Carton flow bed up close

Carton Flow Rack

Pickers receive the list of products needed to fill shipments. The pickers head out into the warehouse walking endless steps to fill each order. Each picker travels miles each day as they walk through rows of static racks and locate the items on their picking sheet. Does this describe the picking operation in your warehouse?

This scenario hardly qualifies as an excellent example of productivity.

There are better options. Carton flow racking is one.

What are carton flow racks?

Carton flow racks are highly specialized racking for use in warehouses. These racks, also known as gravity flow racks, have a design based on gravity. Individual rack shelves are manufactured on an angle based upon the application. As the name implies, these racks accept products in loads smaller than pallets, such as cartons or totes.

Why invest in carton flow racks?

The scenario mentioned at the beginning of the page described an old-fashioned and inefficient method of order picking. Carton flow racks eliminate unnecessary walking for pickers. Instead, pickers walk a few steps to lanes for items on the picking list. This difference alone saves companies up to 50% in labor.

Another reason to consider investing in carton flow racks is product consolidation. Static racking frequently requires products be spread out over a larger area in the warehouse. Not so with carton flow racking. These racks consolidate product into a smaller footprint, once pallet loads are broken down, creating additional space. This is particularly helpful for warehouses at or nearing capacity.

Carton flow racks function as an independent piece of material handling equipment or part of a larger system. This flexibility allows smaller operations to benefit from picking efficiency offered by these racks. Larger, fast-paced distribution centers also benefit when combing the racks into sophisticated pick modules using multiple types of racking and conveyors.

One last reason to invest in carton flow racking is its use of first-in, first-out (FIFO) shelving. Products enter the rack on one side, roll down the shelves on rollers and pickers remove to fill orders on the other. FIFO ensures the oldest products are first in the picking sequence, a very helpful process for products with time-sensitive expiration dates.

Carton flow rack as part of a bigger system (pick module)

Carton flow rack within a two level pick module.

Things to consider

Do not rush out to purchase carton flow racking quite yet. As mentioned previously, carton flow racks are specialized and while it may appear to fit your application, there is no one size fits all.

What types of products will populate the rack? What about product/container weight? Consider the surface area of the carton or tote? These are important questions to consider. Are all the products uniform in size and weight? What are the size and weight of products, cartons or totes?

There is no requirement all must have a uniform dimension or weight. However, this information is helpful in planning prior to purchase to ensure the carton flow rack meets the necessary specifications. Knowing the surface area of the tote or container is helpful in determining the spacing for the gravity rollers on individual shelves.

Planning plays an integral role in all aspects of your warehouse, including any expansion plans for racking. There seldom is an issue in adding on to carton flow racks. Just make sure any new racking is compatible with existing.

The downside of carton flow racking

This specialized racking offers many benefits for companies with the right application. Still, no rack system is perfect and can create challenges unless you do your due diligence. The greatest negative carton flow racks have is cost. Specialized products always come with a higher price tag. Carton flow racks are no different.

The cost difference is significant compared to static racking. However, the question you must ask is will the potential labor cost savings associated with static racks offset the additional costs. The answer most often is yes, but your situation may be different.

Carton flow racks do not fit a pallet load operation. Other options offer savings if you want to make a change, but a carton flow rack is not one.

Finally, adding a carton flow rack will require a change in picking and order fulfillment. Yes, this change will eventually be positive. However, growing pains could derail productivity and create other issues. The best approach to this is consult with a rack professional to help in designing a plan around your new carton flow rack. These professionals can help with other questions you may have. Contact us today.


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