Automated Storage & Retrieval System: Applications and advantages
Automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) have gained a lot of attraction over the years as more and more warehouses, order fulfillment operations, and materials handling operations have embraced the technology. And it makes sense why: there are many advantages and applications to using AS/RS to automate and optimize your warehouse operations.
What is an Automated Storage & Retrieval System (AS/RS)?
An automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) is a type of warehouse automation technology specifically designed to store and retrieve product and inventory on demand.
AS/RS technology varies substantially, and can consist of cranes, carousels, vertical lift modules (VLM), micro-loads, mini-loads, or other systems. It is often integrated with a warehouse execution software (WES), warehouse management software (WMS), or other controls.
Applications Automated Storage & Retrieval System
Order Picking and Packing
Picking, packing, and processing orders is one of the most time-consuming tasks in the order fulfillment process. In fact, the process of walking and manually picking orders can account for more than 50 percent of the time associated with picking. AS/RS offers an alternative to this through the use of Goods-to-Person (GTP) order picking.
In a GTP order picking system, the worker does not physically move from product location to product location to pick an order. Instead, an AS/RS is able to retrieve the necessary stock from storage and deliver it directly to the worker, who operates in a pick/pack station. Once the appropriate amount of product has been picked, the next item needed for the order is delivered to the worker for picking.
Staging Orders for Shipping
The impact of e-commerce and omni-channel delivery on the order fulfillment process can not be overstated. Customers are now able to shop and place orders around the clock, and they want their product delivered fast and on time. But even if an operation accepts and processes orders 24/7, there are often constraints to shipping windows: Due to worker shifts, for example, or exorbitant night and weekend delivery fees.
To make up for these constraints, an AS/RS is used to place orders in a buffer storage to stage them until the shipping is processed. This saves time and allows an operation to continuously produce, even when orders have not physically left the facility.
Managing Buffer Storage
In a typical warehouse, different processes take different amounts of time to complete. If these discrepancies are not properly managed, then all it takes is a poorly-timed piece of equipment to slow down an entire operation.
AS/RS has the potential to replace these conveyor buffering systems, allowing an operation to efficiently store buffer products and retrieve it as necessary. Depending on the specifics of the operation, this buffer management can be put in place in multiple areas of an operation’s workflow, whether that is raw material as it is delivered or storing inventory exactly where it will be needed.
Storage and Point of Use Storage
One of the primary benefits of AS/RS is its ability to store products in the most efficient way to make use of available space, especially over the long term. By implementing AS/RS, an operation can automate their long-term storage of raw material or product and retrieve only when needed.
By integrating the AS/RS with their Warehouse Execution Software (WES) it is also possible to optimize inventory via FIFO (First in First Out), LIFO (Last In First Out), lot numbers, expiration dates, order cut off times, packaging requirements and many organization and industry specific requirements.
Advantages of AS/RS for warehouse automation
Fewer Labor Constraints
When an operation has the funds to expand their workforce with new hires, sometimes outside factors (geography, job market, demographic trends) can constrain the labor supply and make it difficult to expand. AS/RS removes some of these constraints by allowing automation to take the place of employees. This means that warehouse employees can be redirected to higher-value tasks that make your operation more profitable while lower-value, repetitive tasks are handled by technology.
Whether because of distraction, fatigue, or stress, one thing is certain: Humans make mistakes. When humans operate heavy machinery such as forklifts, there are certain risks. Incorporating AS/RS systems into your operation removes some of this unpredictable element. This can have a tremendous positive impact on warehouse management by increasing safety, thereby reducing accidents and damage to the product, structures, and equipment.
Increased Accuracy, Productivity, and Efficiency
As mentioned above, humans are error-prone. In addition to causing safety issues or damaging products, these errors can also impact workflows and lead to inefficiency. For example, a pallet of product delivered from storage to the wrong department can cause confusion, traffic jams, and a shutdown of order processing until the error is fixed. By allowing AS/RS systems to manage the operation components of a smart warehouse, these inefficiencies can be removed, ultimately reducing waste and increasing output. And all of this will allow your operation to become more accurate and, therefore, profitable.
Optimize warehouse space
AS/RS carries another benefit for operations that are constrained by a small footprint. By making better use of the space available in a facility, AS/RS can remove the need for a costly redesign or expansion. AS/RS typically requires narrower aisles than do human-operated forklifts; racks can reclaim vertical space, and automation can allow for high-density storage that is difficult to achieve by traditional means.
AS/RS technology has rapidly advanced over the years, new options provide a wide variety of size, speed, cost, and flexibility, and has caused the rate of system adoption skyrocket. This system is worth considering if you want your warehouse operation to be more efficient and profitable.
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