Racking 101 with Material Handling Expert Freeman Welch of Catalina Material Handling


Justin dives into racking 101 with material handling expert Freeman Welch of Catalina Material Handling. They talk about distribution buildings, what’s the transverse flue and how some systems work better than others.


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  • Business owners and their expansion – 2:27
  • Distribution buildings – 4:45
  • Right products and right situations for buildings – 28:05
  • Explaining about racking 101 – 33:39
  • What’s the transverse flue? – 36:19
  • Explaining how some systems work – 42:11
  • What you have to tell the inspector – 43:00
  • Looking for some expertise – 44:45
  • Some of the easiest things we can do – 45:33


Episode Resources


Company Bio

Catalina Material Handling is a one-stop provider of all professional services associated with racking, storage and material handling needs. Their portfolio includes clients such as General Mills, Toyota Motor Sales, and Agility Logistics, and spreads all across North America. For over 35 years, Catalina Material Handling’s turnkey solutions have resulted in customer’s optimizing profit and ROI, reducing risk, and increasing their operational efficiency.

Key Takeaways

  • An early conversation of the clients end goals are imperative to ensure they don’t experience a bottleneck in their operations after they have moved into their new building
  • Ask your partner about your prospective municipality’s fire requirements in advance
  • Drive aisle, forklift and speed bay sizing considerations are taken into account for each component of your warehouse
  • Being open to new ways of racking and material handling can often times yield higher efficiency and productivity
  • Water pressure, sprinkler line configurations, sprinkler heads, mezzanine use type, and concrete slab thickness are just the beginning of feasibility


Justin Smith, Senior Vice President with Lee & Associate’s Irvine office, spoke with Freeman Welch, District Sales Manager of Catalina Material Handling, to get his perspective on how the various components of racking come into play when clients are designing their new warehouses facilities and how to make the most of the design process.

At what point do executives generally reach out to you?

Business owners who have been around the block a few times in regards to expansion and warehouse design, know that it’s critical to consult a storage racking professional early on to design the most efficient system as well as meet local permitting requirements. Recurrently, this isn’t the case because business owners are expanding so rapidly that they either don’t have the warehousing knowledge or let important details slip through the cracks when occupying a new building. A new tenant will want to do certain things in their new space and all of a sudden somebody tells them, “Well, you can’t really do that yet.”

That’s when we get a call saying, “Hey, can you bail us out of this position?” Sometimes that’s not possible, but generally we’re able to find a way to help them. It may cost some extra money to do it, but we have the experience to make it work if the new tenant is willing to make it work.

As a racking consultant, we see business owners having the most difficulty meeting fire requirements. Being in Orange County, the difference between an Irvine building and an Orange building is significant as OCFA and City Fire Departments differ in their city requirements.

What is the process for analyzing a potential client’s needs?

Typically, we meet on site and observe how a client is currently storing their products. We note their pallet heights, their weights, their lift equipment being used, and the flow of their business. We try to educate them on why this information matters and why it applies to their building and storage. We are there to connect the dots in the warehouse for our client – what lift equipment is being used, what aisle width is required for the lift, how much storage capacity there is, how high can they go based on the sprinkler system, the commodity and weights, what’s the typical storage shelf life of a commodity – this is all imperative in coming up with a productive, efficient system for the client.

What you’ll see in a lot of clothing distribution is that they want to condense as much of their commodities into racking as possible. This usually results in the narrowest aisle possible. For that, they’re going to need a narrow aisle order picker which usually, depending on what size box they’re picking, will be an aisle anywhere from just over 4 feet up to 5.5 feet. The aisle could be 6 feet if they want that, but really, we like to go a bit narrower because the idea is that somebody on an aisle picker needs to reach either side and be able to pull without having to move the aisle picker. It’s most effectively used when combined with a wire guidance option. A wire guidance option allows them to move significantly faster which in turn allows them to pick and pull at a significantly faster pace as well as create a safer warehouse environment.

For 3PLs and other logistics company, space and pace equals dollar signs.  One of the most effective ways of densely storing pallets is through use of a turret style/swing reach forklift.  This style forklift allows storage to various heights but allows pallets to be stored in aisles as low as 6’.  This style forklift is most effectively used with wire guidance as well but is commonly operated without.

Now with a lot of the bigger buildings, the next real piece of equipment is the stand-up reach and counter balance forklifts. Most of the new buildings are built on 52’ column to column construction joints. These are meant to allow for 9’4” aisles for stand up reach and counter balance trucks.

The next step up is the sit down counter balance. Most of these machines are more on the heavy-duty side. They don’t generally go as high as the new stand up and reach counter balances, but they allow for heavier storage of commodities. I work with roofing companies that have 3,000lbs of basic roofing tar that sit on pallets. They’ve got heavy duty lift trucks that sometimes need up to 15-16’ aisle clearances.

Do you come up with a couple different options for layouts?

If a client already has a conceptual idea of how they want their warehouse laid out and they’re set on that and they say, “We’re doing it this way. This is how we do it at all of our other facilities all over the country. We’re sticking to it.” In that case, I will implement a first draft of racking into a site plan based on what type of lift they’re using, how high their racks can go, and how much turning radius they need. Then we’ll work with the client on a few more drafts to come up with the most efficient and productive setup possible. Essentially, they’ll give me their site plan, I’ll overlay their racking on it, ask them to cross out the areas where they don’t want rack, and have them send it back to me for revision. Once we’ve determined where they want the rack and how they want it to flow, then we will start coming up with what elevations make the most sense based on their pallet heights, dimensions and the flow of their business.

How often do you see people who handle their own programming?

It’s mostly when we see customers coming over from outside of California or, for example, they’ve had distribution in Texas forever and now they want to open up a western distribution center. A client may have specific procedures that they’ve operated with at older facilities that have been around for a while. They think it may be easier to mimic everything from over there over here, even if it means that they’re going to be giving up space or it might make things harder because they’re afraid of change. For the most part, when talking to us, clients have the idea that we know what we’re talking about. If someone’s really stuck on something, we’ll try to implement some ideas to help their efficiency. If they’re really stuck on their ways I’ll say “Alright, we’ll put it together for you and make it good for the city. That’s not our expertise, but we’ll do it for you.”

How does manufacturing differ from logistics and distribution?

A lot, especially with manufacturers storing raw materials that they’re using to build, they don’t require a ton of racking because, for the most part, they’re doing work from within and they want the racking on the outside. Therefore, we’ll design specific areas where they can store raw goods on pallet racks or longer materials on cantilever racks.

As I mentioned a little earlier in our conversation, companies involved with heavy distribution need to take up as much space vertically within a given area.  Since they are non-asset based, every space within a racking system primarily used for distribution means money to that company.  When we engage with these type of clients, it is important to account for business now as well as future growth.  It is common for us to design a layout with future phases to account for this.  Accordingly, when we can provide a client pallet position storage capabilities as early as the initial lease, it saves the broker and the client valuable time they could be wasting trying to determine if a building really is a good fit.

Sometimes a mezzanine can make a lot of sense to increase storage capabilities. I have a client that builds the fish and reptile aquariums for Petco. They have a whole pick and pull area we’re going to do a widespan mezzanine in. For some of these smaller areas where the client is just trying to create another level for small parts, pulling and packing and lightweight stuff, we’ll do a wide-span mezzanine that’s made up of 4 quadrants. There’s usually a column down the middle and then posts on the corners all seismically designed to withstand whatever is needed.

For non-sprinkler head buffs, what is the difference between K14 and K17?

The difference between K14 and K17 is the K Factor. The K factor can be determined by using an equation between gallons per minute, flow-rate, and pressure of force. K14 represents a K-factor of 200 while K17 represents a K-factor of 242. This K-factor is the discharge rate from the nozzle of the sprinkler.

K14s are basically obsolete. A K14 building may not meet the requirements needed to store over 20’. The K14 head can be found in bigger distribution buildings because that was the top of the line sprinkler head 15 to 20 years ago. Now, in most cases, buildings with K14 heads need K17 head replacements to get up over 20 feet. It has to do with the water that is released and the pressure behind it.

Have you seen people shift to taller than 32’ warehouse clearance?

Buildings are getting taller and taller.  As companies are growing, buildings are growing to meet these needs.  The advancements of forklift technology makes it possible to take advantage of these larger buildings. The lift equipment for this style of storage is very advanced with cameras, stability control, and the ability to reach deeper within racks than ever before. We are seeing some buildings as tall as 50’!

What is slab thickness and flatness?

We do all of our engineering based on minimum slab requirements: 5 inches to 2,500 psi. When the minimum slab won’t meet weight and seismic requirements, often in the higher seismic zones, we’ll need to justify the existing slab by using engineering through a slab uplift test. We’ll use a machine to confirm a given slab will withstand cracking on a 15,000 pound pull test.

When we can’t use a minimum slab to justify our weights and engineering, we’ll have to prove the existing slab.  Sometimes a plan checker have us do a concrete core test. In three different areas of the warehouse we’ll core out a piece of the concrete slab, take a picture of it, and then replace it again.

What are the two major sprinkler systems?

What you’ll see now a days is a CMDA (control mode/density area) or an ESFR (early suppression fast response). The CMDA system will discharge enough water to slow down the fire until the fire department actually gets there to put it out. ESFR is meant to actually put out the fire. The CMDA is more like a shower while the ESFR actually shoots out the water horizontally in order to cover a larger given area with that water.



For more information regarding this interview, please contact:

Justin Smith, SIOR

Senior Vice President