“Going green” and “sustainability goals” are buzzwords that are entering the lexicon of the operational efficiency discussion, no matter the industry. This is true for the warehouse industry as well. But, the experts note that the primary concerns are operational efficiency, optimal throughput and labor cost containment.
Peter McCarthy, CEO of PAS-Americas in Rolling Meadows, IL, reports that he has seen an evolution in how sustainability goals are perceived. “Initially, it wasn’t on people’s radar. As they paid attention to the concept, they weren’t really sure why they were doing so. Today, there is an attempt to monetize sustainability concerns and I think companies realize the only true way to increase profitability is to develop sustainable solutions within their own buildings—and that this results in true cost savings.”
ASRS solutions provide operating efficiencies resulting in green initiatives, especially in cold storage and freezer applications, notes Keith Berres, executive sales manager for SSI Schaefer in Charlotte, NC. “These facilities require a much smaller footprint while providing far more storage in the same amount of area. Convention warehouses are around 40-feet high, while cold storage facilities can reach heights of 120 feet—so you are talking about a three-to-one footprint improvement, which requires less energy to operate.”
Laura Worker, marketing manager for Westfalia Technologies Inc. in York, PA would agree. “I have to say that most of our discussions with customers are not totally focused on sustainability. It’s more a situation of by the way, in addition to saving you money on building space, electricity, and operational benefits, these systems are less harmful to the environment. For example, by reducing electricity consumption, fewer natural resources are used and that is an added benefit.”
A broader perspective on all business processes as they impact the operation over the long term is helpful for customers, notes Bill Leber, director of business development for Swisslog in Newport News, VA. “As you develop a longer view, you consider things like life-cycle costs of your input, energy efficiency, and other cost factors that may be more subtle but that really compound over the long term.”
Leber adds that many companies don’t consider life-cycle costs relative to a payback period for their investments. “They should think of investments as improving the infrastructure of their business and as an investment in their strategic future, versus the short-term savings they might be considering.”
People managing the supply chain are sincere in their attempt to be sustainable, notes Mike Kotecki, senior vice president for Dematic in New Berlin, WI. “However, the economy and the competitive marketplace being what they are, if there is no true ROI and a tangible financial or operational reward for being sustainable, it is a very difficult sell in the board room.” He adds that might be changing because of the implications of being a green company relative to the company’s image. “I think what is actually happening is warehouses are coming to companies like Dematic saying they have a project for which the ROI is based on reducing labor and improving product quality and customer service—and if they can be sustainable along the way, so much the better.”
We talked to some of the leading providers of ASRS solutions to discover what’s new and how these automated solutions can help companies achieve their sustainability goals by operating more efficiently and cost effectively.
High-Bays In Deep-Freeze
Convenience and necessity are driving frozen food sales, causing managers of deep-freeze warehouses to optimize receiving and retrieving frozen food products. ASRS solutions can maximize space utilization, improve energy efficiency, and improve inventory and order fulfillment accuracy, states Leber at Swisslog. “The No. 1 advantage using an ASRS in these environments is being able to use a cube building design, opposed to the basic rectangle design. With less surface area than a rectangle, cube designs warm up a lot slower. Automation can produce between 20 percent to 40 percent reduced refrigeration costs in a frozen environment.”