July 2012 | How-To | Ten Tips

Determining If AS/RS Fits Your Facility

Tags: Materials Handling

Most businesses that incorporate large-load automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) store and handle full pallet loads moving at high volumes in and out of a distribution center or manufacturing plant. But other business types may also benefit from the solution. Norm Saenz, senior vice president and principal, TranSystems Corporation, offers these tips on deciding if AS/RS is right for your facility.

1. Consider the products you manufacture and/or warehouse. Large-load AS/RS solutions are suitable for products requiring tight security, such as pharmaceuticals and biomedical shipments, or climate control, such as frozen goods; and uniform/stable loads that do not require frequent operator attention.

2. Investigate the clear height of your facility. This factor determines vertical expansion possibilities and code restrictions. Maximizing vertical space is one benefit of AS/RS systems, which can reach up to 100 feet. If your facility can only build 40 feet high, an AS/RS system may not be the best choice.

3. Determine whether you can provide a backup plan. If a crane breaks, you need to know how you will access and pull products while it is being repaired. Determine how long your operation can function with this backup plan.

4. Weigh the benefits of running an automated crane for each aisle compared to an operator-powered crane. Perform analytical simulation modeling that validates volumes in and out of the system. At a cost of $1 million per crane, this analysis can produce significant savings.

5. Analyze your inventory to determine the required storage depth within the racking solution. Most AS/RS racking systems are single-deep pallet, but some systems can accommodate two or more pallets. Pallet cart shuttle systems can limit the number of aisles and cranes required, and better use square footage.

6. Ensure the control software for managing the AS/RS system integrates with your WMS. Integrating warehouse management systems and controls is key to the solution working properly and efficiently.

7. Decide how much flexibility you need. Ensure you can add aisles or racking bays to increase the AS/RS solution's longevity. Rack-supported structures limit your ability to adapt if business changes require vastly different racking configurations or throughput requirements.

8. Calculate your investment. You can gain significant labor savings by implementing AS/RS, but a trained maintenance staff is required to manage it. Determine return on investment (ROI) by calculating what you can save on additional leased space compared to conventional storage methods.

9. Consider total ROI. Benefits may include traceability, inventory control, and accuracy improvements; safer, gentler product handling; tighter security; and possible elimination of physical inventories. Get unbiased analyses regarding aisle length, elimination of non-essential crane moves, axis speeds, and proportion of height to depth, which greatly impacts the entire system's productivity.

10. Evaluate competitive solutions. Very-narrow-aisle racking is an alternative to AS/RS, but requires lift truck operators, increasing labor costs. On the other hand, an AS/RS solution usually requires a significantly higher investment in space, information systems, and control.