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Beyond the Purchase Price – The Real Cost of Racking

Posted on Jun 29, 2023

Pallet racking has a purchase price based on the expanse of the racking system and its intended use – which determines the gauge of steel used and whether the racking is static or dynamic. But users should anticipate and budget for ongoing costs that will most likely be incurred during the lifespan of the system.

Those ongoing costs, however, can be mitigated if you work closely with a pallet racking distributor to plan a system for your specific purpose, and if you select a manufacturer that uses quality materials and proven designs for construction and assembly.

“You can keep maintenance costs down by installing the right system, paying for quality materials up front, and by having good operational procedures relating to the racking,” says Raymond Weber, Eastern Regional Manager for Steel King Industries.

The “right system” should be constructed from high-quality materials that are put together with the proper framing and with proper welding techniques. For example:

  • Bracing: If the racking is designed and built with inadequate bracing, its capacity and impact resistance could be reduced, leading to reduced productivity.
  • Welding: Insufficient weld surface at the frame/brace connections could lead to structural problems. Frames are only as impact-resistant as the welds that hold them.
  • Tubing: Racking will have more structural integrity if the tubing is fully closed as opposed to open-back tubing commonly used in some racking.

Not All Racking Steel Is High Quality

Besides the dimensions of the racking system, one significant factor in pallet rack pricing – and in the durability of the structure – is the type of steel a manufacturer uses, Weber notes.

Not all steel is alike; there can be considerable differences in strength depending on its formulation. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, and can have other elements “alloyed” into it. Steel made in the U.S. is carefully regulated; the mill will certify that it has been manufactured using the correct mix of metals for optimal performance. Imported steel does not carry that same certification and assurance, and can often contain other elements or contaminants that limit strength.
A system built with lower-grade steel might look identical to one built with quality American steel, but there can be profound capacity differences that can lead to frequent repair/replacement situations, Weber observes. The higher-grade steel will resist impacts to a greater degree.

If you’ve operated a warehouse or distribution center for any amount of time, you know how common forklift impacts are – and you know the related costs of lost productivity. Installing a system built with high-quality components can alleviate impact-based productivity losses.

Lower Initial Cost Can Require Higher Pallet Racking Maintenance Costs

Once a load-bearing component of a rack has been damaged, its capacity is reduced, increasing risk. Since replacement parts and labor often cost far more than parts in the original rack system, a lower-cost rack will often require larger investments in maintenance and repair, Weber notes, adding that Steel King’s use of closed tubing for frame components provides better impact resistance.

“Steel King’s SK2000 roll-form pallet rack system is designed with a closed tubular design throughout – uprights, beams, and bracing, giving the rack a 250% increase in front-impact strength and 68% increase in the side-impact strength when compared to common open-back systems,” according to Weber.

Since forklift impact is inevitable and underreported, rack systems should be inspected regularly, and maintenance performed promptly, in order to mitigate dangers and keep large-scale maintenance costs low.

Impact on a Pallet Racking System Is More Likely in Cold Storage Facilities

Framing with greater impact resistance is especially important in cold storage applications, where low temperatures and denser storage layouts can create a higher risk of forklift impacts. Bundled in cold-weather gear, drivers operating in 0-55°F facilities are often in a hurry to get in and get out, which can also affect their level of precision – amid aisles that are often narrower than those of conventional storage facilities due to layouts that are intended to reduce the cost of refrigeration. In addition, the slippery conditions of blast freezers can contribute to the vulnerability of racking.

Seismic Codes More Prevalent

Another potential post-installation cost involves repairs due to seismic activity. While building codes more commonly require designs that withstand seismic activity in more geographical areas, damage to older systems or to lower-quality systems is possible. Pallet rack systems built from “stock” components often do not meet the rigorous building codes relating to seismic activity. Pallet racking maintenance is essential to prevent costly repairs. High-quality racking can be customized and built to meet the load rating capacity to withstand tremors. Thoroughly researching the applicable codes and permitting requirements in your municipality ahead of time will give you a more durable racking system and a reduced likelihood of repair costs. Learn more about seismic requirements in the RMI safety blog here.

Mixing Parts Can Lead to Pallet Rack System Problems

Once a “budget” racking system is installed, it’s possible – but not proper, to retrofit it. The Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI) warns against adding products from one manufacturer to the rack of another.

“Mixing of products from various manufacturers may cause fit and/or function issues and may void the original equipment warranty,” RMI guidelines state, adding that “the beam-to-column connection properties are of vital importance in the proper structural analysis of the rack system.” When you mix parts, the integrity of those beam-to-column connections can be compromised, and that can result in costly structural failures.

Accessories Can Protect Your Investment

When evaluating pallet rack pricing, it is important to consider the ongoing maintenance and repair costs that can dramatically increase the total warehouse racking system price over the lifetime of the rack.

The racking system distributor or manufacturer can point out areas where accessories such as oversized base plates and reinforced columns could make the structure less susceptible to damage. The racking design engineer also could recommend post protectors, end-of-row guards, safety guard rails, or other accessories that would contribute to the long-term durability and cost savings of your pallet rack system.
“Ultimately, even though they may cost more upfront, pallet rack systems that are built better from the beginning can save on costs throughout the lifetime of a pallet rack system,” says Weber.

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