The Emergence of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Automated storage and retrieval systems (or AS/RS) have quickly become a huge part of tons of industries. While automated storage and retrieval systems are most often seen in warehouses and manufacturing facilities, they are being adapted for more and more applications across the board due to the countless advantages they offer towards better storage, security, ergonomics, inventory control, and much more. Vertical lift modules, vertical carousels, and horizontal carousels are designed to store more in less space with the added benefits of enhanced inventory management, picking accuracy, throughput, and ergonomics, all while increasing productivity by delivering items directly to the operator. There are many different types of ASRS, and we will be discussing all of them in this post. Watch a video or read on to learn more.
Vertical Lift Modules
Vertical lift modules, or VLMs, are enclosed systems of large vertically-arranged trays. Within the trays, you can store large and bulky items, small parts in bins, or almost anything else—each tray can hold up to 2,000 lbs. And with full tray extraction and easy crane and forklift integration, it’s easy to load, unload, and handle bulky goods. The work counter is also adjustable, so it can be easily used by any employee or other material handling equipment (see infographic).
The VLMs can also be installed through multiple floors and can be configured for dual-sided access. For example, instead of having to walk up and downstairs to deliver or retrieve parts, you can just send the requested item to the specified floor for pickup. Click here to watch the video.
To ensure that every cubic inch of your space is utilized effectively, the vertical lift module includes software that detects and measures tray heights and automatically stores them in the location that would take up the least amount of space possible.
Vertical lifts are ideal for when you have a lot of overhead space and high ceilings. If you decide to expand later, the height of the lifts can easily be added too without you having to change up the system.
Click here to see how vertical lifts revolutionized a company's storage area using plastic bin shelving.
VLM Features & Benefits
- Automatic full tray extraction allows easier handling
- Pick-to-light software promotes quick and accurate retrieval
- Password protected controlled access to parts
- Dual tray delivery to enhance picking rates
- Up to 85% floor space savings compared to traditional storage methods
- Robotic arms, conveyors, cranes, and lifting devices can be integrated
- Internal weight management system monitors trays to prevent overloading
- Fast travel and delivery of trays with toothed belt drive
- Tray height detection automatically maximizes storage density
- Automatic shutter doors close for security and dust protection
- Adjustable tray height settings for ergonomic height delivery
- Multiple weight capacity trays for mixed weight loads
- Horizontal and vertical travel speeds can be adjusted for sensitive items
- Modular construction allows the unit to be expanded to accommodate future needs
- Infrared safety light curtain at access opening automatically stops all movement of the device if the beams are interrupted
- Available with totes, bins, containers, partitions, dividers, holders, and specialty equipment made to fit the exact dimensions of the trays
- Up to 6 access openings
Vertical carousels are like vertical lifts, but the system rotates like a ferris wheel instead of a lift. Just push the button, and the trays, bins, or whatever you’ve outfitted the carousel with will rotate into the desired position. The carousels can be installed with built-in drawers, trays, partitioned carriers, bins, intermediate shelves, and more, and can be locked for extra security.
Vertical carousels are ideal for applications with lower ceilings and for storing relatively uniformly-sized small or medium parts and materials.
Click here for more details on vertical carousels.
Vertical Carousel Features & Benefits
- Available with one or multiple access windows for multi-floor or through-wall applications
- Pick-to-light integrated software for fast and accurate retrieval
- Password protected controlled access to parts
- Can be retrofitted for different applications if your needs change
- Saves up to 80% of floor space compared to traditional bin shelving
- Bar code integration for quick and accurate transactions
- Refrigerated & freezer models available
- Integrated workstations for batch order picking available
- Robotic interface available
- Mobile transport rollers allow the unit to be easily relocated
- Infrared safety lights protect users and stored items
- Each level can be customized with totes or partitions and dividers
When it comes to manufacturing and distribution processes that require fast and accurate picking, horizontal carousels provide accuracy, speed, and space savings. Instead of workers having to walk and search for parts, rotating bins are automatically delivered to them so several orders can even be processed at the same time. The carousels are usually groups in pods of three to four units, allowing one to always be rotating, while the operator is pulling and distributing parts into bins.
If you have a lot of people picking, the horizontal carousels could substantially reduce the amount of labor required since they automate many picking tasks. Pick-to-light technology also directs the operator to the exact item to be picked for a batch, increasing picking accuracy. They're the ideal solution for parts workflow or buildings with low ceilings that may not be able to accommodate a vertical lift module or vertical carousel.
Click here for more details about horizontal carousels.
Horizontal Carousel Features & Benefits
- Wide variety of carriers in multiple widths, heights, & depths with 600 to 1,500 lbs. carrier capacity
- Shelves rotate at 85 fpm (feet per minute)
- Shelves are adjustable
- Units can be stacked for multilevel applications
- Optional doors are available for security
- Picking light tower with display indicate the carousel, storage location, and exact quantity to pick to increase accuracy
- Batch picking lights and readouts identify the quantity and storage location for replenishing or distributing items among a batch order
- Fast pick software manages inventory
Vertical Buffer Modules
Vertical buffer modules are bin-based automated storage systems ideal for storing slow-moving items or buffer stock. Similar to vertical lift modules, this enclosed storage system maximizes vertical storage space and operates on the goods-to-person principle, delivering stored items directly to the operator at an ergonomic picking station. But the vertical buffer module offers more flexible storage, with individual bins or trays for each part, designed to efficiently accommodate small-volume goods of different sizes. By limiting operator access to a single bin at a time, the vertical buffer module almost eliminates picking errors.
The systems are operated by a high-resolution, easily understandable touch screen. They can integrate with pick-to-light software for efficient batch picking, as well as conveyors, barcode scanners, and other technology to further automate the order fulfillment process. The scalable storage system adapts to meet the needs of your facility, even as they change over time.
Vertical buffer modules are ideal for storing small, lightweight parts, perfect for companies with high levels of slow-moving stock. They can supply parts along production lines, provide buffer storage in assembly areas, temporarily store in-process orders, or facilitate efficient picking of slow-moving parts for distribution. Click here to learn more about vertical buffer modules.
Vertical Buffer Module Features & Benefits
- Parts are delivered directly to the operator, drastically reducing retrieval time
- High-density vertical design provides a higher storage capacity in a smaller footprint
- Parts are delivered using the shortest travel path, providing ultra-fast access for efficient picking
- Controlled access provides security and nearly eliminates picking errors
- Energy-efficient design consumes only a third of the energy used by comparable designs, with no energy recovery necessary
- Flexible storage arrangement efficiently stores trays and bins of various sizes
- Ergonomic, height-adjustable picking station
- Up to 500 order lines per picking station
- Web-based compatible software with inventory management
- Automatic replenishment saves money and labor
- Modular and scalable design adapts to the needs of your facility and integrates with existing infrastructure
- Fast ROI
AS/RS Vertical Light-Duty Carousels
Automated storage isn’t just for manufacturing and industrial industries. For lighter payloads, vertical light-duty carousels are also available as a series of vertically-arranged shelves or drawers that are easily rotated using a keypad or touchscreen. They also meet ADA accessibility requirements. Click here to learn more about vertical light-duty carousels.
Inventory Management Software
Inventory management software is one of the biggest things that makes asrs storage so unique. With automatic batch picking capabilities, inventory tracking, audit trails, alerts when stock is low, pick-to-light technology to streamline picking operations, order management systems, and more, the software can help streamline your warehouse operations to be as efficient as possible.
For example, the software can monitor your inventory and can alert you when certain items are low, and can even automatically order more. This way you can avoid stock-outs, overstocks, and lost or misplaced items since the software grants you the ability to know where your inventory is at all times.
Click here to learn more about batch picking and inventory management software.
Whether you install a VLM, vertical carousel, horizontal carousel, or a combination will depend on your specific application and needs, but they all have one thing in common: unmatched benefits that widely surpass those of static storage and manual processes. More and more facilities across the board are utilizing asrs storage because traditional methods just aren’t cutting it anymore, and are ending up costing much more than they’re worth. In addition to a quick return on investment, asrs storage offers countless benefits. Here are just a few:
- Efficiency: All these systems utilize a “goods-to-person” principle, which brings requested items directly to the operator through the shortest possible route. This cuts out unproductive travel and search times completely, along with reducing operator fatigue and work-related injuries. Typically, picking productivity can be increased by up to 2/3.
- Accuracy: Pick-to-light technology ensures that operators are picking the right item every time. Some applications have even seen their accuracy skyrocket up to 99.9%.
- Security: User rights and group rights can be controlled and managed. Transactions can be monitored and provide real-time inventory data
- Control: Avoid stock-outs or overstocks with enhanced inventory control software, so you always know where everything is—and how much of it you have.
- Space savings: Items are stored and organized in a compact space, instead of spread out and in difficult locations.
- Low maintenance: All units are compact and reliable, ensuring long-term use and operational safety
- Ergonomics: Workers no longer need to walk long distances, bend, squat, or climb to reach items. The systems can also be adjusted to meet each user’s specific work height.
- User-friendliness: The systems are easy to operate and use with LED displays, touchscreens, and monitors.
- Flexibility: The systems can be expanded, moved, or reconfigured as your storage needs grow and change.
- Safety: Multiple protection systems are self-monitoring and protect the operators as well as stored items.
- Affordable: Most applications see a quick return on investment after investing in asrs storage.
Industries & Applications
Because of the versatility of asrs storage, they can be adapted for almost any application in any industry, including:
- Automotive and electronics parts storage
- Chemicals and pharmaceutical storage
- Mechanical engineering
- MRO & maintenance parts storage
- Healthcare logistics, IV bags, pharmaceuticals, glass slide, blocks, and more
- Through floor applications to streamline material flow & retrieval
- Maximize storage at the point of need on production lines
- Small parts kitting and batch picking
- Controlled temperature refrigerated storage
- Cleanroom storage
- Tool storage
- Robot-assisted systems
Contact Us for AS/RS Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems
Southwest Solutions Group® provides design and installation services for AS/RS automated storage and retrieval systems to a wide variety of industries and applications. We will also provide you with a free consultation to determine your exact needs and specifications before the design process begins. To learn more or to speak with a specialist, call us at 1-800-803-1083 or send us a message today.