How to Store and Handle Long, Heavy Loads: Tube, Pipe and Bar Stock
Safety, access, cost and storage density considerations
Pallet storage is easy, or at least easier
The idea behind pallets was to unitize and standardize the storage of standard blocks in racks designed to store those units. The more standard the item, the easier it is to store and handle. 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 isn’t as easy for loads like tube, pipes and other long, heavy loads. There are options, of course, and we are here to break those down for you.
You have many options 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 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.
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.
Crank-out cantilever racks
Crank-out racks offer many of the same design and accessibility options as static cantilever, but potentially more storage density for heavy, long loads.
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.
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
Stacking racks tend to cost less than cantilever racks, but you must buy multiple units to accommodate greater lengths of stock or tubing.
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. The pipe would have to be pulled out of an end, which is more limited than cantilever. Either that, or unload an entire layer to reach the tubing at lower layers. 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.
Floor & ground stacking
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.
These aren’t the only methods. Pipes and tube have been stored in welded cube structures, on pallet racks and other ways. Also, for smaller, hand-load applications, a variety of workstations, vertical racks and other methods serve that purpose. Due to the weight, shape and nature of the load, always be sure you have systems in place to protect workers from rolling, falling and shifting pipes.
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.