Higher production and efficiencies, lower operational and labor costs, and a smaller real-estate footprint might sound like a tall order, but this is exactly what automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) deliver.
Amazing technologies are the drivers of these dynamic facilities, displaying the marvels of 21st-century engineering, which offers operators reduced worker safety problems, less product damage and increased customer service levels through accurate deliveries.
The Magic Aisle
What if you were to go shopping and had to visit only one aisle where all the products you needed were waiting for you? "This is what companies are looking for in both piece and case picking, which we call product-to-person picking," says Rob Schmit, vice president of the automation and systems division of SSI Schaefer Systems International, Charlotte, NC. "They want the person consolidating an order to visit only those locations that are active for that particular order. This means you need powerful technology behind such a highly efficient system."
Crane technology drives such systems, along with pick-to-light, pick-to-voice and screen applications. "What you are doing is getting this system to do multiple things simultaneously," continues Schmit. "So you are using it for order optimization, replenishment and other optimizations, cutting out transports because of the automatic three-dimension functionality. While the crane does the walking, workers can utilize their time for higher-efficiency picking."
The main advantages of ASRS installations include maximum cube utilization, precision accuracy, greater efficiency and the capability of throughput sustainability, notes Schmit. "You can go higher with less tolerances and clearances. Significant contributors to the sale for such a system are the frozen and temperature-controlled environments because of the lower cost of real estate since the building envelope can be much smaller."
ASRS systems are often used in higher buildings, thereby decreasing overall building costs, adds Pieter Feenstra, of Swisslog Australia. "A manual storage facility is normally eight to 12 meters high, while ASRS systems can go up to 40 meters high, which means these systems are the solution in areas where square meters are expensive or scarce."
Because there are few human touch-points necessary, the chance of errors is almost non-existent. "With conventional systems, you need a lot of labor touching your products which can lead to errors," says Schmit.
Feenstra adds: "Mechanized systems are more accurate with higher stock reliability. For this reason, safety stock figures can be lower, which means storage costs will be reduced."
Automated systems run and keep running, so companies will have a constant pace of products coming in and going out, notes Schmit. "Manual operations can have many interruptions which reduce overall throughput."
ASRS installations connected to production facilities running multiple shifts can expect good paybacks, says Feenstra. "A storage system operating eight-hour days for five days won't receive decent payback on labor costs alone. But 24-hour operations can reduce labor costs significantly."
Automation's higher efficiencies benefit workers. "We're creating better ergonomic environments, which leads to higher retention rates," adds Schmit.
Perfect For Cold Environments
Customers want solutions that wrap around ASRS technologies, says Mike Khodl, director of supply chain services for Dematic, NA, Grand Rapids, MI. "What's new in the industry is coupling goods-to-man picking environments with ASRS technologies, particularly in the freezer environment."
Picking stations are located on docks outside of harsh freezer environments where temperatures are about 38 degrees. "This is much easier on workers and requires a level of automation and software to track the order composition and order execution system appropriately."