Used racks are often an attractive choice for warehouse owners: compared to new racking, their costs can be much lower, which plays an important role in decision-making. But purchasing second-hand racking does not come without risks. In fact, there are a few concerns you should be aware of to avoid mistakes that could jeopardize safety in your warehouse.
Doing proper research and asking the right questions prior to the purchase go a long way in reducing the risk to your investment. These 5 elements to consider will help you make the right decision for your facility.
1. Look out for incompatible uprights and beams
On industrial racking, upright columns have holes at regular repeated increments and beams have connectors that fit with those holes. Not all brands of racking have the same hole configuration. There are many variations in shapes: sometimes, holes are round, square, rectangular, teardrop-shaped, etc.
Additionally, the spacing of holes can vary. This means that beam connectors of a given type may not fit into two different types of upright. Even if the beam manages to fit, there are additional concerns.
Depending on the beam used, the holes for safety pins, screws, or built-in safety devices might not necessarily align with those of a different manufacturer’s upright. This would make those beams easily susceptible to being detached from the rack. If the fit is not right, the rack could become out-of-plumb, unstable to the point of collapse, or simply inadequate for horizontal loads produced during a seismic event.
Therefore, used shelving is not necessarily ideal for extending existing systems in a warehouse unless the type match is exact. New systems would need to be created. Considering the minimum clearance or gap between systems, it will require more space within the warehouse.
2. Consider the complications that come with storage systems
Consider if the original rack manufacturer of the used racks is still in business. Where will you get replacement parts? Who will confirm that the new rack components are compatible? How can you order parts if you don’t know the original manufacturer?
As you can see, the processes for ordering replacement parts may become more difficult and the warehouse’s storage may not be as optimized as it could be. Products are also occasionally recalled by racking manufacturers and the purchaser would need to verify the status of the rack type they intend to purchase before doing so.
2.1 Repairs become more complex
If a warehouse’s racking system becomes damaged, replacement parts/repair kits can be ordered. This task can be complicated if there is a multitude of racking types from different manufacturers. Given that beams and uprights for used racks are not always labeled with the manufacturer’s information, additional research by warehouse staff may be required to identify types before ordering suitable replacements.
Through time, some product lines are also discontinued, or some manufacturers go out of business. In such cases, it may not be possible to order replacement parts.
2.2 Space optimization is restricted
The manufacturer typically customizes racking solutions to optimize storage, according to a client’s needs. Dimensions and load capacities conceived for one situation may not be ideal in another.
For example, suppose one warehouse has a more elevated ceiling than another. In that case, taller racking may be better suited for them, as the same volume of material can be stored in a smaller floor area. A secondary buyer may not have the ceiling height to accommodate that, or in an alternative case, if the purchased racking is too short for their warehouse, they aren’t using their space efficiently.
Another example: If one warehouse were optimized for storing many light loads, their rack beams would likely be selected to be smaller, in accordance with their needs. In this case, if another company bought these racks for their own needs, the beams may not have the capacity to support larger loads. This could become a problem depending on the types of loads of that second company.
3. Plan for compliance with building codes
Rack owners/employers are responsible for ensuring that their racking systems comply with building and fire codes. To do so, they should have documentation proving such adherence on hand, should officials request to view it . While the system intended for resale was originally approved of, the concern is that building codes change over time, and racking that met them when they were first installed may no longer meet them today. Building codes also change between regions, states, and provinces.
It is critical to ensure that the racking systems you intend to purchase meet current building code requirements in your area. Employers have the duty to provide a safe work environment for their employees: Using racking systems that are certified in accordance with local building codes falls under that scope of responsibility.
4. Evaluate the damage on the used racks you're considering
One of the most intuitive concerns in purchasing used warehouse equipment is the damage on the racks themselves. Damages on a racking system incur “a reduction in actual capacity and structural performance” , meaning that they may no longer meet their advertised load capacities or may even be unfit for use. Even if a used rack is inspected by the buyer prior to purchasing, it is important to note that disassembly, packaging, and transport may also damage the components before they arrive at their new warehouse.
4.1. Refurbished racking
Sellers may be advertising their racking as refurbished. While this may sound appealing at first glance, it may in fact be a cause for concern. According to the Rack Manufacturer’s Institute (RMI), “without proper engineering oversight, there is no proof or assurance that the repair is sound and will yield a safe operating system” . In fact, any changes to a racking system, be they modifications, repairs or reconfigurations require a new structural certification by a rack design professional [1,3].
In other words, if repairs are not certified by an engineer, there is no guarantee that the previous load capacity is maintained, and a liability is created.
A common example of in-house repairing is welding. Welded repairs are difficult to perform on the thin metal walls of industrial racking and the heat-affected zones may be weaker than their surroundings. The racking’s paint may also make the welds impure if it was not removed prior to welding. An engineer’s certification is needed to ensure that the work was done “in accordance with applicable American Welding Society (AWS) codes” .
5. Be wary of hidden costs and the absence of a warranty
The asking price for used racking may be less than that of a manufacturer, yet transportation and installation costs must be considered in the equation. While these two costs are quite evident, other factors may not be so.
5.1 Lead time concern
An important consideration is time. Used racking may need to be unloaded, dismantled, and packaged before shipping out to the buyer. Because of these steps, it may take longer to arrive at the new warehouse than new racks would, which could negatively affect operations in the facility. Old labeling on the racks may need to be removed, which would take up time. Inquire as to the time frame in both cases (new and used) and factor that into your decision.
All industrial racking systems must have technical drawings created by engineers that detail the configuration and load capacity of the system. Relocating or making changes to the configuration requires new documentation and certification from a racking engineer [1,3,4]. Creating such documentation would incur additional costs. Documentation supplied by the manufacturer at the time of the initial purchase may no longer be available at the time of resale (lost or misplaced). This could complicate the certification process.
Another important concern to consider is that the manufacturer’s warranty may not be upheld after the transfer. Additionally, “mixing new and used pallet rack components from different manufacturers can affect the manufacturers’ warranties”  even if they are still applicable post-resale.
Solutions to make used racks safer for your warehouse
While these concerns are pertinent, used racking may still be the solution envisioned for your warehouse. This section offers some general advice that may be useful in offsetting risk.
1. If possible, try to see the racking before buying it. Photos can be taken selectively, and angles or lighting can affect the appearance of damages. While checking the racking, try to identify critical (non-aesthetic) damages such as large deformations or pitted/flaking rust. If you do not know how to inspect a rack for damage, online tools like this Rack Damage Assessment Guide can guide you through the process. Occasionally, in-house repairs are made on the racking, and this is a cause for concern, especially if they are not certified. New paint may also hide underlying rust.
2. Inquire as to the load capacities and dimensions of the systems and ensure they are adequate to meet your warehouse’s storage needs.
3. Note the manufacturer’s name and racking type/style. This will facilitate future repairs, as you will know where to order parts from. Additionally, it allows you to verify if it is compatible with the racking already in your warehouse.
4. Review the building codes of your area and ensure that the racking being purchased meets those specifications.
5. Ask for any documentation provided by the manufacturer of the racking.
6. Consult the rack manufacturer to verify if any warranty is maintained after the secondary purchase.
7. Finally, and most importantly, it is necessary to work with a racking engineer as the relocation of racking systems “should be subjected to the same certification processes as a new installation” . The load plaques and their associated capacities cannot simply be transferred and posted in a new facility without verification . Racking engineers will provide the technical documentation required to certify a racking setup. They can assess damages to see if load capacities can be maintained as advertised, or certify repairs in the case of refurbished products. They can also create compulsory load capacity displays that can later be placed in prominent locations [1,3,4].
Buying used warehouse shelving can be a good idea for your warehouse, especially if you know the safety concerns that have to be considered when planning your purchase. The lower costs of used racks must be compared to the risks to warehouse safety and potential operational complications. In that case, the answer to the equation is easy to find and the choice becomes easier to make.
 CSA Group. (2017). User Guide for Steel Storage Racks A344-17. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Standards Association.
 Rack Manufacturer’s Institute. (2014). Guideline for the Assessment and Repair or Replacement of Damaged Rack - Version 1.00. Charlotte, North Carolina: Rack Manufacturer’s Institute.
 Rack Manufacturer’s Institute. (2021). Design, Testing, and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks ANSI MH16.1-2021. Charlotte, NC: Rack Manufacturer’s Institute, an Industry Group of MHI.
 ANSI. (2012). Specification for the Design, Testing and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks MH16.1:2012. Charlotte, North Carolina: Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI).
 CSA. (2005). User Guide for Steel Storage Racks/Standard for the Design and Construction of Steel Storage Racks A344.1/A344.2-05. Mississauga, Ontario: Canadian Standards Association.
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