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History of the Forklift Industry

Handling and storing our possessions was first done by primitive humans using shelving out of rock or wood. It is impossible to state the exact moment the concept of storing and handling was invented because since humans have had cherished items we have been keeping them safe in both simple and sophisticated ways.
The concept of efficient and safe material storage is a must within any industry. Many advances in the storage industry came along with other material handling developments during the World War II era. The first universal pallet was designed during the war, the predictable unitized load was created and forklift trucks and storage racks became standard to replace shelving. In fact, even today, the United States Department of Commerce classifies racks under the category of metal furniture, due to the fact they replaced metal shelving as a storage device. This fact is recognized and noted by the Material Handling Institute of America.
Consumer demand over the evolution of storage has shaped the racking and shelving industry. Everything from the way the shelving units are assemble and adjusted to the types of storage modules available on the market are dictated by consumer needs. In the early twentieth century, many businesses switched from their original wooden storage containers and upgraded to those incorporating steel. Soon adjustable steel shelving came to the forefront of the shelving and racking industry. Presently, shelving has progressed into numerous options including rivet rack shelving, wide span shelving and many other custom tailored options to suit customers’ needs.
Storage and efficiency go hand in hand. Over the years, racking transcended beyond the back room industrial sector and shelving grew into drawers and cabinets. Having the ability to store parts in drawers and compartments, rather than placing items on shelves, eliminated much of the wasted space on shelving units. Cabinetry and drawers became a convenient and new way to keep items safe.
Utilization of air space became the increase focus during the latter half of the century. Taller and larger shelving and racking systems were implemented to maximize storage capacity. Structural advances such as rack-supported buildings, where the siding of the building is attached to the rack and mezzanines were also being built during this time. A large job over thirty years ago may have been around 16 feet tall, whereas today, it is not uncommon to find frames over 30 feet tall in large distribution centers. The higher storage units mean further safety issues and greater concerns for manufacturers to address.
The evolution of storage equipment has moved in accordance with safety standards over the years in order to protect people and facilities in hazardous situations. From earthquakes to fires, many new improvements in the storage industry have been implemented. Wire mesh decking, for example became a material handling solution thirty years ago as a result of fire codes. In the past, warehouses often had solid boards or particle board in their shelving systems. Since the sprinkler heads are located up in the ceiling, this presented a huge potential danger. If a fire were to break out below, the solid wood shelving stopped the heat from rising and often kept it from triggering the proper sprinkler head. Even when the appropriate sprinkler head was activated, the solid shelving units could prevent water from falling directly on the fire. Fire codes were established to help rectify this situation by requiring that a shelf have a minimum 70% opening in order to allow heat to reach the sprinkler and thus, water to reach the fire. Openness in shelving units also allowed more light to flow into the facility and better visibility in a storage area also brings better safety.
Safety standards, and requirements have been set with numerous codes. The Inerim Specification for the Design, Testing and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks by the Rack Manufacturers Institute was adopted in the 1970’s by the American National Standards Institute and by the Uniform Building Code, which is the governing document for parts of the Midwestern states and for the western USA. These building codes are written with the assistance of structural engineers working together with building officials. They address technical items including design loads and seismic forces.
Safety standards in all areas of the storage and handling industry are strict. Manufacturers are always aware of the need to be prepared for any safety concerns ranging from seismic requirements in earthquake areas to regional building codes.
Storage and handling equipment is now a common necessity and commonly found outside of industrial warehouses. Due to a huge consumer demand, racking can now easily be found at large department stores and warehouse retailers like Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Sears and the Home Depot. The convenience of shelving and racking creates an atmosphere of organization and efficiency. Retailers are continually responding with a broader array of color options and feature designs with aesthetic appeal.
In the worldwide material handling operations, storage and handling equipment remains an essential component of meeting organization and storage needs. The variety of equipment continues to evolve along with the economy and the material handling industry remains ready to meet global storage concerns.

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