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Narrow Aisle Racking: Getting More from Your Available Space

24 Jul, 2023
Unlock the potential of narrow aisle racking to significantly increase your warehouse's storage capacity without expanding its footprint. This guide covers the benefits, such as improved space utilization and efficiency, alongside the considerations needed for implementation, including specialised equipment and safety measures.

Warehouse managers and operators are constantly looking for ways to maximise their available storage space while ensuring the safety of their workers. Narrow aisle pallet racking can significantly increase the storage capacity of a warehouse without requiring additional floor space. This can be especially important for companies operating where real estate is expensive or in high demand.

Additionally, these racking systems can improve the efficiency of warehouse operations by reducing the time it takes to move products and materials from one location to another. Specialised equipment, such as narrow aisle forklifts, is required, and careful planning and management are required to ensure safe operation.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits and challenges of narrow aisle pallet racking so that you can make informed decisions about whether or not it is the right racking solution for your needs.

What is Narrow Aisle Pallet Racking?

Narrow aisle pallet racking is a space-saving and efficient storage solution that can help businesses maximise their warehouse or storage space. This type of racking system uses narrower aisles between racking units than traditional pallet racking. This maximises available floor space, allowing for more storage capacity. This type of racking system is commonly used in warehouses and distribution centres and features higher shelves that require specialised equipment to navigate the narrow aisles.

Typically, aisles are between 1.5 and 2.5 metres wide, compared to traditional racking systems with aisles between 3 and 4 metres wide.

Benefits of Narrow Aisle Pallet Racking?

The main benefit of narrow aisle pallet racking is that it allows for higher-density storage. Because the aisles are narrower, more rows of pallets can be stored in the same amount of space, increasing the overall storage capacity of the facility. This can be especially beneficial for businesses with limited space or needing to store large inventory.
It also offers greater efficiency and precision for businesses that use forklifts or other materials handling equipment. Accessing the stored pallets using specialised equipment, such as a narrow aisle (VNA) forklift, allows for faster and more efficient material handling, improving productivity and reducing costs.

Advantages of narrow aisle racking

  • Increased Storage Capacity:
    Warehouses can store more inventory in the same space as traditional wide aisle racking.
  • Higher Productivity:
    Narrow aisle racking systems can significantly increase productivity due to the use of specialised equipment that can operate at faster speeds compared to traditional forklifts. This reduces wait times and allows faster picking times, improving stock control and rotation. This means businesses can store and retrieve goods more quickly and efficiently, increasing productivity.
  • Reduced Costs:
    Narrow aisle racking is more cost-effective than traditional racking solutions due to its space-saving design and increased storage capacity. It reduces storage cost per square metre or cost per pallet stored. It can also reduce the need for additional warehouse space, potentially saving costs on rent, construction or relocation.
  • Improved Safety
    Warehouse safety is improved because access to goods is more efficient. The aisle widths are kept narrow so there is less risk of forklift operators colliding with other staff or objects, reducing the risk of goods falling from racks. Additionally, fewer obstructions in the aisle decrease the risk of slips and trips. 
  • Reduce the Risk of Damage:
    Narrow aisle racking reduces the risk of inventory damage due to collisions with forklifts and other vehicles. Narrow aisle racking uses guide rails for fast movement in aisles.
  • Improved Organisation
    Narrow aisle racking allows for improved organisation of items stored in the warehouse, making it easier to locate items quickly.
  • Improved Order Picking
    Order-picking rates are faster because the time to access a product and maneuver around the warehouse is decreased. Narrow aisle racking provides 100% accessibility to all pallet positions and makes it easier to access products stored higher up, as it allows for more shelves and vertical storage. Additionally, narrow aisle racking provides 100% accessibility to all pallet locations.

Disadvantages of Narrow Aisle Racking

  • Safety Risks:
    With narrower aisles and higher shelves, there are increased risks of accidents and injuries.
  • Specialised equipment:
    Narrow aisle racking requires specialised equipment, such as very narrow aisle (VNA) forklifts, which can add to the cost of the system and require additional operator training to minimise risk.
  • Maintenance Needs:
    The specialised nature of narrow aisle racking requires frequent maintenance and inspections to ensure safety and compliance with regulations.
  • Planning and Implementation:
    Narrow aisle racking systems require careful planning and implementation to maximise benefits and minimise potential risks.
  • Higher cost:
    Narrow aisle racking is typically more expensive than traditional racking systems due to the specialised equipment and installation requirements.
  • Limited space for equipment:
    The narrow aisles can limit the space available for equipment, slowing the process of moving goods in and out of the storage area.
  • Not suitable for all products:
    Narrow aisle racking may not be suitable for bulky or irregularly shaped items and may not be ideal for businesses with high turnover or frequently changing product lines.

What is the minimum aisle width for racking?

The minimum aisle width for narrow aisle racking in meters typically ranges from 1.5 to 2.0 metres, depending on the specific type of equipment used and the racking system’s specific dimensions.
It is important to ensure that the aisle width is sufficient to allow for safe and efficient movement of the equipment and staff within the workspace. Load size, lift height, and turning radius should also be considered when determining the appropriate aisle width.

What is the difference between a conventional narrow and a very narrow aisle?

The main difference between conventional narrow aisle, narrow aisle, and very narrow aisle racking systems is the amount of space required to operate the material handling equipment.

Conventional Narrow Aisle:

Conventional narrow aisle racking typically requires aisles between 2.4 to 3 metres in width to accommodate a standard forklift truck.

When to use conventional narrow aisle:

These systems are often used when there is relatively low stock turnover and enough space in the warehouse or distribution centre for wider aisles.

Narrow aisle racking

Narrow aisle racking usually requires aisles between 1.5 to 2.4 metres in width to accommodate specialised material handling equipment such as articulated forklift trucks, reach trucks, and order pickers.

When to use narrow aisle racking

These systems are used when there is moderate to high stock turnover and limited space available.

Very narrow aisle (VNA)

Very narrow aisle racking usually requires aisles that are less than 1.5 metres in width to accommodate automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), such as cranes, turrets, and shuttles.

When to use a Very narrow aisle (VNA)

These systems utilise computer-controlled equipment to move loads in and out of storage locations with high precision and speed, eliminating the need for operators to navigate narrow aisles.

Overall, the choice of which system to use depends on the specific needs of the warehouse or distribution centre, including stock turnover, budget, available floor space, and volume of items to be stored.

Specialised material handling equipment for Narrow Aisle Racking

There are several types of specialised material handling equipment for narrow aisle racking, including: – 

Turret Trucks: 

This type of equipment can rotate 180 degrees, allowing the operator to pick items from both sides of the aisle without turning the truck around.  

Features: 
  • It does not require a lot of space for maneuvering
  • Can reach heights up to 14 metres. 
Benefits: 
  • It saves time by reducing the need for the operator to turn the truck around. 
  • Increases productivity by allowing for quick and efficient picking of items.
  • Maximises storage capacity by using the full height of the warehouse. 
Industries: 
  • E-commerce and retail distribution centres. 
  • Food and beverage warehouses.
  • Electronics and pharmaceutical warehouses. 

Reach Trucks:

These vehicles are designed to reach high shelves and can be used in narrow aisles. They feature extended forks that can lift loads up to 10 metres. 

Features: 
  • Designed to reach high shelves and narrow aisles. 
  • Extended forks can lift loads up to 10 metres.
  • Available in stand-on or seated versions.
Benefits:
  • Ideal for high-density storage and retrieval operations. 
  • Increases productivity by enabling operators to access high shelves quickly and easily.
  • Can handle heavy loads and tight spaces without causing damage. 
Industries: 
  • Automotive parts warehouses.
  • Consumer goods distribution centres.
  • Manufacturing and assembly plants. 

Order Pickers:

Order pickers are similar to reach trucks but feature platforms that allow the operator to stand while picking items from high shelves. 

Features: 
  • Platforms that enable the operator to stand while picking items from high shelves. 
  • Narrow enough to navigate through small aisles. 
  • Offers flexibility and ease of operation. 
Benefits: 
  • Increases efficiency by reducing the time required to pick items from high shelves.
  • Provides a safer work environment for operators.
  • Can handle multiple cartons or pallets at once, improving productivity.
Industries: 
  • Grocery distribution centres.
  • Pharmaceutical and medical supply warehouses.
  • Apparel and footwear warehouses.

Overall, selecting the right type of specialised material handling equipment for narrow aisle racking will depend on the specific needs of your warehouse or distribution centre, including the types of items to be stored, available space, and frequency of movement.

Aisle Dimensions Needed for a Swing-Reach or Turret Truck?

The aisle dimensions needed for these trucks will depend on the specific model and manufacturer but generally range from 1.8 to 2.5 meters (6 to 8 feet) in width. Swing-Reach or Turret Trucks are designed to work in narrow aisles by utilising a specially designed mast that allows the operator to rotate the load up to 180 degrees for placement onto or retrieval from either side of the aisle without requiring the truck itself to turn. This feature significantly reduces the aisle width required for vehicle operation and increases storage density. 

Most Swing-Reach or Turret Trucks have a narrow turning radius, typically around 2 meters (6.5 feet), reducing the aisle width requirement. As a result, VNA racking systems with aisle widths of 1.8 to 2.5 meters (6 to 8 feet) are commonly used with these trucks. When designing a VNA racking system that utilises Swing-Reach or Turret Trucks, it is important to consider the racking height and the vehicle’s length, as these factors may impact the required aisle width. 

Additionally, anti-collision sensors, guide rails, and other safety features should be installed to prevent accidents caused by the close proximity of the trucks within the narrow aisles.

Narrow Aisle Implementation Best Practices:

Implementing narrow aisle racking can help increase storage capacity and improve operational efficiency in a warehouse or distribution centre. Following best practices during the planning, installation, and operation phases is important to ensure success. Here are some best practices for implementing narrow aisle racking: 

  1. Conduct a thorough analysis of your storage needs:
    Start by analyzing your inventory, its turnover, and the types of material handling equipment you will need to move items within the racking system. This will help you determine the height of the racking, the aisle width, and the type of equipment needed. 
  2. Select the right type of racking system:
    Choose the racking system that best suits your needs. Various racking systems are available (e.g., selective, double-deep, drive-in, push-back), each with benefits and limitations. 
  3. Ensure proper installation:
    Proper installation is critical to the safety and effectiveness of the system. Ensure the racks are built to the manufacturer’s specifications and anchored securely to the floor. 
  4. Train personnel on safety and operating procedures:
    Train operators on operating the equipment safely, including navigating the narrow aisles and entering and exiting the racking system properly. Provide ongoing training to ensure that safety protocols are followed. 
  5. Regularly inspect the racking system:
    Regularly inspect the racking system to identify damage or wear and tear. Address any issues immediately to prevent accidents or system failure. 
  6. Implement appropriate safety features:
    Install safety protection on your racking system, like guard rails, end-of-aisle protectors, and anti-collision sensors, to minimise the risk of accidents. 

Overall, following these best practices can help ensure the safe and efficient operation of a narrow aisle racking system while improving overall productivity and maximising the use of available space. Please get in touch with Total Racking Systems if you have any questions.

Investing in narrow aisle racking is a smart decision that can help businesses get more from their available space, streamline warehouse operations, and increase profitability in the long run.

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