The Curious Case of Rack-Supported Buildings

Javier Ramirez
September 8, 2017

Most companies, when considering material handling storage options, think, “what do I need to make my warehouse most productive?” This question is a good one for most storage situations. However, this question will not work for a small but growing segment. These companies aren’t concerned about what goes into the warehouse because the storage equipment IS the warehouse. This growing segment of warehouses are known as rack supported buildings.

Rack supported buildings are by definition, both rack and building. The rack system serves as the structural support for the walls and roof of the warehouse structure. There are no building columns or other typical structural obstructions found in traditional warehouses.

The design of these structures makes them a good choice for areas where weather and earthquakes cause challenges for ordinary warehouses. This is because the impact of heavy snows, strong winds or even earthquakes dissipates as the effect is spread over the structure’s multiple frames, when compared with traditional warehouse structures.

When it comes to rack supported buildings, many think of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). These certainly are examples of a rack supported building, but are not the only type. This storage option may also use drive-in or pushback racks to serve as the building’s skeleton.

Typical rack supported buildings are tall structures with some exceeding 10 stories. However, there are applications that accomplish the same goal of maximum storage density but on a smaller scale. Either scenario aids in maximizing the overall storage per square foot.

Most companies invest in rack supported buildings when planning construction of a new facility. But it is possible to retrofit an existing building. Either way, construction is much faster when compared to traditional construction. Local building codes are not an issue in most cases. However, if considering any construction, it pays to check with the appropriate permitting departments.

Then there are financial considerations. The simplicity of combining framework and storage system adds up to reduced time for many aspects of the project; and we know time is money. We already mentioned installation time is drastically less than traditional rack installations. But incidental costs prior to construction such as engineering and architectural time is also less. Steel costs often are lower as structural upright beams replace conventional support beams. Then, depending upon your state’s tax laws, the facility could qualify for accelerated depreciation.

You will find rack supported buildings used in applications such as climate-controlled warehouses, lumber and building materials storage, along with cooler or freezer applications.

Like every other rack system, rack supported buildings are not for everyone. Companies with multiple product SKUs should consider other options as this type of facility works best storing large quantities of similar products.

Make sure your design is what you want before construction starts. Once the facility is finished, any changes will be difficult and likely come at a prohibitive cost.

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