Warehouse Shelving: What You Need to Know

Warehouse Shelving | Warehouse Racking | Speedrack West

The Basics of Warehouse Shelving and Racking

When setting up or organizing your warehouse, there is perhaps nothing more important than getting your warehouse shelving right. Whether you’re setting up your warehouse mainly for long-term storage, managing daily material handling in and our or your warehouse, or running a retail operation like Home Depot, your warehouse shelving is going to be the biggest factor in how efficiently your warehouse can function.

To choose the right warehouse shelving system, you will need to consider a number of factors. This includes the shelving functionality, the safety considerations, the size of your shelving, all the way to your warehouse layout. Read on to learn more about what you should consider when choosing your warehouse shelving to avoid expensive mistakes and to get your warehouse humming like a well-oiled machine. 

The Anatomy of Warehouse Shelving

Pallet Rack Frames, Beams, Wire Decks

Warehouse shelving, or warehouse racking, comes in all shapes and sizes, but generally follow the same principles and anatomy. Because warehouse shelving is typically large, they don’t come all in one piece, but are instead built with several pieces. Here is a general overview of the anatomy of warehouse shelving.

Shelving and Rack Frames

The structure of your warehouse shelving is generally called the frame. Pallet Rack Frames can be made of different materials, but the strongest and most common is steel. The frame is what provides the structural support, and are made to hold huge weight loads. To assemble your frames into shelving, there is a teardrop design to lock pieces into place. As we’ll discuss a little later, you’ll want to make sure your frames are tested for their ability to withstand seismic activity, particularly when you’re stacking your shelving in a taller space.

pallet rack frame

There are multiple types of frames that are used for different storage options. One of the most popular is the pallet rack upright frame, which is perfect for creating pallet racks that are more like standard shelving. If you’re planning on working with longer items, like pipes or lumber, cantilever frames are the best solution. For things that stack, you might want to consider an industrial stack rack frame.

Take stock of what the purpose of your shelving will be, and then explore the frame options to match.

Shelving Support Beams and Crossbars

While the frames are what hold your warehouse shelving upright, it’s the beams that hold the frames together. Shelving or racking cross beams are usually made of heavy-duty steal, and match with the teardrop connecting systems of the frames.

pallet rack beam | warehouse shelving | Speedrack West

The pallet rack beams are what give your shelving the length they need. The longer the beam or crossbar, the longer your shelving will be. Take this into consideration when you’re measuring out your space and planning your warehouse layout.


Shelving or Rack Decking is what the actual shelf is made out of. This is important to consider when planning what you’re actually going to put on the shelving. For instance, if you’re putting large items on your racks, then a wire mesh decking will work well, as they allow a load of up to 2500 pounds of uniformly distributed weight. But if you have small or thin items that might fall through the holes in the wire mesh, then something more consistent like a perforated steel or solid steel deck might be a better solution.

wire mesh decking

Wire Mesh Decking

pallet rack decking


Keep in mind that the weight of your load matters. While the frames and beams might support the weight of your materials, if the decking can’t support the weight, it likely to break through the shelf and crash into what’s below. Fire safety is also a consideration, so if you have flammable materials, or items that could spark and cause a fire, wood decking may not be the best option.


The Types of Pallet Racks and Warehouse Racks 

There are many different types of warehouse shelving systems, all with strengths depending on your needs. Here is an overview of the different types of shelving and pallet racking, and what they would be best used for.

Selective Pallet Rack

The name pallet racking refers to how most large scale products are delivered, on pallets. The pallets are then lifted onto the shelving system for storage, or racking. Selective pallet racking is the industrial version of regular, horizontal shelving. These racks are designed to be large enough to put an entire pallet on a shelf, and strong enough to have multiple levels of shelving. As an example, if you go to a store like Home Depot and you look at the shelves then you should know that you are looking at, for the most part, pallet racking.

Selective Pallet Rack | Warehouse Racking | Speedrack West

The most common pallet racking is called “Selective” pallet racking because the open face of the shelving allows you to select whatever product or pallet that is needed. The shelving is designed to have a depth of one pallet, so that there aren’t items behind the front that would be more cumbersome to access. For most warehouses, selective pallet rack will be the most common type of shelving. 

Learn more about pallet racking >>


Cantilever Rack

A cantilever rack is a system that handles long and heavy loads. This type of rack is best for shelving timber, pipes, steel, and other types of long heavy objects. The most common place you see this type of product is in hardware stores, and you can find them in stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot for long objects. If you are not going to hold the traditional pallets/skids, boxes, or other square-based materials manufacturers use to send products then a cantilever rack might be the best fit for your business.

cantilever rack | Warehouse Shelving | Speedrack west

Many warehouses use a combination of selective pallet racks and cantilever racks for the different materials that they are handling and storing. When planning your warehouse layout, keep in mind the space you’ll need for forklifts and other machinery to lift and transport long and heavy loads from your cantilever racks.

Learn more about cantilever racking >>


High-Density Racking and Warehouse Shelving Solutions


Drive-in Racking / Drive-through Racking

While selective pallet racking and cantilever racking work really well when you need access to anything on the rack, there are also solutions that are built for maximum storage density. Instead of requiring space for aisles to access your materials, solutions like drive-in or drive-through racking allow you to store a large amount of material in as little space as possible.

Drive In Rack | Warehouse Shelving | Speedrack West

Drive-in and drive-through racking systems are designed to allow a forklift or other piece of machinery to travel between the beams to the back of a storage space. Pallets and materials are placed on rails or decking, and the shelving design allows for a really high density of materials. In this way, drive-in and drive-through racking most commonly operate on a Last-in, First-out (LIFO) system, as the materials that are placed last will need to be removed before you can access the materials that were placed first.

Because the shelving and materials are in such a tight space, there are additional safety considerations, as an errant forklift or a weak rack with too much weight can have disastrous results.

Drive-in Racking vs. Drive-Through Racking

The main difference between drive-in racking and drive-through racking is where it’s located. A drive-in rack is normally placed against a wall, so that a forklift will drive into the rack and place materials as far into the structure as possible, and will work its way toward the opening as the space gets filled. For each trip, the machinery will have to drive into the structure, and then back out of it.

A drive-through rack has opening on both sides, which allows the machinery to drive all the way through it, without having to back out every time materials are stored. In addition, it can function as both a Last-in, First-out (LIFO) system, as well as a First-in, First-out (FIFO) system, as you then have access to the materials on either end of the rack. This type of system only works if you have enough space at either end of the structure.

Learn more about drive-in racking >>


Push-Back Racking

A push-back racking system is a high-density storage solution that functions similarly to the drive-in and drive-through racking, but with the “driving” aspect. Instead of requiring your machinery to enter the racking structure, multiple pallet carts are placed on each level that can then be “pushed back” on rails. The rails will also slide forward so that the materials in the front are always accessible from the aisle.

Push-back racking | Speedrack WestPush-back racking operates on a Last-in, First-out (LIFO) basis, so it’s not ideal for perishable items, but can be an excellent high-density storage solution for other materials. It’s particularly useful for organizing products of similar types, and it makes it easy to see how much of each item you have stored.

Learn more about push-back racking >>


Pallet Rack Shuttle System

A Pallet Rack Shuttle operates similarly to Push-back racking, but is a more automated solution.

pallet rack shuttle system

Instead of using pallet carts that get pushed back into the high-density structure, a battery-powered shuttle can lift the pallet and bring it to the front of the rack for you. The intelligent shuttle provides some unique benefits including safer pallet retrieval, higher efficiency, and decreased driving distance for warehouse employees.

Learn more about Pallet Rack Shuttle Systems >>

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