positions due to size of mobile carts
Common Industries
Black Warehousing Icon

General Warehousing

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Pallet Flow

Pallet Flow Racking

Pallet flow allows up to 20 pallets to flow down an incline on a series of rollers or wheels. The pallets are loaded on one end of the system and unloaded at the other end making it optimal for First-In, First-Out inventory management.

This system is an excellent option for applications with a very limited number of SKUs in large volumes. It also works well for perishable or time sensitive products.

  • Increased product selectivity
  • Superior density
  • High expense per pallet position
  • Potential for lost pallet positions – system is on an incline which takes up more space
  • Pallet flow system requires maintenance
Common Industries
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3. Pallet Rack Comparison Chart

We've compiled this quick pallet rack comparison chart to help you decide which option works best for you and your facility.

Racking TypeIdeal For:Specialty Equipment RequiredStorage DensityInventory Management SystemCost
SelectiveProducts of any volume, weight or sizeNoLowFIFO$
Double-ReachMultiples of the same stockYesMediumFILO$
Drive-InLimited number of SKUs with uniform measurementsNoMediumFILO$$
Push-BackProducts consistent in size and weightNoHighFILO$$$
Pallet FlowVery limited number of SKUs in large volumesNoHighFIFO$$$

4. Damage to Your Pallet Racking

Now that you’ve discovered the ideal racking for your warehouse, the last thing you want to see is damage. Most rack damage is caused by overloading, inadequately engineered systems or incidents with forklifts.

These issues can cause the center of gravity to shift away from the rack column at the base plate. This offset causes the column to bend, which creates horizontal force and pushes the column toward the load center.

This cycle – called micro-shifting – continues until the racking structure becomes so unstable that a relatively minor impact can cause a major collapse.

Protecting Your Racking

To combat damage to your racking and micro-shifting, you can add additional layers of protection to your racking system.

  • Column Protectors shield the post or column against impacts with a forklift.

  • End Guard Rails protect the end of each row of racking against forklift damage.

  • Off-Set/Cant Legs are sloped and recessed legs on the lower, front column of the pallet racking frame to provide more clearance for forklifts.

  • Rub-Rail (for Drive-In Systems) is anchored to the floor and acts as a bumper for forklifts to protect the racking.

Inspections of your racking system should be completed either weekly or monthly (depending on your usage) to evaluate their overall condition. Check for damage indicators like:

  • Beams not engaged with the columns
  • Unengaged safety locks
  • Missing safety locks
  • Damaged uprights
  • Damaged bracing
  • Deformed beams dues to load impact

Preventing Operator Damage to Racking

One of the major ways to prevent forklift operators from damaging your racking is training. Operators should know the procedures for operating near racking. These procedures may vary slightly given your facility and racking type.  However training is just the tip of the iceberg.

Read more on preventing forklift operator damage to your racking.

Now it's time to start optimizing your warehouse

Optimizing your warehouse starts with optimizing your aisles, racking systems and preventing damage. This challenge of balancing space consumption, pick selectivity and storage density, isn’t an easy one to overcome. The result will be an efficient space that fosters productivity without sacrificing safety.

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