Technology: AS/RS

Improving Efficiency In Cold Storage Warehouses With AS/RS


“We had been building new storage freezers every couple of years since we started the business,” says Joe Maas, JTM’s vice president of operations. “We were getting tired of the same size and type of storage freezers, so this last time we built a really big one, with 10,000 pallet locations, so that it would have take care of our needs for many years. We were operating with two 700-pallet storage freezers and using outside storage and wanted to increase our efficiency by consolidating the freezers into one space and manage all inventory internally on location at the plant.

“Taking up land space was another problem that we were trying to overcome,” continues Maas. “Another is that freezers are quite expensive to build and operate, so we wanted to minimize aisle space. Aisles are dead space; no product is stored in aisles. We tried to come up with ways to minimize aisle cubic footage so to maximize pallet positions, and make it more reasonable to build.

“One of the problems with freezers is fork lifts driving right through the door,” explains Maas. “Not only do fork lifts let out a tremendous amount of cold air from the freezer, they also create a lot of damage to the racking, doors and product. So another goal of mine was to get rid of fork lifts on my entire shipping and receiving docks. I wanted to design a freezer that was as efficient as possible, and operated by as few people as possible. I looked extensively, then found the automated pallet storage and retrieval system.”

The roof square footage with an AS/RS is small, Maas says. “Most of our heat gain is going to occur in the roof, so the AS/RS design minimizes that. It has a single extremely narrow five-foot wide aisle, as opposed to several 12-foot wide aisles on non-AS/RS freezers. Also, there are no large doors that open. The doors are smaller, and they only open when product needs to go in and out, and only as long as necessary to take in a pallet, then it shuts immediately behind, it is all automated. The door is only the size of the pallet.

“Our AS/RS doors are six feet high and four feet wide, and when the product is passing through the door it blocks air from getting out. Then the door shuts immediately. A standard freezer with a fork lift has an eight-foot by 10-foot opening and the door closes sometime after the truck passes through, but slowly, releasing a lot of cold air,” says Maas.

DOUBLE-LOAD PALLET HANDLING

JTM selected Grand Rapids, MI-based Dematic Corp. to design and build the storage retrieval system, including control software, racking and conveying equipment.

Dematic designed the system with a unique double-load remote pallet handling device which can carry two pallets at a time, instead of the classic AS/RS machine that typically handles one pallet at a time. When JTM’s storage retrieval machine picks up loads that are coming out of manufacturing it loads up two pallets at a time and then puts away two pallets at a time, which decreases the cycle time of the machine and increases throughput.

When the pallet is on the load handling device it is carried off the AS/RS machine into the rack. It performs a function called deep lane storage. When that AS/RS machine runs up and down the aisle, on one side it can handle four-deep pallet storage lanes, and on the other side it can handle eight pallet-deep storage lanes. A conventional AS/RS machine only goes one-, two- or three-pallets deep, using a fork attached to the machine, because that is the maximum it can reach. But with the Dematic drive-off remote, it can run a pallet 30 feet off into the eight-deep side and drop it into storage, and then return back to the AS/RS machine.

“JTM can do an entire production run of hamburger patties that are all the same lot, the same SKU, for example,” says Mike Khodl with Dematic. “So, they can store eight pallets deep and still access the same lot number, the same run of product.”

“One of the key aspects of the project was that Dematic designed the order picking stations outside of the freezer environment,” continues Khodl. “That has really helped on turnover with people doing that job before in the freezer.”

“Dematic also integrated StagingDirector, for inventory management and pallet movement with the AS/RS, part of the Dematic WCS (Warehouse Control System) IT Suite,” explains Khodl. “When JTM gives StagingDirector an order, it knows where it stored that palletized SKU, goes in and gets it, and brings it out to a workstation. JTM personnel then pick off the cases they need to fulfill the order, the pallet goes back into the system, and it knows where it put it again. It knows how many cases are left on that pallet after they pick the cases off. This information then ties in with JTM’s order management system.”

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