Understanding the Basics of Pallet Rack Capacity

Javier Ramirez
August 11, 2017

Safety and efficiency. Both are guiding principles for a smooth-running warehouse. These two terms cover every aspect of warehouse operation including the weight capacity of your pallet racks. While it may seem straightforward, many operations either do not understand or choose to ignore this critical rack specification. Not all rack systems are created equal when it comes to capacity. The challenge is knowing what works for your situation.

Pallet rack capacity requires an understanding of several aspects related to the rack and items stored.

The first thing to consider is the load (pallet and what’s on the pallet) and its dimensions. Is it heavy, light or in between? Load distribution is important. Pallet racks require evenly distributed loads. How tall is the load? How deep is the load? The combination of height, weight and depth play a significant role in determining capacity and the rack beam.

The right beam is essential

A pallet rack beam must support the weight of the load and desired dimension of the pallet load. Determining the dimensions can be a little confusing. Some companies talk about beam width while others talk about length. The reality is both are the same. For example, if you want to place two 40”x 48” pallets side by side, you multiply the load width (40”) times two, then add 12” more. The result is 80” plus an addition foot, or a beam width of 92”. Of course, you will need to check with your supplier on available sizes. Why the extra foot? Safety and fire codes require additional space between pallets; and the added space makes it easier for loading and unloading.

Now that you have the beam width appropriate for your product/load, it’s time to discover the capacity of that pallet rack beam. Load capacity for pallet rack beams are based upon a per pair load on the rack. For our purpose, let’s say we will place two pallet loads of 2000 lbs each side-by-side on the rack. Therefore, you need a rack beam with a capacity of at least 4000 lbs per pair to support the load safely. Rack manufacturers provide charts to help select the appropriate beam. You should refer to these charts when selecting a specific beam.

Uprights also affect capacity

Pallet rack beam capacity is important but not the only information you need to understand rack capacity. Rack height also determines its capacity. How many bays (levels) will the rack have? Will each bay have the same height dimensions or will those dimensions vary to handle multiple product loads? The more distance between each rack beam, the less weight the pallet rack uprights can support. You must also include an extra six inches of height for each bay (again, for safety and code purposes).

For purpose of example, let’s take the information from above on the beam capacity. We want a rack with four bays with each bay having the same vertical dimension of 46” and a load capacity of 4000 lbs. The vertical frame (upright) must support 16,000 lbs and a 46” vertical beam spacing. Again, rack manufacturers provide charts to help determine which rack equipment meet your criteria.

You’re almost ready to select the right pallet rack once you know its capacity. However, there are other items to consider before making your selection. These include seismic requirements, condition of the floor, damage potential your rack could incur and more. The best next step you can take is talking with a professional who can tailor the perfect rack system for your application.

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