Keeping it Cool. A Peek Inside Cold Storage Warehouse Rack Solutions

Freezer Pallet Rack Storage - Apex Companies

Pallet Rack Storage to Optimize Cold Storage & Freezer Space

As consumer demands grow and tastes continue to shift, food producers and distributors are asked to quickly answer the call. The Apex team is here to help with the 411 on the most effective freezer and cold-storage pallet rack systems designed for the demanding climate and activity unique to refrigerated warehousing.

What features and properties make a pallet rack system ideal for harsh temperature storage? If you own or operate a cold-storage or freezer warehouse, then you know that optimizing space is key to keeping costs down and efficiency and productivity up. Refrigerated warehouse space is simply too expensive to afford any wasted space or sacrifice of performance. freezer and cold-storage pallet rack systems must seamlessly rotate stock, handle extreme temperatures, and keep your inventory moving.

The following is an overview of storage types, designs, and materials that lend themselves to productive freezer storage and fulfillment.

The Hot Take on Structural vs. Roll-Formed for Freezer Rack

Both roll-formed and structural steel pallet racks are strong, reliable, long-lasting options for warehouse storage. However, when relying on rack structures within cold and freezer storage facilities, several safety and durability considerations must be addressed when selecting which to use. The rack system must be designed and manufactured to handle the harsh warehouse temperatures and fast-paced activity inherent in cold storage.

There is a common misconception that you need structural rack in freezers because the steel being stronger. This isn’t true. Both roll-formed and structural rack can meet the capacities needed for frozen food storage. However, structural is more commonly used in coolers and freezer facilities due to the faster turn rates for perishable foods. More turns lead to greater opportunity for forklift abuse or damage, and structural is better equipped to handle the tough conditions.

Pallet Flow Rack

Freezer and Cold-Storage Pallet Rack - Apex Companies
Pallet Flow Rack (Discharge Aisle Foreground)

Pallet flow rack is a gravity flow system offering first-in-first-out (FIFO) inventory rotation helping food suppliers meet strict standards and perishable date restrictions. Pallets are placed onto wheeled or roller lanes from a rear charge aisle. The pallets flow to a separate discharge aisle for picking. The fluid nature of the design ensures smooth inventory rotation, congestion-free load, and pick activities, and accurate SKU selection. Pallet flow can also be designed for highly-efficient carton picking to conveyor or cart from the front pallet. The ready reserve stock automatically replenishes the pick face once the empty pallet is removed.

Deep-Reach Pallet Rack - Apex Companies
Deep-Reach Pallet Rack with Offset Cant-Leg Frame

Deep-Reach Rack

Deep-reach pallet rack, also known as double-deep rack, is effectively a 2-deep selective pallet rack design that consolidates aisle space and doubles pallet storage capacity per SKU. Double-deep rack requires the use of a deep-reach fork truck to place and extract pallets. The system shown above features an offset cant leg frame which provides greater forklift clearance at the aisle face to prevent column damage.

Double-deep pallet racking systems can be manufactured using either roll-formed or structural steel racking components.

Drive-In and Drive-Thru Racks

Drive-in and Drive-thru pallet racks are designed to accommodate high-density full pallet storage in a condensed footprint for a very cost-effective storage option. Systems store anywhere from two to 10 pallets deep per lane. Pallets are placed onto horizontal rails via forklifts that enter the system from a single access point.

Drive-thru pallet rack systems are primarily distinguished from drive-in rack systems because they have separate forklift entry and exit points. In many ways, they are better than the drive-in racks for freezer storage because they also operate on the FIFO inventory rotation model and are better suited for date-sensitive products.

Freezer and Cold Storage Pallet Rack -Apex Companies
Drive-In Pallet Rack with Recessed Front Post

Push-Back Rack Systems

Push-back rack systems are another type of dynamic storage option for cold-store and freezer rooms. Pallets are loaded and retrieved from a single aisle; thus, push-back supports last-in, first-out inventory rotation (LIFO). Each push-back lane consists of nested carts that flow on inclined rails. The first pallet is loaded on the top cart. The subsequent pallets are loaded by gently pushing back the top pallet and cart to reveal a waiting cart beneath and so on. Push-back systems are often 3-4 pallets deep but can be constructed for deeper-lane storage. Each SKU is assigned to an individual lane speeding picking rates and accuracy. Push-back rack is ideal for applications that require a large number of pick faces, making them a popular option for food-oriented operations. This 2-deep push-back rack is a good example:

Push-Back Pallet Rack - Apex Companies Push-Back Pallet Rack - Apex Companies

Putting the Freeze on Warehouse Damage

Protecting the rack system from equipment strikes and preparing it to withstand washdown and sanitizing measures helps secure the long-term use of the system. In addition, shielding the vulnerable posts and columns against equipment strikes with customized safety accessories will minimize downtime and repair costs.

Safety accessories such as row-end protectors, column protectors, and heavy-duty horizontal struts each perform essential jobs. Guards should be manufactured to fit the freezer and cold-storage pallet rack system that they are protecting. Selecting the right guard for your pallet rack system is primarily based upon these three rack and facility specifications:

  • Upright design
  • Aisle width
  • Type of forklift and how that relates to types of guards

Commercial Blast Freezers

Food facilities sometimes need to quickly freeze pallets of boxed food goods. A commercial blast freezer, or blast cell, uses fans to blow chilled air around the pallets which rapidly drops the temperature and freezes food items. Since airflow is key to the success of blast freezing, storing the pallets in pallet racking is ideal. Drive-in and selective rack are common rack types for this function. Using rack guarding to protect these systems from equipment strike damage is imperative given the high-speed of loading and unloading in these extreme temperatures

It’s also imperative to properly train personnel to handle forklift equipment and understand the unique interface required for loading and unloading each rack system. That is unless your vehicle has a mind of its own, which brings us to probably the hottest topic in cold storage warehousing today… automation.

Heating Up Cold Storage with Automation

Freezer and cold storage operations aren’t just hot topics due to booming consumer demand and the eruption of product choices alone. The advances in technology to better service these facilities have also seen dramatic interest. Two key elements driving the need for automation is speed and labor, or rather the lack of labor willing to work in these harsh environments. Smart automation is the answer. Automated solutions can now cost-effectively fill orders faster with few workers through tailor-made, flexible, and scalable systems.

Warehouse automation can also minimize if not eliminate potential health and safety risks to workers posed by exposure to extreme warehouse temperatures. Semi- to fully-automated responsive and adaptive systems operated through smart technology can be integrated into warehouse operations to handle inventory storage, fulfillment, SKU counts, slotting, and more.

Automated Pallet Shuttle Systems

ASRS Pallet Storage - Apex Companies
Semi-Automated Pallet Shuttle

A popular-automated high-density solution for freezers and/or cold storage facilities are pallet shuttle systems. The deep-lane shuttle rack system incorporates a low-profile electric cart that is used to index pallets from the load aisle position into a designated storage bay within the rack. To be retrieved, the shuttle picks up the pallet and brings it to either the opposite side of the system, similar to pallet flow or back to the same load side similar to push-back. From that point, the pallet can be extracted whether via a crane, forklift, or conveyor depending on the type of material handling equipment being utilized. It provides the same selectivity and FIFO as pallet flow without the pitched flow rails, thus reducing the overall height required and eliminating all risk of pallet hang-up.

Keep It Cool with Apex Cos

The Apex Cos team is ready to help maximize the efficiency of your freezer and cold-storage pallet rack systems and meet your warehousing throughput goals. We offer a full-service approach from cost-effective, forward-thinking warehouse system design to project management, installation, maintenance, and repair services.

Call Apex today to schedule a free consultation.