A common misperception relative to automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) is they are applicable only in high-rise buildings. “Traditionally they have been used mostly in these applications,” says Dan Labell, president of Westfalia Technologies Inc. in York, PA. “What many don’t realize is that this technology can fit nicely into an existing building that might be just 20-feet high.”
Labell notes that many automation providers focus on producing equipment to handle storing products only up to three pallets deep. “At Westfalia, we have the technology to store from one pallet deep to 12 pallets deep. Depending on the SKU mix of fast-, medium- and slow-movers, a high-density, low-bay automated warehouse system is very feasible in standard-height warehouses.” The technology is offered in using company’s Satellite rack entry vehicle, which is a component of the Storage/Retrieval Machine (SRM).
The Satellite is the enabler providing the dense storage system within an existing structure, explains Labell. “By going deeper with more dense storage capability, the system requires fewer aisles. The deeper the lanes are, the more quantity of pallets you have to have of the same SKUs in order for this to make sense. This generally is the case for food manufacturers, who are a major target market for us.”
Westfalia performs a thorough lane-depth analysis to ensure lane depths are properly sized for the application.
The Satellite handles any product that is palletized. It is a small, wheeled motorized cart residing on the vertical carriage of the SRM, explains Labell. An onboard computer directs the SRM to the precise x-y coordinate in the racking system, where the Satellite deposits the pallet it is carrying. It can travel into a storage lane for a distance of 50 feet – or the space required for a lane that is 12 pallets deep.
The SRM keeps track of where the Satellite is at all times and controls the unit’s motors as necessary. A conveying system—or Laser-Guided Vehicle (LGV)—is often used to move pallets to and from the ASRS, linking manufacturing or staging systems to the automation. This system was specifically designed to reduce vertical space required between storage levels, and can work in buildings from 15 feet high to 130 feet high.
Labell cites a food manufacturer customer who needed to increase its storage capacity by 50 percent. “They were considering building a new facility because the technology they were looking at was limited to going only two pallets deep. Having lots of aisles meant they were facing a major capital investment into lots of machines to be able to operate the facility optimally.”
The company learned the Satellite would provide the technology it required for its data considerations. “They were able to increase their capacity by 50 percent in their existing building, thus saving the expense of building a new facility,” Labell says.
“Say it was a $5 million expansion they were facing,” he continues. “They basically took that $5 million and invested it in automation, which means they now have an investment with an actual return. Had they built a new building, $5 million would have been required to build a structure to keep the weather out while increasing their operating cost. It all came down to deciding where they should spend their money—on brick and mortar or on automation.”
The food manufacturer’s existing building was 22 feet high, with about a dozen 14-foot-wide aisles. “Now they have far fewer aisles because the aisles required by our system are only about 5-feet wide and we only needed five of them,” reports Labell. “So right there was a huge gain in storage density for them.” Another benefit is the labor savings involved since the system does not require operators and can run 24/7 without lighting. “It is a very precise system, is reliable, doesn’t make mistakes, and has eliminated product damage.”
Myth # 4: Technologies like pick- and put-to-light are old school.
The first thing to understand in choosing the correct approach to applying technologies to a warehouse operation is to understand your customer’s intended goal, says Jerry Koch, director of corporate marketing and product management for Intelligrated Inc. in Mason, OH. “You also have to understand what your customer’s business drivers are. Only then can you go about solving the problem of which technology solution will be the most successful.”