All product types face the challenge of obsolescence. Column spacing evolves, office and residential ceiling heights creep upwards (my thoughts on ceiling height here). Clear heights have continued to increase for state-of-the-art industrial product.
One interesting trend that has the potential keep outdated industrial product commercially relevant longer is the growing adoption of robotic picking systems. Lead by ecommerce fulfillment for companies like Diapers.com, Zappos, Crate&Barrel and others, retailers are exploiting robotic order picking from Kiva Systems. While the potential of robots to revolutionizing business ranks just below flying cars and supersonic passenger service in the annals of unfulfilled promise, there seems to be real traction and success with this iteration.
The Kiva Systems technology uses robots to bring shelves to a human picker who then selects the appropriate item. Crucially, the system doesn’t require the same clear heights - in fact the system doesn’t use multi-level racks well - enabling older industrial product to be used. The system is best suited to businesses with a high-number of slow to medium moving SKU’s. It will be interesting to watch how widespread the adoption of these systems will be.