When AS/RS Isn't For You
In spite of the gains that can be achieved from AS/RS, there are certain scenarios when it is not appropriate. One, says FKI's Matson, is in operations where pallets aren't of a standard size and quality. "If you don't have good pallet quality, it can be a big challenge," he says. "Also you want to make sure that the load is of good quality, otherwise it will cause problems with an AS/RS."
Distribution centers with low throughput operations are also poor candidates for AS/RS, says Ruehrdanz, as are those with an extreme variety in order fulfillment and storage.
If you have a peak season, AS/RS is likely not a good fit either, says Ostermeyer. "If you have a time of the year where you need to move things three times faster than normal, AS/RS probably won't work," he says.
Another inappropriate fit is when labor is plentiful and land is cheap-this leaves you without much justification. Also, if your company is in "survival" mode, you don't want to invest in AS/RS. "It's not the right time to make a long-term investment in a big asset," says Kotecki.
If the justification is there for an AS/RS, you still have to be careful to avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with it. For instance, says Ruehrdanz, sometimes "users don't understand their throughput requirements and may undersize or oversize their system."
Another mistake many AS/RS users make is not preparing culturally for the automation, says Kotecki. "You have to understand that there are responsibilities that come with the automation, such as maintenance," he points out. "But with proper coaching from your integrator and understanding from senior management, it can work out."
Ostermeyer warns of suppliers that might try to "force feed" all of a distibution center's SKUs into an AS/RS. "Do your due diligence and look at all your SKUs to know which ones are a fit," he says. "If you put them all into an AS/RS, you limit your flexibility."
Matson says that it's important also to keep clearance in mind. "Too often, the customer may have a system designed on the wrong clearance height and then find out that it won't fit," he says. "AS/RS needs more clearance than most people realize."
Finally, Witron's Sherman recommends watching how much technology you purchase. "There are some suppliers who will try to push too much of everything-too many cranes, too many conveyors and other ancillary equipment," he says.
The bottom line is that when done right and in the right application, AS/RS can do wonders for your operations. "AS/RS can be appropriate as a tool to increase your efficiency and reduce costs," says Kotecki. "It can also serve as an investment to improve customer service."
European 3PL Makes The Most Of AS/RS
One of the big advantages of AS/RS is its ability to handle rapid throughput of hundreds of SKUs. It was this fact that made the technology a good fit for Kloosterboer, a third-party logistics provider in the Netherlands.
Kloosterboer began originally as a wholesale vegetable business. Today, however, the company emphasizes warehousing, shipping, boat loading and customs for temperature-controlled items such as meat, dairy and potato products. The company also handles goods such as sugar, nuts and industrial products.
The company handles logistics for 350 customers from 30 different countries. It operates eight facilities throughout the Netherlands, Norway and the Faeroe Islands.
When potato products company Farm Frites selected Kloosterboer as its 3PL, the company was faced with new challenges. Kloosterboer needed to find a facility that was capable of storing 60,000 pallet positions, could handle throughput rates of up to 360 pallets an hour, and provide 100 percent traceability of all their products.
In order to provide these services cost-effectively, Kloosterboer needed to provide an automated warehouse for Farm Frites. One of the challenges Kloosterboer faced was the high cost of land in Europe. In addition, the company wanted a solution that would reduce the labor required to provide the high throughput required by the customer.
The company turned to York, PA-based Westfalia Technologies, a provider of automated storage solutions, to develop a concept that would fulfill Farm Frites' needs. Westfalia's satellite technology fit the bill and was installed in the Kloosterboer DC in 2003.