Article published in the May 2014 issue of Supply Chain Today magazine.

Racking and shelving often get a poor deal when it comes to attention in the warehouse environment; most of us simply don’t find the topic interesting. But when you consider that a good racking system is the mainstay of a successful storage facility, it’s fortunate that there are experts in the industry who truly get excited about the topic.

Daniel Peters of Storelab is one of these people, and in a conversation with “Supply Chain Today”, he shares his enthusiasm for creating the perfect installation. “For us it’s exciting to get it exactly right,” he smiles. “You can’t just weld some steel pipes together and hope it holds up. Our racking is customised specifically for each client’s needs. It’s certified by the CSIR and our engineer certifies it in terms of factors such as weight-bearing capacity, etc.”

Big business
These skills were used to good effect in a recent installation for a large industrial client in Alrode, Johannesburg. “We did a project for a client that required 260 tons of steel for a 20 000m2 warehouse,” he tells us. “It includes 13 000 pallet positions in a six-metre high installation. The roof height allows an extra two beam levels, so we designed the framework to be strong enough to support the weight when the client decides to go up.”

The timber decks are 900mm deep, held up by 2.7m beams with a carrying capacity of 2.6 tons. It took a month to complete the framework, which was delivered to site in 12 super-links. This alone required significant logistical coordination.

“We had a manager on site to supervise the offloading so that it didn’t impact the client’s operations,” Daniel explains, adding that installers invariably face the challenge of having to work around other operations; in this case the client was moving pallets into the facility while racking was being erected.

Segmenting the project
The erection of the framework also had to coincide with the installation of the fire protection systems. “The fire protection company had to dovetail behind us to install sprinklers. To manage the process we segmented the project into four quadrants – as we finished the racking, they’d install the sprinkler system, which was supported by the framework.

“Once it was all plumbed, the sprinklers were tested to check pressure and then the section was signed off. That’s a project in itself. We facilitated the fully turnkey project in terms of fire protection and racking and the technical details required.”

Long-term protection
In addition to the steel frames, the project required timber decks and racking protection, such as barriers at the ends and column guards to protect from forklift damage. “Damage is unavoidable in a busy warehouse, so we offer maintenance contracts,” says Daniel. “These cover monthly call-outs and various registers to identify damage hotspots and monitor the integrity of the structure.

“Each project gets an Autocad drawing pinpointing problem areas; we’ll also suggest extra protection in these areas to minimise the chances of a collapse. Furthermore, we ensure that correct spares are available for the specific installation – there are five different types of racking in South Africa and you need to use the correct system. We ensure stock availability to avoid downtime. Managing these details is a good way to strengthen and maintain the relationship with the client.

Working together
Aside from the month it took to manufacture the components, the warehouse installation took an additional two months to complete. “We had seven guys on the project in the first week to get the frame up. We pushed the team up to 15 to manage the peak workloads from the second week. The final installation was finished on time, up to spec, and the client was happy,” he says.

The project is a perfect example of how specialists can achieve excellent results when working together. “Forklifts, fire protection and racking all go hand in hand,” says Daniel. “We got the job through our association with a property broker who found the site for the client. Together with the fire protection specialist, we all attended meetings to secure the deal, providing input in terms of what the project would require. In this way, any questions the client had were settled from the start.

“It’s a great way to do business and provide customers with a full solution to their needs,” he concludes. With large projects still few and far between, this is a smart approach to ensuring regular business.