Steel shelving, sometimes called steel shelving racks or steel racks, are shelving units built from alloyed steel sheets and supports. The goals of steel shelving are to 1) convert unused space into storage areas and 2) increase organization while optimizing space.
Quick links to Steel Shelving Information
History of Steel Shelving
Steel has been around for a fairly long time. In ancient times, peoples from all different regions of the world were making their own versions of steel-esque iron alloys. The oldest example of steel products are carbon steel pottery pieces, which date back 4,000 years. They were found in Anatolia in modern-day Turkey.
While steel has been a part of our world for a long time, steel shelving has not. That is because, for many years, industrial steel production was quite expensive and time-consuming. This changed in 1855, when Henry Bessemer introduced to the world his method for making steel from pig iron, called the Bessemer Process. Using the Bessemer Process, metalworkers found they could cheaply make steel, steel products and steel equipment in bulk. The type of steel that came from this was mild steel. While not as strong as the varieties we have available today, it was stronger than the previously used wrought iron and cast iron.
Bessemer’s Process, and similar processes such as the Siemens-Martin Process, were popular for about 100 years. In the 1950s, oxygen-related steelmaking processes such as basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS), or the Linz-Donawitz process, replaced them. With these new processes, manufacturers could produce more pure and more strong steel products.
It was around this time that steel shelving made its debut. Around 1939, a Greek-Australian engineer named Demetrius Comino drew up designs for slotted angle shelving made from steel. His original goal was simply to find a better way to store goods at his place business, Krisson Printing Ltd. He had found wooden shelving to be inefficient and impossible to rearrange. In contrast, his steel shelving units, which had interlocking frames, were rearrangeable, reusable and durable. In 1947, he began formally producing his steel shelving units, giving them the name Dexion steel strips. To make his new business venture work, he even reworked an older die press so that it could run continuously. Comino’s steel shelving was initially only popular for use at exhibitions, but it soon also became popular for warehouse pallet racking, commercial shelving and shelving racking in the home. As steel became cheaper to make, other companies wanted in on Comino’s success. So, they copied his general idea, and steel shelving manufacturing spread across the world.
Today, steel shelving is still quite popular. Engineers today can produce shelving more quickly and economically than ever. Plus, unlike early steel shelving manufacturers, they can make them from recycled scrap metal. This is important because, for steel to continue to thrive, it must find ways to be more sustainable.
Advantages of Steel Shelving
Stainless steel shelving is the most popular steel shelving option because of its particularly positive characteristics.
There are many reasons that customers turn to steel shelves, as opposed to industrial shelving made with other materials, like alternative metals, plastics, woods and composites. For one, steel shelving is durable and corrosion resistant, so it can ensure the safety and security of valuable inventory even in harsh industrial environments. Not only that, but it is surprisingly lightweight. In addition, steel shelving is convenient and convertible. Manufacturers can produce it in virtually any shape or size. Another great thing about steel shelving is that it can be reused and recycled.
Design of Steel Shelving
Shelving systems and racks have extremely diverse applications. Shelving systems encompass the complete storage arrangement in a given industrial, commercial or residential area. They may stand alone as individual pieces, or they may be part of an entire mezzanine flooring scheme. You may find steel shelving racks anywhere, from commercial coolers and freezers, to manufacturing facilities and shipping warehouses, to firehouses, to hospitals.
Steel shelving manufacturers create the different components required for shelving units primarily from steel sheets. They then put them through a number of different forming and fabricating processes. They make dividers, bases and flat surfaces, through processes including: annealing, bending, cold rolling, drawing, forging, mechanical working, press forming or roll forming. They make posts and supporting frameworks through variable processes such as cold rolling, drawing and stamping.
Obviously, steel shelving is made with steel. However, manufacturers have at their disposal a wide variety of steel types. These include: carbon steel, stainless steel, structural steel and more. Steel is composed predominantly of iron and carbon. These two elements give it general properties of strength, durability, corrosion and wear resistance as well as a comparatively light weight. When steel rack manufacturers want to tweak the properties of steel for your application, they may add several other metallic fillers. The type and amount of carbon or other fillers present in steel significantly impacts its strength and other desirable properties.
Considerations and Customization
When designing steel shelving, first and foremost, manufacturers think about workplace safety. To ensure that they create safe and responsible shelving, manufacturers must know the dimensions of the items to be stored or displayed on a shelving unit. This relates directly to that particular shelf’s capacity and weight bearing capabilities. These capabilities, in turn, relate heavily to the type and gauge of the steel components used to create that shelf. The capacity of a shelving unit should always exceed the total weight of items it will hold. Other things that manufacturers consider include: accessibility, standard requirements and budget. Because steel shelving is such a broad category, manufacturers can customize yours to meet virtually any requirements.
Types of Steel Shelving
While there are many specific types of shelve racks, the two basic categorizations are open and close shelving. The distinction between the two types of racks is, as the name implies, based on whether or not the units have an open design, or a panel along one or more sides that creates a backing.
- Open Shelving
- More easily accessible than closed shelving. Because it uses back and side braces (instead of panels), open shelving tends to greatly minimize lateral sway. Open shelves are ideal for applications where workers will need access to inventory from both sides of the shelf, and where the risk of tipping is minimal.
- Closed Shelving
- Shelving that is covered on both the back and sides using panels. Panels help to prevent loose items from falling or rolling off shelves, though they significantly reduce accessibility as compared with open frames. When combined with a door, closed units offer maximum stability and security. This is because they may also include a locking front panel. Lockable cabinets provide a clean, professional look.
- In addition to these basic designs are a wide array of other standardized and adjustable shelving arrangements. Learn more about many of them by reading the descriptions below.
- Adjustable Shelving
- A type of storage or display unit that is designed to be flexible in configuration in order to optimize space.
- Heavy Duty Shelving
- Made for bulky and weighty loads that surpass maximum load capacities of normal shelving. Also known as industrial shelving, it consists of a framework of heavy-duty supports and shelves used to hold and display products and equipment. Heavy duty shelving is used in automotive, garage, chemical and food processing, factory, warehouse, textile, publishing and many other industrial facilities.
- Light Duty Shelving
- Has many advantages, including the following: no need for nuts or bolts, quick and easy to assemble, adjustable shelves, unobstructed spans, free standing shelf units and access from all sides. Lighter duty and smaller shelving systems are commonly used for commercial and residential office and shelf storage solutions as well.
- Metal Shelving
- An extremely rugged organizational tool that allows for maximum use of horizontal and vertical storage space in industrial, commercial and residential settings.
- Mobile Shelving
- A storage unit that has wheels on the bottom so that it can be easily transported from one location to another.
- Optimizes space by stacking goods horizontally and vertically.
- Shelving Units
- The individual components that are combined to form a complete storage shelving scheme.
- Stainless Steel Shelving
- A shelf made of stainless steel, an extremely durable and anti-corrosive steel alloy. Stainless steel shelving is typically used as an organizational system designed to provide optimal use of storage space.
- Storage Shelving
- Consists of sets of horizontally placed surfaces that are parallel to the ground. They function as a single steel storage rack, or they may function as an entire storage system.
- Wall Shelving
- Creates organizational storage or presentation space without taking up floor area as it is fastened directly to the wall.
- Wire Shelving
- A particular type of shelving unit wherein the base or surface upon which items are placed is composed of several interwoven or latticed metal rods. Wire shelving is popular in areas of limited space as it is less imposing and more transparent.
Installation of Steel Shelving
Sometimes, you can order a pre-assembled shelf, and sometimes you may request that your supplier sends someone to assemble them on location. Other times, you may install them yourselves. If that is the case, regardless of the type and model of the shelf, you need to make sure that you securely fasten both the supports and braces. Often, you may join components via strategies like welding and mechanical fastenings such as nuts, bolts, and rivets. Additionally, when tipping is a concern, you should secure your shelving units to the floor with foot plates or braces. These anchor the shelves and provide a more rigid structure that is far less prone to shifting or overturning. Both before and after you put the final braces in place, you also need to check the levelness of both the vertical and horizontal components.
No matter the type, purpose or size of a shelving system, proper installation is integral to the success and safety of the workplace. For exact instructions on assembling and installing your steel shelving, consult with your manufacturer.
Standards and Specifications of Steel Shelving
Where applicable, it is important to follow federal, state and local building and fire safety codes to verify workplace safety. Examples include those put out by OSHA, ISO, ANSI and MHI (accredited by ANSI). To learn the standards to which your steel shelving must be made, talk to your industry leaders.
Things to Consider When Purchasing Steel Shelving
If you are in the market for steel shelving units, you need to work with a steel shelving supplier you can trust. To help you find the right one for you, we’ve created a list of proven manufacturers.
Before you look them over, we recommend you put together a specifications and requirements list to help you focus your search. Remember to include things like: budget, timeline, delivery preferences and installation assistance preferences. In addition, when you are selecting steel shelving units, it is important that you consider both the dimensions of the shelf itself as well as the details of the inventory. You must make sure to communicate their length, width, height and depth. Also, as some suppliers measure the overall dimensions of a shelf, rather than the cubic feet of storage space, to ensure the selection of optimal shelving, you need to be clear on this point.
Once you’ve put that all together, you can get to looking. For the best results, pick out three or four top manufacturers, then reach out to each of them to discuss your application. Compare and contrast your conversations with them, and select the right one for you.
Accessories of Steel Shelving
Common examples of steel shelving accessories include: labels, casters, industrial shelf liners, cart covers, extra wire shelving, stacking baskets, dividers, push handles, enclosure panels, foot plates, hanger rods and more.
Steel Shelving Terms
- Adder Unit
- A unit of shelving that attaches to a starter unit and employs common sides to produce a row of shelving.
- Back Braces
- Pieces that attach to the rear posts of open style shelving, providing lateral stability.
- Back Panel
- A part that closes the rear of shelving units and also provides additional lateral stability.
- Base Strip
- A section that closes the gap between the floor and bottom shelf. Base strips prevent the accumulation of dust and other debris beneath the bottom shelves.
- Bin Front
- A shelving accessory that provides storage for small bulk parts.
- Box Post
- A post that is used as a front post or row end. Box posts provide accessibility to the full width of the shelf and some vertical adjustability.
- Drawer Insert Unit
- Small drawer units that are designed for the organization and efficient storing of smaller sized items.
- Full Height Dividers
- Vertical separators used to subdivide shelving into smaller units.
- Heavy-Duty Modular Drawers
- Accessories that allow for the transformation of sections of shelving units into high-density storage areas for smaller parts.
- Offset Angle Post
- A roll-formed, high-strength post that provides added rigidity and allows for independent shelf clip adjustment.
- Partial Height Divider
- A shelving accessory used to divide shelves into sections.
- Shelf Boxes
- A steel shelving accessory that provides storage for small parts. Shelf boxes are sometimes equipped with a built-in stop.
- Shelf Capacity
- The maximum weight each shelf is capable of bearing. Shelf capacities are calculated with the assumption of even weight distribution on each shelf.
- Shelf Clip
- A part that attaches the shelves to the posts and enables easy repositioning of the shelving units in a given interval of length.
- Shelf Depth
- The dimensions of a shelving unit from front to back.
- Sliding Divider
- A piece that fits around the rear and front flanges of a shelf. Sliding dividers can be slid, providing variable divided spaces.