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In both cases of steel and flexible polymer guardrails, the guardrails were deformed. In a sense, that’s fine (sort of) since both guardrails provide protection to the people, equipment, or facilities behind them. On the other hand, you can see that the rail system is broken. Let’s see how they match up in terms of form, function, and life cycle cost.

There are many reasons why a forklift guardrail may be damaged, and these reasons include direct or indirect impacts, quick or slow impacts, severe impacts, or superficial impacts. We should find the key difference between rigid and flexible track systems when the impact is immediate, rapid, and disruptive.

1. What are the Architectural Elements and Shapes?

The following are the architectural elements and shapes.

1) How are Steel Guardrails Built and How Do They Work?

Steel guardrails are the most widely used type of guardrail. It’s been around for decades and until a few years ago was the industry standard – the only option. The main components of a steel guardrail are square tubular steel columns (usually 3″x3″ or 4″x4″ and 42″ high for a dual rail system), base plate, and corrugated steel rails.

The strength and impact resistance mainly depend on the thickness of the steel used in the construction, the number of posts, and the number of rails. These rails can and do hold their own in the face of forklift shocks or other stresses.

2) Flexible Polyethylene Guardrails Flex with Impact

Polymer-based flexible barrier systems are installed in a similar manner to steel, except that the posts have double layers – the steel posts inside the round polymer posts, providing rigid protection using a special mounting system that joins the metal and polymer posts. The rails are attached by sliding them onto smaller-diameter tension-adjusting stakes that protrude from the sides of the polymer column pieces.

Steel Guardrails

2. How Do These Systems Handle Impact?

The following will tell you how these systems handle impact.

1) Rigid steel railing with high durability and rigidity, more economical

Steel guardrails are strong. It handles minor bumps and dents with ease. With more intense impacts, metal strength can lose resistance. A steel barrier prevents a moving vehicle from crashing through the barrier it provides unless it is hit so hard that the barrier cannot maintain its integrity.

You’ll see the steel deform from the impact of heavier, faster moves. It may need to be replaced in part or in whole and definitely needs a fresh coat of paint. These posts also need to be inspected for bends and possibly replaced.

Damage to anchor points and floor surfaces is key. There are stresses at the anchor holes as the steel guardrail absorbs all the impact and transfers it to the floor. Over time the floor will take damage until at some point it gives way and the guardrail is destroyed on the next impact.

A site audit of the facility showed some anchors were so badly damaged that you could swing the posts back and forth freely. Situations like these are dangerous accidents waiting to happen. Whenever there is a collision severe enough to replace a railing or post, the anchors need to be carefully inspected for damage.

2) The flexible polymer guardrail is not rigid, it must rely on elasticity when impacted

Polyethylene guardrails are durable in several ways. It will not show scratches and dents as easily as the color will go all the way through the poly sheet. Polymers are forgiving in collisions. Small impacts simply bounce back to their original shape immediately. Because of this elastic mass, it flexes under heavier impacts, absorbing and deflecting all the energy of a collision instead of transferring it to the anchor point.

The guardrail bends as much as possible to dissipate the energy of the impact, then returns to its original shape. Plus, the anchor points on the base plate are less impacted by absorbing impact, meaning your rail will last longer overall. Like all guardrails, flexible systems have points of failure.

Flexible Polyethylene Guardrails

3. What are the Costs and Return on Investment?

The following are the costs of steel guardrails and flexible polymer guardrails.

1) Steel and rigid systems are less expensive, but maintenance and replacement costs can be higher

Steel guardrails range in price depending on quality, configuration, and construction. It is important to keep in mind the load weight, forklift speed, and traffic density of any guardrail you plan to install. There is a higher risk of hitting and damaging the guardrail when traffic is faster, heavier, and more crowded. Heavy traffic patterns such as these require heavy guardrails.

For light loads or speeds, less solid guardrails or handrails should be fine. There are no defined impact standards for the guardrail industry, but we can help you specify the proper railing system for your application.

You may have to replace guardrail sections from time to time due to collisions or deal with damaged floors and anchor points more frequently. However, considering the cost difference, steel systems are less expensive to replace than polysilicon systems.

2) Guardrails that are flexible absorb more impact and require less maintenance and replacement

Flexible polymer guardrails are more expensive than steel guardrails. The return on investment accumulates over time as you suffer less rail damage and spend less money on replacement parts and floor repairs. If you already have steel fencing, you should have a good idea of what kind of outlay you’re going through (it could be little, it could be a lot).

You can reduce this number by using a flexible system. The entire guardrail is yellow so no painting is required. A flexible system tends to lower the total cost of ownership over time. In general, the heavier the load, the faster the speed, and the more expensive it is to replace or repair, the stronger the case for a flexible system.

A mix of the two systems may be used in areas of high traffic and affected areas, with polygonal tracks installed in the most commonly affected areas.

What are the Costs and Return on Investment

4. Conclusion

It comes down to your needs and your situation. Both the Steel Guard and Flexible Poly systems are excellent for the right application – and a good fit. Both function to protect personnel, inventory, and machinery.

  • While steel railing doesn’t absorb as much impact, it is less expensive and is very effective protection.
  • Flexible polygon rails are more expensive but don’t transmit nearly as much force to forklifts, rails, columns, and floors.
  • Both types have their place in the forklift safety layout.

If you are not sure, please contact us. We’ll help you plan your layout and provide you with specs and cost comparisons to help you decide. We’ll answer your questions, provide advice, and help you specify and install the right solution for your needs.

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