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Industrial Guardrail Comparison: Steel Guardrail vs Flexible Guardrail

Critical asset protection is critically important for any business. Protecting your people, products and places should be the most important safety and production goal, as, without proper protection, operations will come to a halt. That’s why investing in the highest quality, forklift guarding protection is key for any facility or warehouse. 

Question is, which industrial guardrail is the best option on the market for your warehouse protection needs? 

While there are plenty of options on the market, the two that are the most popular are the up and coming Flexible Guardrails and the tried and true Steel Guardrails. But which one is the right fit for your critical assets and areas? 

Let us help you out by comparing Steel Guardrails and Flexible Guardrails: 

Steel Guardrail 

Ideal Shield's Industrial Guardrail lining heavy machinery in an automotive facility

Ideal Shield’s Industrial Guardrail lining heavy machinery in an automotive facility

Tried and trusted, Steel Guardrails have been used at plants and facilities all around the world for decades.

It began with Highway Guardrail (the original flexible guardrail) being the go-to guard rail for facilities in the ’80s but those galvanized w-beams and posts are designed to keep cars on the road, not to stop forklifts and pushcarts from damaging critical assets. That is when more facility-focused, shop floor guardrail was introduced in the late ’80s and early ’90s with the traditional Steel Guardrail with horizontal corrugated steel rails. However, that style of guardrail has shown throughout the years that it can quite easily be bent or destroyed when impacted by a forklift:

With Highway Guardrail designed for, you guessed it, the highways and roadways, and Corrugated Rail not being able to withstand hits from a forklift, facility managers all over the country were looking for a reliable piece of guardrail that will both protect its critical assets and hold strong while doing it. 

That is why Ideal Shield introduced its Steel Pipe and Plastic Sleeved Guardrail in 1992 that immediately set itself apart as the industry’s strongest Steel Guardrail and most affordable critical asset protection option. 

Ideal Shield Heavy Duty Industrial Guardrail

Ideal Shield Heavy Duty Industrial Guardrail guarding a fall area at a warehouse loading dock.

Like the Flexible Guardrail, the Ideal Shield’s Steel Guardrail requires zero maintenance and can be installed quickly without on-site welding. But unlike the Flexible Guardrail, the Steel Pipe Guardrail can hold up to any climate inside or outside of your facility as it can withstand temperatures ranging from -40° to 210° degrees. That means everything from freezer rooms and winter conditions to boiler rooms and desert-like climates is in play. 

Multiple installation options (Base Plate, Cored-In, or Core & Drop) will give the customer more options for their install as either system will result in full stopping power upon impact. That could be a quick hit, indirect bump or a full-speed (8 mph) collision with a full-sized, 12,000 lbs. to 20,000 lbs. forklifts. The Ideal Shield guardrail will give a little to cushion the blow but is designed to stop the impact as it will hold strong even after multiple hits.

The Steel and Plastic Sleeved Guardrail is also available in several different facility-focused designs, including Standard Warehouse Guardrail, Heavy-Duty Industrial Guardrail, Pallet Rack Guards, Overhead Door and Dock Door Goal Posts, and Safety Wall Guard Systems

Ideal Shield's Wall Guardrail System

Ideal Shield’s Wall Guardrail System for extended and vertical warehouse protection 

The Steel Guardrail being sturdy and non-flexible has both its pros and cons. With the immediate stop upon impact, forklifts can experience more damage while, at higher speed collisions, the risk of driver injury is possible because of potential whiplash. However, the strength of the guardrail and the limited deflection means more well-protected assets and more floor space around the facility as the guardrail can be installed within inches of the critical asset or area. 

Made of Schedule 40 and Schedule 80 steel pipe, sleeved in plastic will also mean a heavier guardrail. This may cause shipping rates may be a bit higher than a lighter guardrail option but with the product actually being made and manufactured here in the United States and the savings that will be made on the cost of the product, overall this is the much more cost-effective guardrail system. 

Flexible Guardrail 

Photo Credit: ASafe

Longline of A-Safe’s Flexible Guardrail system

Flexible Guardrail is an innovative polymer-based flexible guard rail system that is designed to give and flex when impacted by a pushcart or forklift to limit the impact damage and redirect the vehicle. Most of the flexible guardrails on the market have a modular design with hidden hardware to provide rigid protection to give the barrier and facility a clean, safe look. 

The Flexible Guardrail is shock absorbent and will receive the impact when a driver hits the railing, causing little to zero damage to the forklift upon impact, making the collision less impactful on the driver and the forklift itself. The rail is designed to flex more on heavier impacts, absorbing and deflecting the energy of the collision to the anchor posts. This works best for low-speed impacts. However, depending on the manufacturer, the give of the rail can also cause the guardrail to be deformed after more impactful hits and has shown the ability to break after full-sized forklift collisions or multiple hits. 

Flexible guardrail forklift crash test

McCue’s Flexible Guardrail showing it’s flexing capabilities during a 2 mph forklift crash test (click image for video)

Flexibility is great for limiting impact on both the forklift and the driver but it is not exactly a do-everything guardrail system. 

One of the main issues that come with the flexibility is that the guardrail will now have to be installed further away from the critical asset it’s protecting, which cuts down on floor space through the warehouse, facility or plant. It’s also a bit of a gamble for the forklift drivers as they are now relying on the flexible rail to hold up and not give out when contacted by full-sized forklifts. With a gamble like that, using flexible guardrail on edges of loading docks or other fall areas, or around critical assets, maybe much too big of a risk to take for any business owner or facility manager. 

With the new technology and materials being used on the Flexible Guardrails, a much higher price should also be expected for the consumer. Add in the product coming from overseas (for most manufacturers) and the overall price of the product (plus shipping) will cost a pretty penny. 

So, this comparison really comes down to a matter of price, preference, and protection.

If you’re looking for the more costly, sexier guardrail that may only see limited amounts of heavy forklift contact, the Flexible Guardrail may be a good fit. But if you’re looking for more stopping power, reliability, and a more cost-effective solution to your critical asset protection needs, give Ideal Shield a call today to learn more about the wide array of Steel Guardrail options available.