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Are Drive-in & Drive-Thru Racks Increasing Your Costs?


Warehouses and distribution centres can have different requirements in racking, depending on the inventory they manage. The challenge for all companies is finding the balance between holding sufficient stock while achieving the lowest possible footprint.

When Should You Use Drive-In Racking?

Companies with an inventory of a high volume of pallets stored on hand, but a low number of SKUs, seek solutions that allow quick access to those pallets. One of the most convenient solutions is drive-in and drive-thru racks, as they can increase the overall storage capacity within their facilities.

Drive-in and drive-thru pallet racking is a form of high-density pallet racking that uses ledges or rails instead of beams. The racking styles have similarities in that they store pallets on rails attached to uprights. This creates deep aisles of storage that allow forklifts to drive in or select or drop off a pallet through the system.

The racks consist of cantilevered rails to form a series of blocks, meaning that forklifts can drive directly into the empty cavities to drop off and pick up pallets. Depending on each warehouse’s storage requirements, drive-in racks can be stacked up to 12 metres high. Another benefit is there are no mechanical components or moving parts in drive-in and drive-thru racking as it is static.

What are the advantages of Drive-In Racking?

The key difference between drive-in racking is the requirement for the forklift to back out of the aisle, which is optimum for last-in, first-out (LIFO) stock management.

What distinguishes drive-thru racking is the ability of the driver to enter through either end of the racking system, which is optimum for first-in-first-out (FIFO) stock management.

In simple terms, installing these racking systems can resolve many issues with the flexible depth and height density and, if designed correctly, can store up to 75% more stock on the same footprint.

However, operationally drive-thru racking for FIFO stock management can create many additional product touches, increasing costs. The other key point is that drive-thru racking requires a clear aisle for travel on both sides of the racking system, allowing for drive-in racking to deliver a higher-density storage option.

In the right environment, these styles of racking can certainly be beneficial. However, in the wrong environment, drive-in and drive-thru racks can lead to unforeseen expenses, poor utilisation of cubic storage space, and slower fulfilment times.

We often find these negative consequences are the problems the company was attempting to resolve originally. How does that happen?

Companies are Looking at the Wrong Bottom Line When Selecting Drive-in or Drive-thru Racks

Drive-in and drive-thru racks are lower-cost dense storage racking solutions. Decision-makers can easily be drawn to looking at their floorspace and deem the same number of bays can fit in as that of drive-in as, say, a pallet flow solution. But with the drive-in cost being roughly 30-40% of the drive-thru, they choose the cheaper solution.

While that initial investment is an appealing number, companies often do not consider the full cost of the decision. As a result, they may end up with the wrong application or a poorly utilised storage system. The initial investment can disguise the operational costs associated with the solution. Dense storage solutions must be managed with a long-term approach to avoid operational costs soaring.

The key to using drive-in and drive-thru racks is to keep utilisation rates high. You need to keep the same product or SKU in the lane, front to back and the top. Ideally, you want more than one lane’s worth of product for utilisation purposes. This means filling the entire depth and height of the storage system with each SKU being stored.

The challenge arises when orders change and SKU numbers increase. Then you may be storing less of one or more products, you may experience a greater variety of products, and your dedicated lanes begin getting SKUs mixed.

Operators now need move-and-return, turn and rotate other pallets to get a required pallet, adding increased touches-per-pick, increasing your operational costs.

How Do You Know if You Have a Utilisation Problem with Your Racking?

Identifying if you’re achieving the full potential of your drive-in or drive-thru racks is based on the fact that you need to be looking for the magic utilisation number. Only then will you truly know if your operation is working efficiently (or not). If you are not actively seeking to maximise your floor space, you may not notice that your warehouse is underperforming.

We can work with you through our design and layout experts to identify where drive-in and drive-thru racks can be causing many unforeseen expenses. This, in turn, can slow down your picking processes initially intended for efficiency.

Our team of experts understands how critical operational flow is to a company’s long-term bottom line and can provide solutions to improve your warehouse’s bottom line. We are experienced in the challenges associated with rising operational costs-per-pick and can provide bespoke solutions designed to solve your short term and long-term requirements.

You may also be interested in reading:

6 Important Considerations for Design of Warehouse Layout

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