What AS/RS Solution Is Right for Your Operation?
By: Tony Morgott and RC Paschke, Contributors
Since the inception of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), companies have wondered how they can benefit their operation. Because these systems promise improved utilization of available space and a reduction to the workforce required to manage the inventory, they are very appealing. Pre-COVID-19 forecasts predicted record growth in the global automated material handling market over the next five years.
Now, growth has accelerated even more, and companies are experiencing even greater challenges in hiring and retaining a skilled workforce. These market pressures, combined with higher employment costs and the never-ending focus on increased efficiency and accuracy, are escalating the adoption of AS/RS solutions. With the advancement of technology and increased affordability, there is likely an AS/RS that is right for you.
Look for a partner who will look at the situation holistically. Often, an AS/RS may be only one component of an overall solution. The Raymond Corporation and its network of Solutions and Support Centers recently announced its Intralogistics Solutions initiative. Simply put, this means working together on a portfolio of integrated solutions that focuses on optimizing space and connecting products and data to help the customer identify the best direction for automation.
Which AS/RS Solution is right for me?
Initially, AS/RS solutions offered only two types of systems: mini-load systems and unit-load systems. However, many companies have requirements that fall in between these two types of systems. Also, early systems were costly and typically required high-bay additions to have any hope in justifying the investment in AS/RS solutions. Fortunately, through advancements in technology and ingenuity, there are more offerings to fit varied needs and improved ROI. Among the latest offerings to expand viable AS/RS applications are the mid-load AS/RS and pallet shuttle systems.
Mini-load systems are generally utilized for handling totes and/or cases. Typical applications include automated case picking, goods-to-person picking, pick-face replenishment and as a material storage buffer. Mini-load systems typically:
- Handle containers from 6 in to 26 in wide with capacities of 100 lbs or 200 lbs per container.
- Operate at high speeds running on a floor-mounted rail system and require precision racking systems.
- Work within heights typically ranging from 25 ft to 65 ft, making them a good option for dense storage of slow-to-medium movers.
Unit-load systems are utilized for handling traditional pallets. Unit-load systems are well-suited for high-speed storage in both ambient and cold-storage applications. Typically, unit-load systems:
- Have capacities typically ranging from 2,000 lbs to 4,000 lbs, perfect for manufacturing and distribution operations in the food and beverage industries.
- Utilize cranes run on floor-mounted rail systems and can operate at high speeds, often requiring semi-precision racking systems.
- Typically fall within the 40-ft to 80-ft range; however, some systems can extend upward of 150 ft with both single- and double-deep applications for improved density.
- Are typically long and narrow to maximize ROI.
However, there are some specialty units used for the storage of large and heavy items, such as car bodies, steel coils and dies.
The mid-load AS/RS is a new genre of AS/RS that has emerged to address the applications for which the mini-load and unit-load systems are not suitable. ISD pioneered a mid-load system called UltraStore®, which incorporates many unique features the mini-load and unit-load systems lack. One unique feature is that the ISD mid-load crane rides directly on the floor instead of a rail. This not only reduces cost but also allows the option of a manual or automated backup crane to support mission-critical operations. This makes the system particularly well-suited for work in progress (WIP), kitting and sequencing applications in manufacturing and assembly operations, including automotive. Many companies find the mid-load system is the best solution as it spans the best of both worlds. Mid-load systems:
- Excel with loads from 300 to 1,500 lbs.
- Support a diverse range of applications; loads include trays, pallets and containers within a 15- to 60-in-wide by 30- to 96-in-long range.
- Typically operate at heights below 40 ft and at moderate speeds; however, throughput is often high due to a smaller system footprint.
Pallet shuttle systems incorporate automated shuttle carts and specialty racking for deep-lane storage. Pallet shuttle systems can reduce floor space requirements and allow operations to store up to 100% more pallets in the same place when compared with conventional racking applications. Systems such as Radioshuttle® semi-automatically execute orders to load or unload pallets into a lane. Pallet shuttle systems have:
- Lanes that are fed pallets by lift trucks, such as reach trucks or counterbalanced forklifts.
- Dense storage capabilities, making them popular in cold-storage environments where storage space is at a premium.
- Additional applications, including high-volume SKUs, staged shipments and buffer storage of raw materials, WIP or outbound from manufacturing processes.
Knowing the difference between AS/RS options is important, but, as mentioned earlier, partnering with a trusted systems company that works with other professionals to help adopt and execute an integrated intralogistics solutions plan will help lay the groundwork for a successful implementation. WMHS
Tony Morgott is Vice President of Sales at Integrated Systems Design (ISD; www.isddd.com); and RC Paschke, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Andersen Material Handling (www.andersenmaterialhandling.com), a Raymond Solutions and Support Center. They work together on intralogistics solutions with clients. Solutions focus on developing creative design, integration and implementation of automated systems, warehouse equipment and best practices to achieve the highest gains in productivity and the quickest return
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