By Cary McGovern
Abstract: Selecting the "right" shelving for your storage facility is the second most important factor that will effect your storage profitability (the first being ceiling height). In this column we will explore many of the issues that can maximize storage density and minimize retrieval time. The key is to always balance storage density with access costs.
It is safe to say that, with the exception of ceiling height, there is nothing more important to a records-storage facility than the appropriate selection of shelving to support the customer types and market mix that you seek and acquire. Shelving selection has a great deal to do with your marketing plan--that's right, your marking plan. The shelving design and selection must optimize the storage of your customers' records. Although there are several design possibilities, the key factor is mixing open-shelf filing with traditional box storage.
Open-Shelf Filing Systems
Most commercial records centers market to the healthcare industry; medical records are the most voluminous records in this market segment. These include both patient files and X-ray files. Healthcare providers have begun the practice of sending more and more active files--which have significant amounts of activity--off site. Access to these files is improved greatly by filing these records in systems that mirror the hospitals own on-site filing systems.
The shelving most typically used for patient files is a unit with seven shelf levels, approximately seven-feet high. X-ray files are much larger and significantly heavier than patient records and require strong, heavy-gauge metal shelving. The filing method typically used for both patient files and X-rays is the "terminal-digit" method. This reduces the need for file shifting by spreading the growth equally over either 100 or 1,000 file groups or terminal digits.
Other market segments may require open-shelf filling for more active-records management. Currently, customers are generally sending more and more active files off site. This trend should be considered good for the industry in that the more you're able to act as a partner with your customer, the more services you can provide for them. Other records candidates for open-shelf filing systems include insurance claims and mortgage loans.
Box-Storage Filing Systems
The more traditional type of filing in commercial records centers is the storage of boxes. Although boxes range in size and shape from very small to quite large, the standard in the records-storage industry is the letter/legal-size box. This box is sometimes referred to as a banker's box. It measures approximately 1.1 cubic feet when empty and expands to 1.2 cubic feet when jammed full of records. Commercial-records centers design their racking to accommodate this typical box size as the standard. Although it is the most predominant, it certainly will not be the only box size that you will end up with in your facility. Box sizes will range from a shoebox to shipping crates. It is common for commercial-records centers to charge for odd-sized or non-standard boxes by rounding the actual measured size up to the next highest cubic foot; e.g., a shoebox may only be .3 cubic feet in size, but would be charged at the one-cube rate.
The most common shelving that is used for box storage is pallet racking. Pallet racks are composed of two components, uprights and beams. Uprights are the end sections of each unit that range in height from as short as 8 feet to as tall as 25 feet. The second component is the beam. Each shelf level requires two beams, one at the front and one at the back of the unit. Two shelving units require only three uprights and so on down the row, since each upright can attach beams in both directions, right and left.
Optimum filing capacity in pallet rack configurations utilize uprights that measure about 22 feet tall with nine levels of shelving or 18 beams per unit. Across the fourth and seventh levels, mezzanines or catwalks are usually constructed to allow access to the first three shelves from the floor, shelves four through six from the first mezzanine, and seven through nine from the second mezzanine.
It is wise to design the optimum-shelving configuration for your facility before you buy your first rack. You may want to select a mix of open-shelf to pallet racks based upon your estimates of the percentage of the business that you intend to market to each type. No matter what you do, you probably will be incorrect in your plan. Best estimates are always very valuable to help you along in the right direction. The reality of the sales mix is very difficult to project accurately in the beginning.
At a recent Professional Association of Commercial Records Centers (PRISM) conference, I witnessed an innovative concept that mixes both types of shelving within the same floor space. This design has open-shelf filing at the floor level that runs perpendicular to the pallet racking that was structured directly above the open-shelf racks. The pallet racks begin at the fourth level. The first three levels of pallet racking were blank, and a mezzanine ran overhead above the open-shelf racking. I must admit that this was a creative design that optimized the shelving configuration with a mix of box and open-shelf racks.
I recommend that you have a professional shelving expert lay out your warehouse rack design onto your existing or proposed floor plan. There are many things to consider, including lighting, water lines, sprinkler systems, access, stairways and many other important factors. You may be able to locate and buy less-expensive racks from local suppliers, but you may not be able to optimize your storage design unless you have a professional that understands the industry design the plan for you.
The basis for profitability in the records-storage business deals with a delicate balance of density and accessibility. There is no magic formula for this balance, since buildings vary greatly in size and shape. However, there are many ways to make the most of your floor space. I have been asked many times, "Can I make money with this kind or that kind of building?" The answer is usually, "Yes," but space optimization is the name of the game. Let a professional help you. You won't regret it.
Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and owner of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm that also provides outsourcing services, file-room management and litigation support services for the legal industry. For more information about records management, contact Mr. McGovern at File Managers Inc., P.O. Box 1178, Abita Springs, LA 70420; phone (504) 871-0092; fax (504) 893-1751; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Web: www.fileman.com.