The decision to construct a new warehouse often includes endless hours devoted
to site selection and the type of material handling equipment and technology to be
used to support the new facility. Often, it becomes a foregone conclusion that the
facility will be a steel frame structure with freestanding rack. This conclusion, however,
deserves greater debate.
Steel Frame vs. Rack Supported Structures
Structural steel frame buildings are the most common construction style in use
for today’s warehouses. Utilizing a “skeleton frame” of vertical steel columns and
horizontal I-beams or trusses, the building is constructed in a rectangular grid to
support the roof and walls which are all attached to the frame. The building is then
equipped with freestanding rack for material storage.
In contrast, a rack supported building is comprised of a complete storage rack system,
with the rack system being the basic structural support for the building’s roof
and walls. In this scenario, the roof and walls are often referred to as the “skin.”
A side-by-side comparison of the two styles relies primarily upon the intended use
of the facility. For pure storage purposes, the rack-supported structure has many
benefits. On the other hand, if other business processes are interspersed with that
of material storage, or if business requirements might force a change in the building’s
overall configuration, a steel frame building might prove the best choice.