warehouse shelving versus racking

What is Warehouse Shelving vs Racking: Key Differences Explained

In the world of warehouse management, understanding the difference between shelving and racking can significantly impact efficiency and organisation.

We’ll investigate what sets these two storage solutions apart and why choosing the right one matters for your business. Let’s examine into the details to optimise our storage space and streamline operations.

Understanding Warehouse Shelving and Racking

Warehouse shelving and racking are crucial for efficient storage and organisation in industrial facilities. Selecting the right system ensures optimal use of space and streamlines operations.

Definition of Warehouse Shelving

According to the team at Unirack, warehouse shelving is designed to hold smaller, lighter items which can be easily accessed and retrieved by hand. These units, typically made of metal, store items individually, often in single sections. Key features include:

  • Height and Depth: Shelving units usually measure no higher than 2.3 metres and 600mm deep.
  • Load Capacity: Made from lighter materials, shelving has a lower weight capacity compared to racking.
  • Accessibility: Shelving systems enable easy organisation and retrieval of inventory by hand, especially items stored on lower levels.
  • Height and Depth: Racking units can exceed heights of 10 metres and have varying depths to accommodate different pallet sizes.
  • Load Capacity: Constructed from heavy-duty materials, racking supports significantly more weight than shelving.
  • Accessibility: Pallets and large items stored on racks often need forklifts or other machinery for retrieval, making it suitable for high-density storage situations.

Types of Warehouse Shelving Systems

Warehouse shelving systems vary in design and function to accommodate different storage needs. Here are some common types used in industrial settings:

Fixed Shelving

Fixed shelving units are the simplest type. They’re permanently attached to a wall or floor and provide stable storage for smaller items. These units are ideal when there’s no need to frequently change the shelf height or location. Examples include bookcases and static metal shelves.

Adjustable Shelving

Adjustable shelving systems offer flexibility by allowing shelves to be moved up or down based on storage requirements. These units are practical for environments where inventory sizes change frequently. Shelves can be reconfigured easily to maximise space. Examples include boltless shelving and adjustable wire shelves.

Mobile Shelving

Mobile shelving units optimise space by allowing shelves to move along tracks. This system is particularly effective in dense storage environments, reducing the floor space needed for aisle access. Examples include high-density mobile shelving and rolling shelves.

Modular Shelving

Modular shelving systems are highly customisable, consisting of interchangeable components that can be assembled to fit specific needs. These units cater to businesses that require versatile storage solutions as inventory changes. Examples include interlocking shelving units and modular bin systems.

Each shelving type provides unique benefits, and selecting the right system can improve warehouse efficiency.

Types of Warehouse Racking Systems

Warehouse racking systems are essential for storing larger, heavier items efficiently. Each racking system fits specific storage needs. Understanding these systems helps optimise warehouse operations.

Selective Pallet Racking

Selective pallet racking is the most common type. It allows direct access to each pallet, making it ideal for high turnover products. Forklifts can easily access pallets without moving others. This system suits warehouses needing versatile and accessible storage.

Drive-In Racking

Drive-in racking maximises storage density. Forklifts drive directly into the rack’s bays, which eliminates the need for aisles. It’s best for storing large quantities of homogenous products. This system follows a last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory method and is suitable for items with low turnover rates.

Cantilever Racking

Cantilever racking is ideal for storing long, bulky items like pipes and timber. It features arms that extend from a central column. This system provides easy access and flexibility, allowing quick retrieval and replacement. Cantilever racks are commonly used in industries dealing with awkwardly shaped materials.

Push-Back Racking

Push-back racking offers high storage density and flexibility. Pallets are stored on a series of embedded carts that move along inclined rails. When a new pallet is added, it pushes the others back. This system uses a first-in, last-out (FILO) method, making it great for storing moderate turnover items.

Pallet Flow Racking

Pallet flow racking uses gravity for automated stock rotation. Pallets are loaded at the higher end and move to the lower end along inclined rollers. This system supports a first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory method, perfect for perishable goods and high-density storage.

By choosing the right racking system, we improve storage efficiency and optimise warehouse operations.

Key Differences Between Shelving and Racking

Load Capacity

Shelving systems cater to lighter loads and smaller items. They’re ideal for storing items that can be easily retrieved and carried by hand. The load capacity of shelving shelves is limited by their flat surfaces, which collapse if overloaded.

Racking systems, on the other hand, support heavier items and bulk storage. They’re perfect for large or heavy items like appliances, tools or heavy machinery. Racks have multiple levels or horizontal bars for support, making them capable of holding significant weight.

Floor Space Utilization

Shelving units consume considerable floor space, especially when storing larger items. However, they can be designed to utilise vertical space better, providing more storage within the same floor area.

Racking systems use floor space more efficiently by incorporating multiple levels of storage. They allow us to store more within the same footprint, maximising storage density.


Shelving systems provide straightforward accessibility, with items easily reachable by hand. This makes them suitable for environments requiring frequent access to stored items.

Racking systems may require equipment like forklifts for accessing items, given their design to store heavier and bulkier items. This can limit direct access but enhances overall storage capacity.

Choosing the Right System for Your Warehouse Needs

Warehouse managers must decide between shelving or racking systems based on inventory types, space constraints, and budget limits.

Considering Space and Budget Constraints

Maximizing space and controlling costs are crucial. Shelving systems suit small-to-medium items and offer flexibility. They fit into tight spaces and smaller warehouses. Steel shelving, for instance, handles up to 400 kg per shelf. Wire shelving enhances airflow and visibility, making it perfect for inventory that requires frequent picking. Rivet shelving offers cost-effective solutions for bulk storage.

Pallet racking provides high-density storage for large warehouses. Selective racking offers easy access but uses more floor space. Push-back and drive-in racking systems optimise space by reducing aisles and increasing storage density. However, installation costs can be substantial, and these systems often require professional setup and maintenance.

Assessing Load and Accessibility Requirements

Understanding load types and retrieval methods can help in making this decision. Shelving works well for light to moderate loads that employees can access manually. Wide span shelving supports heavier items, up to 900 kg per shelf, making it versatile for diverse products, from books to industrial tools.

Racking systems excel with heavier loads but require equipment like forklifts for access. Pallet racking can carry thousands of kilograms per rack section. Rack types vary: selective racking provides direct access to each pallet, while pallet flow racking uses gravity to expedite loading and picking processes in FIFO operations.

By evaluating space, budget, load, and accessibility, we make informed decisions that improve warehouse efficiency and meet specific storage needs.

Bottom Line

Choosing between warehouse shelving and racking ultimately depends on our specific storage needs. Shelving systems offer flexibility and are perfect for small-to-medium items, while racking systems provide high-density storage for larger items.

By evaluating our space, budget, load, and accessibility requirements, we can make informed decisions that improve warehouse efficiency. Whether we need adjustable shelving for versatility or pallet racking for heavy-duty storage, understanding the key differences ensures we select the best solution for our operations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between shelving and racking?

Shelving is ideal for small-to-medium items and offers flexibility in tight spaces. Racking systems, on the other hand, are designed for high-density storage of larger, heavier items and often require forklifts for access.

What types of shelving systems are available for warehouses?

There are several types of shelving systems including fixed, adjustable, mobile, and modular shelving. Each offers unique benefits, such as flexibility, ease of access, and customised configurations.

Which shelving system is best for handling heavier loads?

Steel shelving is highly recommended for handling loads up to 400 kg per shelf. It is durable and provides robust support for heavier items.

How does wire shelving benefit a warehouse?

Wire shelving enhances airflow and visibility, making it easier to locate items. It is also lightweight and easy to clean, making it a practical choice for certain storage needs.

When should a warehouse opt for pallet racking instead of shelving?

Pallet racking should be used for high-density storage in larger warehouses, especially for bulkier items and heavier loads that cannot be easily accessed manually. Examples include selective racking, push-back, and drive-in systems.

Are shelving systems suitable for limited floor space?

Yes, shelving systems are ideal for tight spaces as they offer flexibility and can be adjusted or customised to fit into smaller areas without compromising storage capacity.

What factors should warehouse managers consider when choosing between shelving and racking systems?

Managers should evaluate the types of inventory, space constraints, budget limits, load capacity, and accessibility needs to make informed decisions that improve warehouse efficiency.

What is the advantage of mobile shelving in a warehouse?

Mobile shelving maximises space utilisation by allowing units to move along tracks, reducing the need for fixed aisles and optimising storage capacity in limited spaces.

How important is load capacity when choosing a shelving or racking system?

Load capacity is crucial as it determines the maximum weight each shelf or rack can hold. Choosing the right system based on load requirements ensures safety and efficiency in the warehouse.

Can shelving systems adapt to changing storage needs?

Yes, modular and adjustable shelving systems offer the flexibility to adapt to changing inventory and storage needs, allowing for easy adjustments and reconfigurations as