Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) can help improve food and beverage warehousing companies by quickly moving high volumes of products and increasing visibility in the warehouse. The added benefit of energy efficiency, more strategic use of labor, and improved supply chain velocity are making the case for AS/RS even more compelling.
Industry experts have noticed a high turnover rate for employees, particularly in freezer applications. “People don’t want to work in frozen environments,” says Bill Leber, business development, warehouse & distribution solutions, of Swisslog, headquartered in Newport News, Virginia. “They tend to be less accurate in frozen environments.” Warehouse employees are also less likely to stay inside of a freezer environment in comparison to a regular warehouse environment due to employees needing to take periodic breaks in order to warm up.
The concept of creating a blended warehouse with manual labor and AS/RS is also gaining traction, especially in the U.S. A blended approach can help food and beverage companies address issues that may be occurring in the warehouse while decreasing the initial cost of the automation equipment.
At the same time, environmental initiatives for most companies are becoming more important as a way to mitigate energy consumption and trim costs.
“Automated systems are designed to streamline operational flow to optimize product movement in the warehouse,” says Pete Hartman, president of Victor, New York-based Retrotech. “By reducing unnecessary product movement, it reduces the amount of energy used to move that product.”
Despite the upfront investment, AS/RS can generate various benefits for a range of food and beverage companies.
Easy to integrate
Automated storage and retrieval systems have become more dependable and better integrated with warehouse management systems and warehouse control systems in recent years. They are also becoming more adaptable in traditional warehouses. And, AS/RS provides an immediate solution for food and beverage companies and warehouse operators who are looking to free up additional floor space.
“Using AS/RS saves a tremendous amount of floor space in a building,” notes Sean O’Farrell, market development director of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Dematic Corporation. “Accuracy increases as well because once AS/RS takes a load away they will be assigned a position within the storage racks and they’ll retrieve it without any errors, as long as it was labeled properly.”
Another advantage of utilizing AS/RS is to gain real time visibility into warehouse inventory—knowing what product is available and where it’s located. Increased visibility makes it possible to reduce the amount of days-on-hand (DOH) inventory, which helps keep perishables from spoiling, in turn keeping costs in check and customers happy.
“If [managers] can turn the inventory quicker, they can reduce the days-on-hand [and] extend the shelf life of the product,” says O’Farrell.
Choosing the right equipment
There are various systems in the marketplace that can assist in creating a more efficient environment in the warehouse, but which is right for your company? If creating a greener warehouse environment while simultaneously moving food and beverage products in a timely manner is the goal, then York, Pennsylvania-based Westfalia has an AS/RS that deserves a look.
Westfalia’s High-Density AS/RS, which has the ability to store 2 to 12 pallets (or containers) deep, has a low impact on the environment. The system can help save a food or beverage company up to 30 percent in energy costs associated with refrigerated warehouses. Their equipment also utilizes a first in/first out (FIFO) method, which is extremely beneficial for perishable products.
Earlier this year, Germantown, Wisconsin-based Gehl Foods, Inc. expanded their order processing procedures with the use of Westfalia’s High-Density AS/RS, while remaining in their existing 22’ high warehouse.