Comparing Rack System Differences (Selective vs. Pushback)

Rack-em up! The basic configuration of racking systems can have a powerful effect on your business. If the way your product is accessed is cumbersome, or if you can’t easily inventory it by sight, it could cost you time and money. Let’s start with the basics. You won’t know which one is best for your business unless you know the differences. You might not be able to try them without buying, but you can certainly be knowledgeable in concept.

First, determine your needs, because selective is very different from pushback racking. Selective allows you to do just that – select your product visually by storing it in sections on the pallet rack. It is only single-row deep, so that you can access product from the sides of the rack or from the front. Although it might not be the most space-efficient system, it is the most common. The point of this system is to allow you to see everything, so you may sacrifice space for specificity. If you configure the rack system in single rows, these rows can be closer together, creating narrower aisles to save space. The disadvantage: larger equipment won’t be able to fit in the narrow aisles but then smaller equipment is usually more cost-effective. In addition, selective racking can help you to save money on labor. How? Items can be seen and accessed easily, making order picking time shorter and maximizing employee time spent on this task.

One of the reasons selective racking is so popular is that it is easy to install, easy to reconfigure and can hold full or partial pallet loads. It has a good weight-bearing capacity, which can be increased if necessary. It’s perfect for just about any space, because it can be set up against a wall, against other racking or back-to-back. Selective racking allows you to pull inventory from the side or front of the rack. This means more than one person or pallet jack can be in an aisle at a time.

Pushback rack systems are the antithesis of selective. Rather than physical handling, these systems use a LIFO (last-in-first-out) method for inventory. When the first product is pulled from the rack, the one behind it automatically replaces it. If you put the first product back, it pushes the rest back one spot. Pushback systems rely both on rolling mechanisms and gravity. Visualize the dairy refrigerator cases in the grocery store, or the nail polish aisle in the local drug store. These are miniature pushback systems. The first carton of milk or package of cheese is easily removed from the row, and it cues the second to move forward. Unfortunately, if you change your mind and try to return the item to its front position, you do get a little “push back” from the row of product that just “moved up” a space!

One of the advantages of pushback racking is storage density. It can increase your capacity by 90-100 percent. Each item has its individual “aisle” and number of products. In addition, forklifts can easily push items back without ever entering the racking system. Why is this important? Two reasons: safety for the forklift operator and safety for the rack system. The forklift operator never has to enter the rack system as they do in a drive-in system, reducing risk of injury. Second, the forklift is less likely to accidentally hit the upright stanchions or beams, damaging the system. Forklifts can slowly push one box in behind another, as the one behind it acts as a barrier. When removing inventory, gravity takes over and gradually lets the box behind push forward onto the forklift. Pushback racking gives forklifts easy access to any product, because other boxes don’t need to be moved to get to inventory in the back of the rack system. Gravity does most of the work.

If you’re still not sure which rack system is right for you, visit some warehouses with each type or speak to a local warehouse design consultant Use selective racking for just about any product, but especially for diversified inventory with many SKUs. Selective racking lets you know what you have and enables a quick and easy selection of product. It may be more cost-effective from both the direct sale and the intangibles like forklift safety – safer because it uses pallet jacks instead of forklifts. Alternatively, if you have fewer SKUs, a pushback system may prove to be the better choice. It is more space-efficient and forklift safe, allows for wider aisles and easier movement of boxes.

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