Multi-Level Systems Are Taking Storage to New Heights

Maintaining a competitive edge and increasing productivity continue to drive change in distribution centers. Consider size as one example. The average distribution center in the late 1990s was 150,000 square feet. By the mid-2000s, that number more than doubled with some massive distribution centers exceeding the one million square foot range. Not only did the average footprint of distribution centers grow, but the ceiling also went from 28 feet to 36 feet. 

While size matters, a huge facility still needs to operate efficiently in today’s on-demand environment. This is why a growing number of companies are looking up. That is, up to vertical storage solutions.

Large facilities certainly have the ability to hold large quantities of product. Still, from a lean perspective, large distribution centers increase the potential for time waste if workers must walk greater distances or spend more time searching instead of filling orders. 

That is the beauty of vertical storage. Not only can it increase the availability of storage and floor space, but it also maximizes the efficiency of that new space by improving organization, workflow and throughput.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of these systems as well as some things your team will need to consider when implementing vertical storage solutions in your warehouse facility. 

Features of Multi-Level Storage Systems

First, what comprises a multi-level storage system? Let’s review a few common features.

  • Increased accessibility: Teams using multi-level systems will enjoy easy access to inventory and products as they can be configured to be compatible for use by heavy machinery and staircases.
  • Interchangeable design: Vertical storage systems can be designed to be modular and adjustable as they provide a wide range of configuration options. Customize levels as needed by adding, removing, raising or lowering the components.
  • A variety of decking options: The flexibility of these systems is a part of what makes them particularly desirable for so many facilities. A few options include mesh decks, MDF decks, steel shelves, and perforated paneling.
  • Compact and versatile: Whether your team handles small, large, heavy, or light inventory, multi-level systems can accommodate. 

Multi-Level Systems Utilize More Vertical Space

The square footage above your single-level storage solutions is a major missed opportunity. That’s where multi-level systems and mezzanines come in.

This new trend allows distribution centers to maximize their footprint and still achieve improved productivity. For this reason, multi-level rack and storage systems towering three to four levels are growing in popularity. 

These tall vertical systems reduce the number of steps required for order fulfillment by concentrating part picking into smaller areas. These hybrid systems can incorporate different storage structures — including pallet racking, shelving, mezzanines and more.

Increased picking flexibility also is a consideration. Traditional pallet loads no longer completely meet marketplace demands. With e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment focusing on becoming more customer-centric, small quantities including split case and component picking are more the norm. Multi-level rack systems reduce wasted movement by consolidating picking in more efficient vertical locations.

Is a Multi-Level System Right for You?

Before deciding on a multi-level warehouse storage system, there are several factors to consider. It is no longer a matter of connecting steel components together. 

First, will your facility benefit from such an adjustment? Operations and facilities that can benefit from multi-level storage systems include:

  • Ecommerce facilities 
  • Retail locations
  • Operations with high product turnover
  • Operations with short timeframes
  • Facilities storing retail items
  • Facilities with access to forklifts and order picking machinery

Once you’ve determined compatibility with your operation type, it’s time to consider your facility and your team’s needs. 

Technical engineering assistance is required to ensure the following:

  • Structural compatibility: Calculating the impact that depth ratios and loads have on the existing concrete floor or slab — in other words, can the foundation of your facility safely support the structure?
  • Traffic and volume compatibility: Develop wire-guided pathways for man-aboard pickers; embedded in the concrete to ensure precise and safe movement of vehicles in aisles.
  • Integration with workflows: Maximizing the system footprint without significantly reducing loads or hampering the movement of material handling equipment such as forklifts.

Another factor to consider is any codes in place for earthquakes, particularly if installing a system in new construction. There currently is no set of nationally mandated seismic codes for industrial buildings but no state is exempt from earthquakes. Before deciding on this type of freestanding structure, it is best to consult with local building codes.

Background

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Components of a Multi-Level Storage System

A multi-tier storage system is created using mezzanines and a combination of shelf units and racking. The type of shelving or racking will be determined by the type of inventory being stored at your facility. 

In addition to this basic structure, these systems are typically combined with a series of accessories and customizations, including:

  • Stairs
  • Handrails
  • Mezzanine pivot and safety gates
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Bar grating, Resindek, or plank flooring
  • Sprinklers and other safety measures
  • Ventilation systems

Safety Considerations

Picker safety also is a consideration. OSHA and ANSI provide clear instructions on fall protection in industrial settings. Protection is required for workers once the height of the work environment is more than four feet above ground level. While falls from any height increase the likelihood of injury, the number of serious injuries and fatalities increase significantly as the height increases.

This means man-aboard picking equipment must have standard guardrails (42” height) on all sides or a personal fall arrest system or a restraint system. Additionally, workers are required to have fall protection if the worker must get off the equipment’s platform while it is elevated.

Invest in a Multi-Level System for Your Storage Facility

Investing in multi-level storage systems offers improved productivity, efficiency and speed for order fulfillment but not without significant deliberation. Before committing to this type of system, discuss the project with a knowledgeable racking professional, one with experienced engineering support.

If you’re looking for premium multi-level storage systems customized for your needs, we’ve got you covered. At East Coast Storage Equipment, we provide high-quality storage solutions that maximize space and efficiency in your warehouse. Contact us to see how we can help.

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