Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems: Optimizing Your Logistics
Storage and retrieval robots occupy one of the newest frontiers of industrial automation. New technologies in this sector are pouring into the market every year. Automated systems are faster, safer, and more efficient than traditional warehousing operations. These advantages offer an exciting opportunity for companies suffering from labor shortages and increasing demands that are troubling logistics operations today. Let’s discuss when these automated systems could be right for you, understand the types of systems available, and clarify some limitations in this space today.
What are Storage and Retrieval Robots?
Storage and retrieval robots refer to a class of automated warehousing systems. These systems are tasked with automatically storing products in the proper place for medium-to-long-term storage. Typically, these units are similar in appearance to traditional warehouse setups with a mechanical structure to move the robot across the shelving. However, it’s not uncommon to see unique storage and retrieval systems. Read on below to learn more about the various types of robotic storage and retrieval systems available today.
When is an Automated Storage and Retrieval System Right for You?
AS/RS technologies offer many advantages, but how do you know if one of these systems is right for you? Looking critically at the areas for improvement in your facility may lead you to look closer at an automated solution. These are the common reasons manufacturers automate their warehouse operations with AS/RS:
Looking to Reduce Long Term Labor Costs
Today’s global manufacturing market necessitates exploring every opportunity to gain a competitive edge. Manufacturers commonly look to reduce long-term labor costs when trying to reduce costs or increase profit margins. Large warehouse operations require a department of individuals to manage and operate the moving and organization of products. It is not surprising then that a small number of robots is capable of performing the job of several warehouse workers. This optimization can significantly reduce labor costs over the long term.
Considerable Improvements in Throughput and Pick Accuracy is Required
Warehouse operations are the primary source of mis-shipments. Under- or over-shipping products can hurt your bottom line and reputation with your customers. Sometimes, the wrong product is shipped all together. These mistakes add up to additional and unnecessary shipping costs over the long term. AS/RS technologies keep warehousing operations more organized and reliable. This is thanks to their programmatic operation. These systems follow a preset list of commands depending on which product they provide. They can’t help but store and retrieve products from the proper place.
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More Efficient Use of Space is Necessary
One of the most significant advantages of AS/RS models is their efficient use of floor space. Real estate is at a premium in manufacturing facilities, and these systems attempt to offer the most compact solutions possible to provide efficient storage of products. Manual warehousing operations require extra space between aisles so that operators can move safely with heavy equipment such as forklifts. Automated systems are built to be only as big as needed in order for the robot to operate. It is not uncommon to uncover multitudes of additional storage capacity when moving from a manual to an automated operation.
Types of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Several different options are available to you for automated storage and retrieval systems. These systems can be broadly broken down into shelf, bin, and mobile picking solutions. The type of system right for you will vary depending on the characteristics of your product, the demands of your operation, and available floor space.
One of the most common types is the mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). These look similar to a standard warehouse setup with enough aisle room for a robotic lift system. The rows and stacks of products will feel familiar to a traditional setup. The aisles are usually much thinner and the storage space can extend much higher than the old shelves did to maximize floor space utilization efficiency. Automated storage and retrieval systems typically fit within 50% or better of traditional warehouse floor space. This automated lift typically moves a bespoke picking system or a six-axis robot due to its superior reach and dexterity.
Shuttle-style horizontal AS/RS models use an overhead picking and placing system for storage and retrieval. These shuttles move at high-speed up and down a storage area and are suitable for short-term storage and retrieval. It is common to see shuttle-style systems in dairy applications. Short-term staging of dairy products allows for a buffer between production and shipping without slowing down either operation.
Cube storage systems are a newer take on AS/RS. These systems maximize real estate in a 3D space. Automated cube storage and retrieval systems are characterized by mobile robots traversing cells at the top layer, while a matrix of products is stored in multiple levels below. While one of the most expensive AS/RS options, this system typically boasts the most features for those looking for every available optimization. An intelligent fleet of mobile robots works together in synchrony, controlled by a command center unit that constantly optimizes the system based on current demand.
Carousel AS/RS systems work differently by moving the product to the pick location instead of the other way around. These systems are a good choice for smaller product loads that do not require a high rate of storage and retrieval, or for processes with demanding floor space limitations. Horizontal carousel systems can be configured to fit a specific floor space requirement. Vertical carousels are cost-effective options for small storage operations that require an automated solution. An example of this might be central storage for various nuts and bolts needed for a manufacturing operation. The vertical carousel would be small enough to fit in most spaces while offering speedy retrieval and dependable organization for small part demands.
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Limitations of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Of course, there are limitations associated with automated storage and retrieval systems. Understanding these limitations can help you make intelligent investments and set your expectations appropriately.
Initial Investment Costs
The initial investment costs of an AS/RS model can be an intimidating factor when compared to the cost of shelving and a few forklifts. These robots represent some of the largest and most complex automation systems available today, and their sophistication is often reflected in their price. However, even when considering the high up-front cost, many manufacturers are finding this investment to be a net positive. For the right operation, the increases in throughput and efficiency, along with the reduction in labor costs, will provide returns over time.
Inefficient for Dynamic Operations
While installing an automated storage and retrieval system can provide immense improvements in throughput, this is based on a relatively stable product offering. For instance, consider a warehouse operation with a high level of product turnover from month to month. A considerable amount of time and effort would be spent reprogramming and recalibrating the system for the new SKUs. At some point, this cost would begin to outweigh the benefits provided by the AS/RS. Understanding the characteristics of your operation helps you avoid making potential mistakes with your investment.
Automated storage and retrieval systems are indicative of the industry 4.0 revolution. Smart warehouses will become the norm for highly-competitive manufacturers. Understanding the options, benefits, and limitations of this technology can help you make an informed decision about a potentially revolutionary technology for your business.
If you have an idea of what you want out of your next automation project, HowToRobot is here to help. Tell us a bit about your operation and your business, and we can connect you with valid suppliers that can provide additional information and quotes.