How Flow Rails Promote Productivity, Efficiency, Flexibility, and Safety
Keeping inventory warehoused properly can at times resemble an elaborate game—and a frustrating one. In general, it’s not feasible to simply pile up boxes and pallets in a random fashion; that tactic results in bothersome clutter and suboptimal use of space. To avoid running out of room, you need to figure out a workable system to arrange your inventory—or simply adopt a method that has already been field-tested and found to be effective.
Many types of racking systems and equipment have been devised to help warehouse managers arrange their inventory. Which one is “right” depends on a number of factors, such as the rate of inventory turnover. The system we’ll focus on here is one that hasn’t received as much publicity as older ones: FLOW RAIL. It’s a simple yet highly efficient warehousing racking system that can provide benefits that certain other inventory storage and retrieval methods cannot match. So what is FLOW RAIL? Why bother installing or upgrading to a FLOW RAIL system? By way of answering these questions, let’s look at this racking system and how it compares with similar racking structures.
FLOW RAIL: The Basics
This is basically a Last In First Out (LIFO) storage system that utilizes rails to support pallets. Each lane has a set of horizontal, parallel non-motorized chains on which the pallets rest. Loading pallets onto the FLOW RAIL is a simple procedure: The forklift simply places the pallet at the end of the row facing the aisle. Once the edge of the pallet has been positioned onto the chains, the forklift operator simply pushes the load back until it is securely resting on the rack. The chains automatically deploy to shift the entire row of pallets backward to accommodate the new load.
Removing a pallet from the rack is fundamentally the same procedure, only in reverse. The forklift grabs the pallet facing the aisle and pulls the load off the rack. As the pallet is removed, the chain system automatically shifts the entire row forward so that the next pallet settles into position at the end, ready to be picked.
Ziglift is the exclusive California distributor for FLOW RAIL.
What advantages come with using FLOW RAIL? First, let’s explore a few common alternatives that we can contrast with this racking system.
Two Alternatives: Drive-In Racks & Pushback Racks
Drive-in racking systems, as the name implies, require the forklift to enter the lane to pick up stored pallets. The pallets are arranged on top of one another; the forklift maneuvers into the lane, grabs the nearest one, and reverses back out. Like FLOW RAIL, this is a Last In First Out system, which is to say, that the most recent pallet to be placed inside the lane is the one picked when the forklift retrieves product from storage.
Another popular system is pushback racking. This uses a row of carts that move backward and forward on rails. Set on an incline, the rails enable the pallets on the carts to shift forward due to gravity, so there is always a pallet sitting at the end of the aisle for easy access. When one pallet is removed, the next in line slides into its place. This arrangement allows the forklift to retrieve pallets without needing to enter the lane itself. The pushback rack is another example of a LIFO system.
Both of these storage systems are clearly superior to old-fashioned pile-‘em-up warehousing practices, and they have been successfully used in many facilities, but they have drawbacks and shortcomings as well.
Disadvantages of Using Drive-In Racks
A drive-in racking system requires the forklift driver to maneuver into the bay, sometimes all the way to the back, in order to retrieve pallets. This takes up time and reduces productivity. It can also result in serious damage to the racking equipment, as even skilled drivers sometimes bump against standing structures. That’s a particularly common event with drive-in racking due to the narrowness of the bays. As a result, the racks can become dangerously impaired over time from the accumulated damage of minor impacts.
Furthermore, it’s not possible to maintain different types of inventory in a drive-in bay. Because the pallets are stored on top of one another, forklift operators can’t merely pick any unit stored in the bay, as the item may be blocked by the presence of other pallets. Consequently, only one item type can be kept in a given bay.
Disadvantages of Using Pushback Racks
One problem with pushback racking is the incline required to keep pallets in position. The tilt of the racking equipment reduces the amount of vertical space available for use. Another space-wasting issue is the limited number of pallets that can be safely stored on such a system. It’s also possible for materials to become damaged due to contact with one another, because removing a pallet causes the others to slide down the incline.
The Benefits of FLOW RAIL Systems
FLOW RAIL comes with several advantages not available with comparable systems:
Increased storage density – FLOW RAIL can store up to ten pallets per row, significantly more than you could manage with pushback racks, which typically hold no more than six. What’s more, you can place different types of units in a single bay. In fact, FLOW RAIL can handle a wide range of units of varying shapes and weights.
Increased safety – With FLOW RAIL, the forklift does not enter the bay; therefore, the safety issues associated with drive-in systems do not apply here. Additionally, the pallets are not positioned on an incline and will not bump into one another during loading or unloading. The railing is horizontal, which also means that pallets are less likely than in a pushback system to tumble over the edge.
Easy conversion process – Worried about the hassle of converting a drive-in system to FLOW RAIL? Luckily, it’s easy to install the aluminum rails on existing systems. The length and width of the railing is adjustable. Once set up, there are few maintenance demands to worry about—the railing is rust-proof and can endure a wide range of temperatures, while the chain system does not rely on a motor to operate.