Four Considerations When Choosing an ASRS Vendor
By: Dan Labell, Contributor
In recent years, there has been an increased interest in automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), a modern warehousing solution that uses automation to safely and efficiently store and retrieve palletized products within a rack structure in a warehouse. In fact, the ASRS market is growing at a rapid pace, as it’s expected to hit $27.68 billion by 2027, up from $18.03 billion recorded in 2021. Companies from a wide variety of industries see the array of benefits warehouse automation technology offers them. From environmental sustainability to long term growth, an ASRS is a clear advantage in any warehouse or distribution center (DC).
While there are many ASRS vendors to choose from, businesses need to ensure that their investment will result in both short- and long-term gains. Investing in an ASRS hosts a plethora of benefits including:
- Labor savings: The U.S. warehousing sector has 53.7% more workers on payroll today than it did five years ago. This hiring frenzy is putting stress on the industry as it struggles to employ and keep employees in the current economic climate. However, an ASRS mitigates this issue to a large extent as it accomplishes more with far fewer employees. As a result, the overall costs to hire, train, pay and retain employees is greatly reduced, and the dependence on the warehousing labor pool is relieved.
- Space savings: A major reason businesses upgrade their warehouse operations with automation is due to the significant space savings an ASRS offers. In cases where additional space is immediately needed – or there is a projected future need, an ASRS is an especially attractive option due to the utilization of vertical space. An ASRS can reach heights of up to 140 ft high, maximizing the space of an existing property, or allowing for the use of a smaller building footprint. When compared to a conventional warehouse with the same product inventories, an ASRS can reduce operational square footage of the building by as much as 200-400%, depending on its height and density, and oftentimes eliminates the need for offsite product storage.
- Increased throughput: When compared to manual labor, an ASRS makes a significant difference, increasing throughput and lowering costs in the process. Automation is much faster and more accurate, there are less costs associated with product damage, and the facilities are much more organized once the ASRS is in place. All these things work together to have a direct impact on profit, workflow and overall efficiency.
- Energy saving: For a number of reasons, automated warehouses need less energy to function. Due to the immense space savings, energy savings naturally follow in the form of less cooling, heating and lighting. And in the case of businesses requiring refrigeration or freezing of products, an ASRS can save as much as 30% on energy bills.
While the benefits of an ASRS are undeniable, true benefits will be reaped with the right vendor. Here are four considerations when choosing the right ASRS partner:
- High quality ensures high availability
- The details matter when designing equipment that is supposed to handle 24/7 duty cycles. Precision workmanship, quality of parts, and general sizing of components such as bearings, hardened sprockets, gears, etc. can significantly affect mean time between failures and associated operating costs. Software stability and associated architecture is vital to allow all PLC controlled equipment from multiple vendors to communicate and behave reliably in a production environment. This may by far be the highest risk factor to consider when exploring large, centralized automated systems.
- Local manufacturing
- An ASRS is built using many materials and components, and the sourcing of these can be problematic when originating from many different locations. Vertical integration provides more control over supply chains, standardization initiatives, and purchase volumes, and in some cases, U.S. manufactured products reduce the risk of global events negatively affecting deliveries. In-sourcing will become more prevalent, as risks of controlling one’s destiny are weighed in the boardroom. This regionality is also essential for long-term customer support, with parts and other maintenance issues being sourced and produced locally. Find an ASRS vendor with strong ties to their community, and those ties are often reflected in local business support, including procurement, labor availability and labor retention.
- Aftermarket services
- A well-equipped aftermarket services team provides real-time and preventive maintenance, as well as training and implementation support. Aftermarket services deliver the knowledge needed to stay ahead of today’s challenges and provide best practices when transitioning and maintaining automated systems. More importantly. however, is a preemptive approach to maintenance. Traditionally, warehouses undergo quarterly or annual inspections on their equipment, predetermined by a date circled on the calendar. If a maintenance issue comes up in the meantime, it can lead to significant downtime, especially if the service team has to travel across the country to do so. This reactive strategy is financially burdensome, disruptive to your team, and requires a large amount of work in a very short timeframe. Lean and recurring maintenance means shorter downtimes with little to no impact on operations. Find an automation vendor with a local or regional service team that performs regular maintenance and inspections so large-scale downtime rarely occurs.
- Total control with a WES
- It is well known that software applications like warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse control systems (WCS) help move products more efficiently, provide inventory control, and improve order fulfillment accuracy. However, without seamless integration of these systems, more time and resources are used to support them individually. Warehouse automation is only as good as its software; therefore, businesses looking to implement an ASRS should seek one that is controlled with a warehouse execution system (WES). Featuring both WMS and WCS functionalities, a good WES simplifies processes like inventory and order management and can integrate with existing ERPs. A WES improves product traceability, reduces recalls, provides total inventory control, and will manage the movement of automation equipment reliably.
When it comes to implementing an ASRS, for most companies the pros far outweigh the cons from a business perspective. After all, a typical ASRS has a lifecycle of up to 25 years or longer, with strong IRR/NPV financial results generally delivered. It’s the most efficient and safe method to store and retrieve products, allowing the most storage capacity versus square footage.
The key to maximizing a company’s ultimate success with an ASRS lies in finding the right partner to ensure quality, reliability and continued service after the sale. The ideal vendor will spend the necessary time to understand specific needs and allow for seamless integration of all warehouse management systems, while minimizing initial startup costs as much as possible. WMHS
Dan Labell is President of Westfalia Technologies, one of the world’s leading warehouse automation companies. Westfalia Technologies excels at designing and delivering customized systems to enable companies to organize inventory, optimize space and increase efficiency in every aspect of its warehousing operations (www.westfaliausa.com).
 Automated Storage and Retrieval System Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2022-2027
 US warehousing sector has over 50% more workers on payroll than five years ago but now faces tough labour market | Reuters Events | Supply Chain & Logistics Business Intelligence
 How to Retrieve an ROI from an AS/RS | Material Handling and Logistics (mhlnews.com)
 How To Determine If An AS/RS ( Automated Storage and Retrieval System) Fits Your Facility | ManufacturingTomorrow
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