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What Type of Industrial Shelving Would Work Best for You?

Steel, rivet, and wire shelving all have their uses. Here's a quick guide to specifying your shelving project

Industrial Shelving Inquiry

selecting industrial shelving

While there are dozens and dozens of shelving manufacturers and even more variations of trade names for them, there are really just three basic kinds of industrial shelving manufactured and broadly used — Rivet-Type, Steel Clip, and Wire. Of course, there are more variations of these shelving types than you can imagine, but most shelving boils down to these kinds. You can also consider bulk rack as “shelving”, but we have found that heavy duty rivet shelving often fulfills the roles it has typically filled.

Rivet shelving

Rivet shelving is versatile, strong and fast to assemble. It provides easy access, stability, and up to 1,850 lbs. capacity per shelf level. It is constructed from a solid steel frame and uses decking (typically 5/8″ particle board, but also wire decks, plywood or solid steel) to hold the load. It’s used in industrial, warehousing, and storage room applications.

Advantages: economical, high capacity, versatile

  • It installs really easily, since there is little to no hardware involved, depending on whether or not a center support is used. A mallet is about all you need for the most part.
  • It’s the most economical of all shelving types.
  • It offers the largest ranges of sizes.
  • It has the highest capacities — by far it is the best shelving for high-density, bulk and heavy storage applications.

Disadvantages: aesthetics, weight, customization

  • It’s not particularly ugly, but rivet shelving won’t win any beauty contests — at least not in standard configurations. It will never look as good as wire shelving does. Mostly used in industrial settings where looks matter less.
  • It’s heavy when you factor in the shelf material, meaning it can cost more to ship it. However, many customers buy the decking locally to save on that cost. (When you do that, it’s lighter than some of the alternatives).
  • While it’s highly customizable in terms of size, there are not a lot of options for it, like you can get with steel shelving. You can put bins on it, but there aren’t many options for things like doors or built in dividers.

open steel shelvingSteel shelving

Steel Shelving can be used in warehouses, offices, tool cribs, etc. It’s frequently installed for high-density applications like under-mezzanine storage for parts storage. It’s available in open and closed style (read this to determine which might apply to your project) and uses back and sway braces to steady the shelving unit.

Advantages: better adjustability, many options and customization choices

  • It offers better adjustability than rivet shelving through use of compression clips in 1″ increments.
  • Steel shelving is easily the most customizable and accessorizable shelving type. There are built in bin fronts, multiple kinds of dividers, doors, and modular drawer inserts. You can take clip shelving in pretty much any direction you want to with accessories.
  • It’s probably better in high-density applications than rivet or wire shelving because shelves can be installed very close together.
  • It can be used in office settings and not look out of place.
  • It’s available in many colors for decorative applications, although some of those may cost you more than the standard grays and tans.closed type metal shelving

Disadvantages: expense, installation and sizes

  • When you take full advantage of its flexibility, metal shelving is more expensive. All those cool accessories add up in cost.
  • It requires a more effort to install than other shelving types. Shelves need clips and braces need hardware. It’s not that difficult to install, but I’ve never known it to be the effortless installation experience that rivet and wire shelving are.
  • One thing it can’t do that wire and rivet shelving can, is be easily converted into mobile storage. (Wire shelving is frequently made into mobile units).

 Wire shelving

Wire Shelving is the most attractive of these shelving types and is used in commercial or “clean” applications more often than the other shelving types. Like rivet style, it has open construction free of side and back sway braces so it can be accessed from all four sides. It may serve in applications where more industrial style shelving is out of place.

Advantages: aesthetics, multiple coating types, easy installationwire shelving unit

  • It mounts easily on casters for mobility.
  • The wire is gleaming, clean, attractive and easy to wipe down.
  • It can serve in food, wash-down, or wet applications, depending on the shelving finish.
  • Open construction. Dust won’t gather as easily on the shelves. More importantly, in case of a fire, it does not obstruct sprinkler systems.
  • It’s as adjustable as steel shelving (1″ increments) without the clips or hardware.
  • There are many specialty configurations available, with tilt shelves, wall mounting, etc.
  • Wire shelving can hug a wall and fit a space, but still maintain access to corner areas. It is excellent to run in straight, right-angle, or corner installations.

Disadvantages: cost, size variations, slightly lower capacities

  • It’s more expensive than rivet shelving, and most of the time, metal shelving.
  • It doesn’t offer as many size variations as rivet shelving.
  • Shelf capacity ranges aren’t typically as broad as steel and rivet shelving, and can top out at 1,200 pounds or so.

Use this “Guide to Industrial Shelving” (PDF file) that details out the advantages of each shelving type to help you decide which shelving type fits your application.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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