Material Handling
Thursday | 10 October, 2019 | 11:23 am

Turning a key

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: When a customer puts up a building, CH Steel Solutions will help specify the racks, get the permits and supply the sideloader.

Racking systems help metal distributors get up to code or expand

October 2019 - There are numerous questions to think over when trying to design, and then fill, space to hold inventory and how to move the inventory in and out efficiently. How long or tall should each rack be? How much weight can each pocket hold? How wide should the aisles be? What kind of mobile machinery is required to handle the material without damaging it?

CH Steel Solutions Inc., based in North Canton, Ohio, is able to help metals companies ask the right questions and develop results that work.

“We do turnkey racking systems for metal service centers. We do dozens of them per year,” says Ken Ertel, president of CH Steel Solutions.

MM 1019 materials image1

“We have racks using structural tubing, structural steel and roll-formed steel,” says CH Steel Solutions President Ken Ertel.

“My uncle, Chandler Holmes, started the business in 1979. He was a mill rep for Cressona aluminum and Bull Moose Tube. He worked on the West Coast. He had a chance meeting with Palmer ‘Ed’ Shile [for whom a specific type of racking is named] at SSCI. They became friends,” says Ertel. Over the years, Ertel’s uncle purchased racking and storage assets from various manufacturers; he outsourced components, too, and was able to develop a turnkey package. Vendors include Unarco, Detroit Tooling, Clymer Manufacturing, Ross, Frazier, Combilift and others.

CH Steel Solutions often works with brand-new spaces. “When a customer has a building going up, we will help specify the racks, get the permits and supply the sideloader. The customer does not have to do any of that. They walk in, put their metal away and start working,” Ertel says.

But three-quarters of CH Steel Solutions’ business consists of retrofitting or adding new bays to existing service centers.

“A lot of times we are talking about un-engineered, un-rated racking that is decrepit,” Ertel says. “There is so much of that, and it is a tremendous liability. It’s stuff that ‘Joe and his brother’ welded together back in the 1950s. We have to get the facility safe and to code.

“Most such systems were not load rated for safety. We don’t know the history of the material used to build them or how qualified the welding is that was done. Many of our customers want to replace that with safe racking. Safety is the No. 1 priority with our customers so we are seeing more and more retrofits.”

MM 1019 materials image2

Standards variations

According to Ertel, there is no unified standard local code for material handling racks. “It’s different from California to Florida, New York, Ohio or Canada. Standards tend to get more strict with seismic involvement, especially on the West Coast. Most municipalities have to issue a permit. Most of the time, it’s also a fire department issue with exits and sprinklers. From one municipality to the next, it’s different. So a lot of legwork goes into that.”

CH Steel Solutions outsources the engineering work and then uses the blueprints when obtaining permits. For example, with high pile: “In a stacker rack, you have to get a high pile permit in some jurisdictions. It can be very complicated,” says Ertel. “But we make it our business to navigate that, with the help of outside resources. We know how to get a high pile permit.”

He cites Los Angeles County as one of the most stringent for permitting. “From experience, we know the paperwork, and which engineering service to use. We do a lot of work in the Pacific Northwest as well and we know what they expect. But in Boise, Idaho, for example, it may take more learning.”

MM 1019 materials image3

Fabrication, installation

CH Steel Solutions contracts racking builds with several major manufacturers. “We have racks using structural tubing, structural steel and roll-formed steel. We tell the manufacturers what we need, and they use our specs,” says Ertel.

“We use our own engineering source to pass the seismic compliance tests. When we are in California, we use a specific firm for seismic compliance. It is a long-term partnership. There is another firm specializing in engineering standards, based in Tennessee, that we use as well.”

When hired to install racking systems in new facilities, the company is typically ready before the building is. Lead times depend heavily on permitting and construction schedules and less on how fast a system can be fabricated.

“Right now, I have a running job that should have been up by Aug. 1, but it has been delayed to November because the location is in a boom town.” That means there was a shortage of skilled construction tradespeople to complete the building so CH Steel can install its rack system.

“That is an exception, though,” says Ertel. “Usually, from start to finish, we can provide eight-week to 16-week lead times. We have crews, independent contractors, that work exclusively for us. A crew in Florida manages installations from Texas to the Carolinas. An Ohio-based crew manages the Northeast and Midwest. And a separate company subcontracts on the West Coast.”

MM 1019 materials image4

Lead times depend heavily on permitting and construction schedules and less on how fast a system can be fabricated.

Material sources

“We are very intent on buying as much material from customers as possible. If we are putting racks up for a customer, we tell that customer, ‘Here is what we need: this much angle iron, this many plates, etc.’ We ask, ‘Can you supply it?’ Then we’ll build and install,” says Ertel.

“They often say, ‘Just give us the part list and take that off our bill.’ We encourage customers to save money by supplying raw material for the racking systems from their own inventory when possible. It saves money and it’s a win-win.”

Ertel credits his late uncle, the company founder Chandler Holmes, for that business practice.

“The customers love it. When I have a new account and I suggest that, they ask, ‘You would really do that?’ We prefer it. They supply materials at their own cost.”

CH Steel Solutions has worked with select customers for decades. “Our first order was with a major service center in 1979, and we have been doing business with them ever since. At that time, they had only six warehouses. There are a lot of customers we have worked with for 30 years and more. But we are actively seeking and selling to new customers and growing.”

MM 1019 materials image5

The mobile equipment portion of material handling systems will be fully automated very soon. In addition, workstations will all be talking to each other.


Most customers now use digital technology. For example, the minute the order is entered, it travels to several pertinent departments electronically. “I often see a salesperson come out of the office and go straight to a sideloader, because he knows that’s where the order is, and tell the driver, ‘Hey, I need that order back, to change it.’

Automation, especially in terms of sawing and other metal cutting processes, is much more prevalent now. “The machines run themselves, and you’ll see that with racking systems, too. In some places, you can have a forklift or sideloader with levels of rack arms programmed and the operator just pushes a button. The sideloader will do that and more already.”

The mobile equipment part of material handling systems will be automated within a short timespan, Ertel predicts. That necessitates workstations at the saws, at order filling or at the leveling line. “They will soon all talk to each other. That is well under way.”

From a racking standpoint, he says, “We have to be cognizant about when we install a system, that it will soon be fully automated. There is huge interest in that, and we are part of it.”

CH Steel Solutions is able to accommodate an order for a one-rack system or to rack a 500,000-square-foot or larger warehouse. “But if you need only one replacement rack arm, we’ll sell it to you. Some of our best customers are people that began with a small warehouse. Then they grew, and we are still working with them years later.” MM


Company Profiles





Camfil APC - Equipment


ATI Industrial Automation

4GL Solutions

Enmark Systems Inc. 

Camfil APC- Replacement Filters Lissmac Corp. NICKEL ALLOY Lantek Systems Inc.
Supermax Tools
Sandmeyer Steel Company SigmaTEK Systems LLC



Richardson Metals, Inc.






Churchill Steel Plate
Steelmax Tools LLC




   Trilogy Machinery Inc. Sandmeyer Steel Company Heyco Metals



Sandmeyer Steel Company



Trilogy Machinery Inc.




Alliance Steel
Burghardt + Schmidt Group MC Machinery Systems Inc. Rolleri USA North American Steel Alliance
Butech Bliss TRUMPF Inc.



Red Bud Industries


MC Machinery Systems Inc.

Sandmeyer Steel Company

The Bradbury Group EMH Crane



Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc. Hougen Manufacturing BLM Group


Steel Storage Systems


HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.
Concast Metal Products Co.
UFP IndustrialUFP Industrial Advanced Machine & Engineering  National Tube Supply

Copper and Brass Servicenter Association

Farmers Copper

Prudential Stainless & Alloys


Behringer Saws Inc.


Advanced Gauging Technologies Cosen Saws Barton International


DoALL Sawing Products Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
Cincinnati Inc. HE&M Saw Omax Corp.
  LVD Strippit Savage Saws


  Scotchman Industries


Jarden Zinc Products
  Trilogy Machinery Inc. Admiral Steel  
    Alliance Steel  

TPMG2022 Brands