Put Vertical Space to Work

Jan. 17, 2012
Northwest Petroleum Service quadrupled storage space and streamlined logistics at an existing facility with a rack-supported work platform.

The longer a successful manufacturer, distributor, or service installer remains in business, the more legacy equipment and parts they must inventory to service existing customers. But as new products and parts get added over time, warehouse space can get increasingly cramped, and inventory picking and parts management can get less and less efficient.

Instead of adding new offsite warehouse space or building a mezzanine for an existing warehouse, a growing number of manufacturers, distributors and service installers are taking advantage of rack-supported work platforms that make better use of existing vertical warehouse space—essentially building upward, not outward.

“After almost 40 years in business we were running out of space to efficiently store our new and legacy parts and materials, causing us to spend too much time looking for them when needed,” says Bob Fromm, general manager at Northwest Petroleum Service, a full-line supplier, installer and servicer of petroleum fueling equipment.

To offer system installation and 24-hour service for service stations, truck stops, airports, convenience stores, municipalities and industrial applications, Northwest Petroleum Service supplies everything from pipes, fittings, connectors, conduit and wiring, to circuit boxes, electronic boards, tank monitoring equipment and point-of-sale (POS) consoles.

“Like a messy garage, the longer you wait to get organized, the worse it gets,” says Fromm. “We had outgrown our existing warehouse’s assorted pallet rack and hand-built shelving, but it was cost prohibitive for us to buy, lease, finance, or staff an additional off-site facility. Constructing a building supported mezzanine for extra space in our existing warehouse was too costly as well.”

To support a mezzanine, the warehouse would need to be structurally engineered to meet building code. Operations would be disrupted during months of construction. Property taxes would rise because the mezzanine would become part of the permanent building structure. And any permanent mezzanine would be inflexible to future changes in product such as size, shape, or volume.

“We wanted to maximize our warehouse storage capacity, longevity and flexibility with optimal cost and logistics,” adds Fromm. “We also wanted to keep high-value product, such as the POS consoles and electronics, more secure than our existing warehouse allowed.”

Pallet Racks Show Promise

Northwest Petroleum Service turned to Wisconsin Lift Truck Corp. (, a material handling and automated systems distributor, for help. Recognizing unused vertical space in the warehouse, Tim Zunker, the Wisconsin Lift Truck project manager who helped with system integration, suggested a pallet rack-supported work platform (Steel King,

A pallet-rack-supported platform combines the storage capacity of industrial pallet racking with the benefits of a fully-decked elevated work surface.

To achieve this, pallet rack components are used to support a work platform above, while beam levels below are used for standard pallet rack storage. The upright frames can extend through the work platform floor to provide more storage levels above. Rack styles from hand-stack and push-back to carton-flow, pallet-flow, cantilever and drive-in can be used, as can a variety of floor surfaces, stair types, hand rails, kick plates, gate types, and open or decked shelves.

“Not only is such a pallet-rack-supported platform less costly than buying or financing additional warehouse space, but it also simplifies meeting building code requirements,” says Zunker.

Avoid Code Complications

Because a rack-supported platform is classified as a storage rack-work platform—not as a structural building change—it can avoid building code issues such as lighting, ventilation, size of stairs, distance to exit and bathroom availability. As loads are distributed quite evenly across the racking, many times the existing floor slab can be used. Since a rack-supported platform can be rearranged to suit future needs and is not considered a structural part of the building, it does not raise property taxes.

Northwest Petroleum chose a boltless, closed tubular upright pallet rack. It forms the foundation of the rack-supported platform and provides most of its storage capacity. A stair-accessible upper level with lockable enclosures provides more secure storage for high-value items such as electronics.

While a Steel King engineer designed the racking to meet project load and building code requirements, a Wisconsin Lift Truck engineer helped to maximize storage capacity within the existing warehouse.

Compared to pre-project warehouse capacity, vertical storage space was increased from about 8’ of usable rack to about 16’ of usable rack with the pallet rack supported work platform. Horizontal storage space was added by maximizing long runs of rack and minimizing short runs of aisles. Four more rack bays were added, and stairs were placed near walls to maximize usable space. Expedited installation of the system within one week helped to keep the project on track.

More Usable Space

“The rack-supported work platform has essentially quadrupled our storage space within our existing warehouse,” says Fromm. “Because we can now store parts by manufacturer and function under one roof, we’re picking and inventorying parts about 50% faster, which cuts the cost of labor and speeds delivery.

“We’ve avoided the high cost of paying for an offsite warehouse and staffing it,” adds Fromm. “We’ve avoided the cost of constructing a building supported mezzanine and the months of operational disruption it would cause. With the operational efficiencies we’ll attain with the rack supported work platform, we expect ROI in a couple of years.”

Strong Side Benefits

Compared to open back roll formed columns, the closed tubular uprights are 44 times more torsion/twist resistant, with 250% greater frontal impact resistance and 68% greater side impact resistance. All beams are constructed of high-strength (55,000 p.s.i. minimum) steel, and holes are placed on the column’s face, not the corners, minimizing strength loss.

“The strength of the rack will resist fork truck damage and allow us to place heavier items in the upstairs lockable enclosures, if we choose to,” says Fromm.

Because the rack is powder coated rather than painted with enamel, it’s 94% more resistant to chips and scratches.

“We expect decades of productive, aesthetic use from our rack-supported work platform,” says Fromm. “Besides improving our productivity, it’s proving to be a win-win sales showcase for prospects and existing customers.”

Finally, unlike permanent building supported mezzanine, the rack-supported work platform is adaptable and easy to change to suit future needs.

“Since the rack-supported work platform is free-standing and adjustable, it’s relatively simple to change its size and configuration to meet future operational needs,” says Fromm.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Calif.

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