Is your traditional shelving or racks system costing you more than it’s worth?

Among many warehouse storage solutions such as shelving and racks automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) provide the most efficient way to save resources, boost picking productivity, optimize order fulfillment, and aid worker safety.

For centuries, companies have stored items on static shelves or racking. It’s a system that’s simple, straightforward, and apparently cost-effective. But a closer look shows hidden costs that your organization may want to avoid.

The truth is that traditional static storage solutions are inherently inefficient, wasting space and time. What’s more, they can be a safety hazard.

Vendors have attempted to reduce the inefficiencies with different configurations of shelving and pallet racks. However, the safety hazards require a rethinking of how items are processed in warehouses and factories. That’s led to the rise of automated storage systems, which not only can reduce space requirements by up to 90 percent but can dramatically boost efficiency and keep workers safe.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common traditional warehouse storage solutions and their strengths and weaknesses.

The differences between industrial shelving and racking

Traditional warehouse storage solutions: industrial shelving and racks

Industrial shelving is the basic type of storage system typically used for small goods. Operators pick up and place goods by hand without using a forklift or another vehicle. 

Racking is generally wider, deeper, and stacked higher than shelving. Accessing loads such as large boxes or entire pallets of goods often requires machinery, such as a forklift or cherry picker. The lower levels of racks can also be used for hand-stacked storage. 

Conventional shelving

Traditional shelving systems: Traditional Industrial Shelving

One of the most common warehouse shelving types is conventional shelving. Industrial shelvings have various levels of separation between each metal structure so that the operator can store and pick orders. One of the biggest problems with this type of warehouse storage solutions is the amount of time wasted whenever an operator has to store and pick a product, which can also reduce productivity. In addition, there’s a lot of wasted space between the shelves. The shelving accommodates the tallest item, leaving more room than necessary for smaller items. They also require wide aisles to allow forklifts to access heavier loads. Because conventional shelving systems take up a lot of room, they require large warehouses, if they hold anything more than a limited number of parts. 

The Winter 2020 US industrial and logistics report from Colliers International shows that industrial rents in the U.S. have increased 5.6% year-over-year. So saving space is obviously important from a cost-controlling perspective.

But one of the biggest drawbacks to conventional shelving is the hazards it poses to workers. This type of shelving is designed for storage areas in which goods are handled manually. The risks range from the stresses and strains of retrieving materials manually all day to the danger of falling from a high shelf, especially when using a ladder or hoist. Additionally, workers pass regularly in the aisles between shelves, which keeps them from maintaining social distancing necessitated by Covid-19.

Pallet shelving or racks

Traditional shelving systems: Pallet racking

Pallet racking systems are used in warehouses and distribution centers to store and organize pallets or large containers. The pallets are stored in horizontal rows and on multiple vertical levels. Forklift trucks are usually required to load and unload the materials on and off of the rack shelves. 
This type of storage solution can take advantage of the vertical space of a warehouse facility reaching heights of up to 32 feet. But they all have the same inefficient use of horizontal space. Moreover, they require the use of forklifts, which themselves can be dangerous to operate.

Compact or narrow aisle shelving or racks

Narrow aisle shelving systems save some of the space requirements by compressing the width of the aisles. This has become possible in part because forklifts have been redesigned to require less space to maneuver than previously. So the wider aisles of the conventional shelving system are no longer mandatory.

However, smaller space between shelves means less room for workers or forklifts. Therefore they require additional safety measurements and special handling equipment that can safely load and unload items within the limited aisles’ width. These units work best with homogeneous products. Mainly with low or medium rotation, in smaller warehouses where space is at a premium.

Mobile pallet racking

Traditional warehouse storage solutions: mobile pallet racking

These racks are mounted onto mobile bases instead of the floor, allowing storage flexibility. They eliminate the need for multiple fixed aisles, as the aisles open up only when the operator requests access. While this system can double a warehouse’s total storage capacity, the sliding takes time. As a consequence, it reduces productivity as much or more than the conventional shelving system.

Drive-in and drive-through racking (also known as dynamic and push-back racks)

These are variants of compact shelving. They t also maximize the available space and height of a warehouse by reducing the forklift operating aisles. Drive-in racks have only one access aisle. They and are based on the method whereby the last goods in are the first goods out (LIFO). With an entrance and exit, drive-through racking has an entrance and exit and serves the opposite operation of first-in, first-out (FIFO). The disadvantages of these systems lie in the limitation of the measurements of the loading units and the limited number of references to be stored. This is an essential condition for the efficiency of this type of system. In both systems, it is difficult to access all pallets.

Automated shelving with a vertical lift module or horizontal carousel

A complete departure from the systems previously described are the automated storage and retrieval systems known as vertical lift modules (VLMs) and horizontal carousels

Vertical Lift Module and Horizontal Carousels - automated storage and retrieval systems

A VLM is a tall device resembling a vending machine, with internal shelves that hold the stored items. The shelves are adjustable, and the machine helps optimize the arrangement of the stored goods to maximize the VLM’s capacity. As a result, a Modula VLM can reduce the space requirements for a warehouse by 90 percent.

By tapping on an easy-to-use screen, a worker can have items retrieved from within the VLM and delivered at an ergonomically proper angle. That is. The workers don’t go to where the items are stored, but rather the items are delivered to where the workers are standing. Because there’s no need for multiple, expansive aisles and scattered shelving, a VLM greatly reduces space requirements and enhances productivity. The same advantages of a VLM are found in a horizontal carousel (HC), but the items move horizontally rather than vertically. 

Following the parts-to-pickers principle, these two automated warehouse storage solutions deliver the items directly to the operator. This reduces handling times both in picking and replenishing. There’s no walking back and forth to find and retrieve goods. Thanks to the visual picking aids, the user can quickly identify which item should be picked and the quantity requested. This allows high picking rates and dramatically improving the accuracy of the picking. 

Horizontal carousels by nature do not utilize the vertical cube as well as a vertical warehouse. However, they can still save up to 60% floor space. In addition, they provide a much more density storage capacity than racks or shelves. 

Safety first with automated warehouse storage solutions

Both the VLM and HC address all of the safety concerns created by traditional shelving. No stress or strain from lifting items from awkward angles. No risk of falling, and no need to violate social-distancing requirements. This makes current workers less fatigued and more productive, reducing labor costs associated with injuries, liability insurance, and downtime. 

In conclusion 

Modula VLMs and Horizontal carousels are increasingly considered the best way to meet the stock-management demands of modern warehouses. No other warehouse storage solutions can match a Modula VLM for saving space, boosting productivity, and keeping your warehouse force safe. 

Want to know if integrating an automated warehouse storage solutions is right for your operations? Contact our Modula team of material handling experts for a free evaluation.