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How to Store and Handle Long, Heavy Loads: Tube, Pipe and Bar Stock

Safety, access, cost and storage density considerations

Storage Inquiry

heavy tube storage area

Pallet storage is easy, or at least easier than dealing with pipes and tubing

The idea behind pallets was to unitize and standardize the storage of standard blocks in racks designed to store those units. Standard units like pallets are easier store and handle. With pallets, you make sure your rack and forklifts can handle the pallet size and weight, and essentially you have a relatively dense, easily-accessed storage scheme. It’s more complicated for long, heavy loads like tube, bar stock and pipes. Let’s break down your options.

You have many choices for pipe, tubing, bar stock or other long, heavy load storage—choices that determine how you access the product, how much space it takes and how safe it is.

Cantilever racks

cantilever rack with pipe storageCantilever is the default choice for many long parts storage applications. It can be installed indoors or outdoors, is offered in practically limitless configurations and capacities, and is economical for its combination of storage density, accessibility and safety considerations.

Cost: good

Cantilever rack is cost-effective for pipe storage. Although you can store a broad range of items on it, long parts like pipe and tubing are really its best application. It can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand per rack, depending on the height, capacity, length, etc. Your application may or may not allow you to use a standard unit, but even if one is engineered to spec, the cost per storage position isn’t prohibitive. Cantilever tends to be a durable solution. Even in tough outdoor applications, it can perform for years.

Space efficiency: good

Cantilever racks allow you to place stock (like steel, aluminum or iron) into racks and off the floor so you can utilize vertical space, but you’ll need space for forklift operation in front of the racks. Cantilever can utilize vertical space, so you’ll be able to take advantage of building height. It saves space vs. floor stacking or yard stacking.

Load accessibility: excellent

Cantilever has great access to everything on the rack at all times. There isn’t a loading method it can’t take advantage of. Cantilever can be loaded or unloaded with forklifts, stackers or hoists, or by hand. Static arm positions may obstruct the lower ones in some hoist handling operations.

Safety considerations: very good

If properly specified, cantilever racks can hold extremely heavy loads. Workers need to be cautious when handling any large, unwieldy, long items, whether racked or not. It’s considered a safe method for storage, loading and unloading. While elevated loads can always fall due to mis-handling or equipment failure, this isn’t common so long as the rack is used right, inspected and specified for its load.

Cantilever racks are one of the most frequently used, safest and space efficient methods. They allow the most use of vertical space of any pipe storage method, so you can take advantage of high-bay warehouses or yards. They are safe and proven for extremely heavy and varied loads. 

Crank-out cantilever racks

crank out cantilever racking
Crank-out racks offer many of the same design and accessibility options as static cantilever, but potentially more storage density for heavy, long loads.

Cost: high

These racks are deployed in high-density applications where cost isn’t as important as space utilization. They often go into work cells in manufacturing plants where fast access to stored items is critical, so the extra cost vs. static racking is justified. They are the most expensive option for storing long parts.

Space efficiency: excellent

Crank-out racks retract the load into rack structure, allowing for tight, unitized storage of long items like steel tubes and pipes. When placed beside fabrication machinery, it reduces machining time and maximizes critical square footage in and around work cells.

Load accessibility: excellent

The concept allows full access to all stored items 100% of the time. Usually this is accomplished by hand for lighter loads, or by hoists for heavier/bulkier ones.

Safety considerations: very good

Because it retracts loads into a single rack unit, the chances of spills or drops is limited with crank-out racking. It helps reduce worker’s comp claims by making the moving of long stock more ergonomic and less exhausting. Being able to extend the arms out fully helps prevent injuries from overreaching and lifting heavy items from less-than-optimal positions. The arms have built-in safety features that will not allow any levels to be extended while another is out.

Crank-out systems are higher dollar but extremely effective in manufacturing and processing operations where floor space and storage density are critical. They are excellent in workcells adjacent to machinery or processing operations. 

Stacking racks

stacking racks with U-shape configurations

Stackable racks come in a variety of configurations and are strong for long parts storage applications. Unlike cantilever, stacking racks aren’t permanently installed and aren’t bolted to concrete. This gives you flexibility, but fewer options for loading/unloading. They are ideal for fluid situations, where you might be moving inventory around frequently and need to be able to adapt quickly. They offer good capacities. Each unit ranges from 2,500 to 7,50o pounds, meaning longer/heavier loads can be supported by adding more stacking racks to the row.

Cost: very good

stackable racks for pipe storageStacking racks tend to cost less than cantilever racks, but you must buy multiple units to accommodate greater lengths of stock or tubing. Stacking racks are modular, which means you have no installation costs.

Space efficiency: good

Good density. They stack (depending on type) four to six layers high. They require aisles. They typically cannot stack as high as cantilever, but can stack higher than many ground-stacking applications.

Load accessibility: limited

Stacking racks are layered atop each other, and depending on the model/type, they can go up to 10 units high. Most stacking rack types limit access only to the ends, since the layer above prevents a forklift or hoist from pulling a load up in configurations that do not allow for aisles between rack configurations. This is fine if a particular run of stacking racks have exactly the same load on all levels, but more problematic if the loads are mixed.  For mixed stock, it’s more difficult.

Safety considerations: good

Stacking racks are often used for hand loading and unloading, which means manual handling in many cases. This is generally safe, but safety and ergonomic concerns should be evaluated with any manual handling. Rack stacks that are too tall or too heavy should be avoided for any manual handling process.

Forklifts can load and unload from stacking racks by inserting forks beneath the pipe and between two columns of racks beneath the pipe. Since they are modular and unsecured, it’s possible that a driver could upend a stacking rack or series of them. If applied to the right load in the right situation, stacking racks are good storage equipment for their capacity range.  The important thing is to calculate capacity based on the rack specification and be sure the rack can hold the necessary weight safely.

Stacking racks tend to work best in environments where loads and configurations frequently change. Their modular nature means that you can move them whenever you need to, to fit the current situation in your plant. They are extremely durable and provide surprisingly good load capacity ratings. Also, see bar racks, which are ideal for smaller quantities of hand-picked long items, and not bulk storage of heavyweight tubing or steel stock. They are built to provide efficient storage and access near job sites, welding stations or assembly areas. 

Pallet racks

pallet racks with horizontal pipe storage

Cost: good

Pallet racks are relatively inexpensive and used infrequently because they’re made for more unitized loads that are typically square in nature. For the right applications, pallet racks give you good value. They require installation and floor bolting.
vertical bar racks in pallet rack

Space efficiency: mediocre

A double row of 42″ deep racks can accommodate 84″ long loads. You can store a bit longer items with deeper frames and double rows. Racks can typically handle very heavy loads, but for solid tubes you may require heavier components. You can also use pallet racks with a-frame attachments that let you store some types of loads vertically. Like cantilever racks, pallet racks can store heavy loads in vertical space, so for bulk storage they may have added space efficiency.

Load accessibility: poor

Pallet racks can be used for pipe storage, but tend to be limited to horizontal stacking and loading/unloading one pipe at a time, either by hand or forklift using a ram pole attachment. This is more difficult for access than cantilever racks, which allow full access to the entire length of the long pieces. With pallet racks, you can access only the ends unless you’re using a-frame storage.

Safety considerations: good

If your pallet rack is specified, installed and loaded correctly, pipes and tubes aren’t particularly more of a safety concern than pallets. If the load isn’t bundled, take care that picking individual pieces is safe for workers.

Video: Pallet rack safety Shoptalk . Pallet racks aren’t considered a primary pipe storage method, but for certain bulk, each-pick, retail or specialty applications, they can be a good alternative

Floor & ground stacking

ground and floor level pipe storage
When tubes, pipe and steel are floor-stacked, they are often banded or placed between structures or bollards to prevent sliding and rolling. Floor storage is acceptable for bundles or slow movers that sit near to processing machinery or otherwise accessed by hand with ease.

Cost: Inexpensive – almost free

Essentially, you have to have a place on the floor large enough to hold the load. You may have to buy bollards or something similar to stop rolling or sliding.

Space efficiency: poor

Since you can only stack so high, floor stacks can’t take much advantage of vertical space. It also consumes floor space that might be useful for something else. If you have a mix of loads, you can’t stack them atop each other and access all types, which means you aren’t going to have any flexibility when it comes to where you store different items.

Load accessibility: poor

Depending on how you are picking, this can be okay. Most of the time, floor loads are hand picked or picked by hoist. Forklifts can’t get tines beneath a pipe that’s sitting in a stack very easily, and sometimes can’t get the correct angle for retrieval. However, floor storage isn’t bad for lighter loads that can be picked by hand.

Safety considerations: mediocre

Unsecured stacks of round objects are inherently unsafe unless contained, so any floor stack must have structural limiters that prevent rolling. If banded, be sure there is protection for workers who snip the bands in case of load shifts. On the good side, since the loads are on the ground, they can’t fall. The threat is from sliding or shifting on a flat surface shared by workers. If you rely on blocks or banding, that means workers have to cope with those measures each time the stack is accessed.

Floor stacking is a time-honored method, and works well in some situations. When space is a factor, this method is at least effective. Stacks tend to be the least accessible way to reach loads, which means like items must be stacked together. It’s also flexible since you can store on any open floor space. This method works well for longer term reserve stock when space isn’t an issue. 

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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