To cost efficiently store parts or product, it is not uncommon for companies to consider purchasing used warehouse rack to lower up-front costs. But, buyer beware: the hidden costs of buying used rack—from missing or damaged parts, to OSHA compliance, to production delays, less efficient storage, or earlier replacement—can quickly escalate beyond the cost of buying new racks.

Due to growth, Glacier Transit and Storage, a Plymouth, Wis.-based cold storage provider, planned to open a new 85,000-square-foot facility. With the company expanding into new areas of development, including build to suit, it sought to reduce up-front costs by purchasing used rack for phase 1 of the project, which comprised about 6,000 pallet positions.

However, while the new facility is now fully, efficiently operational, buying used rack not only made the process more costly, but also much more complicated.

“Buying used rack started out great, but soon went from one horror to another,” says Rick Brusky, maintenance manager. “After working with a company selling used, drive-in warehouse rack, buying and receiving it, we discovered we essentially had no usable rails.”

“As typical with used rack purchases, we paid for it ahead of time, but they sent us junk,” adds Kyle Nothem, president.  “We didn’t get half of what we ordered, and much was twisted like a pretzel and unusable.”

Glacier Transit and Storage argued with the used rack seller without remedy, as the seller soon went out of business.

“We ended up having to make the rack rails, top ties and load bars,” says Nothem. “We worked with a metal fabricator who made pieces to fit our used rack. It was a nightmare.” 

According to Brusky, it took four months to put up the used racking.

“The worst part is that the whole time we were losing revenue because we didn’t have product in the rack,” he adds.

“We said never again,” says Nothem, who vowed along with Brusky to do racking right at the start of the new facility’s phase 2.

Used rack pitfalls
Tom Maloney, account manager for Wisconsin Lift Truck Corp., Brookfield, Wis., has seen the trouble companies face when they rely on used rack.

“Buying used rack is like buying a car from a private party,” says Maloney. “Unless you inspect every square inch of used rack, you don’t really know what you’re getting.  Even then it’s common for up to 25% of used rack received to be unusable due to missing or mismatched parts, as well as damage from fork truck impact, improper use, shipping, handling or disassembly/reassembly.  With all the unknowns, used rack can end up costing as much or more than new racking.”

Another consideration is that used rack may have difficulty meeting the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI) requirements typically used by OSHA.

“RMI [a segment of MHI, Charlotte, N.C.] specifies that racking can have no damage,” says Maloney.  “Any damaged rack must be repaired or replaced, which drives up the cost of used rack considerably.”

According to Maloney, the RMI guidelines also require that storage rack be properly labeled for capacity, which can be a challenge with used rack.

“It’s often difficult to identify the carrying capacity of used rack,” says Maloney. “Many manufacturers use different material thicknesses in their frames and beams. Even if a used frame looks just like one next to it, it may not be the same capacity. And, what do you do if there’s no identifying rack brand, product number or the manufacturer is out of business?”

Optimizing with new rack
For phase 2, Glacier Transit and Storage added another 85,000 square feet to the facility, bringing its total storage capacity to 170,000 square feet. The company then purchased new drive-in rack from Wisconsin Lift Truck.

“With new rack, it’s easy to optimize storage efficiency by adjusting rack dimensions to the warehouse before it’s built or shipped,” says Maloney. “With used rack, you essentially buy what you can find, then make do the best you can.”

Rack reliability and longevity was an important concern of Glacier’s. Drive-in/drive-through rack is subject to more abuse than any other rack structure because forklifts drive directly into the rack.

That’s why Glacier chose the SK3000 pallet rack, a rugged bolted rack with structural channel columns manufactured by Steel King Industries, Stevens Point, Wis. A number of rack features helped the cold storage company meet its rack strength, durability and maintenance goals. 

Compared to typical racking, SK3000 pallet rack constructed of hot-rolled structural channel column with full horizontal-diagonal bracing offers greater frame strength, durability and cross-sectional area.  All grade-5 hardware provides greater shear strength, and a heavy 7-gauge wrap-around connector plate ensures a square and plumb installation with a tighter connection and greater moment resistance.

“Since Steel King’s drive-in rack is structural channel steel, it’s built to take abuse,” says Maloney. 

For added protection against forklift impact, Steel King provided options to further safeguard vulnerable rack areas. To limit forklift-caused damage, front-to-back rub rails serve as structural guardrails built into the rack. Front rack column deflectors, made of angle iron, similarly limit rack damage by deflecting potential forklift impact.

“For rugged drive-in use, the rack rub rails and deflector plates help with rack reliability and longevity,” says Nothem.

According to Maloney, some standard Steel King drive-in/drive-through rack features also enhance Glacier’s drive-in cooler application safety and productivity.

For instance, flared rail entry ends ease bay access to forklifts, while space-saver low-profile arms increase clearance and decrease possible product damage. Structural angle rails similarly “guide” pallets, while welded rail stops prevent loads from being pushed off and improve safety. Compared to installing about 6,000 pallets of used drive-in rack in four months for phase 1, almost 8,000 pallets of new Steel King drive-in rack was installed in just over a month for Glacier’s phase 2. 

Regarding installation, independent installers charge less to install Steel King drive-in rack because its arm and rail connection is easier to install than typical systems, which can require sliding multiple tabs into place while supporting a rail that can weigh about 150 pounds.

Once rack is installed, however, the bottom line is how efficiently it stores product. On that account, the new rack is doing well.

“Our new Steel King drive-in rack is about 25% more efficient from a storage standpoint than our used rack because of the way it’s designed and laid out,” says Nothem.

“Since the new rack is engineered the way we need it and integrated with forklift operation, our forklift operators are also about 15% more productive using it, compared to the used rack,” adds Brusky. “Had we known the new rack would end up costing us less than the used rack without the headaches, we never would have chosen used.”