Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems, also known as AS/RS, is a category of warehouse automation that uses mechanical retrieval systems to buffer, store, and pick inventory, increasing throughput and storage density while reducing manual labor costs.
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Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems, also known as AS/RS, is a broad category of warehouse automations. Most AS/RS are used in GTP (Goods-to-Person) environments, where operators remain in one location, and technology and machines bring them the items that they need.
Storage & Retrieval
As the name suggests, automated storage and retrieval systems have two main purposes: to store and retrieve items and inventory.
There are a variety of technologies that fall into the category of AS/RS, but they all share similar properties. Most AS/RS utilize densely-stacked racks to store products, and the retrieval equipment integrates with a warehouse management system (WMS) to find and retrieve the products from the racks. There are a variety of automated storage and retrieval systems, usually categorized by the type of picking that they use. Some systems only bring specific products to their operator, while other systems bring bins, totes or even shelves. Here are the most common types of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems:
Unit-load and mini-load systems are two of the most common types of automations that are categorized as AS/RS. Both these systems utilize computer-controlled cranes that navigate to a product’s location within the storage area and remove the storage medium where the product is contained. Unit-Load Systems are used to store and retrieve entire pallets, while mini-load systems are used to store and retrieve smaller loads like bins or totes.
Shuttle systems are made up of carts that operate on systems of racking with tracks. These shuttles move pallets between racks, and are capable of moving large loads very quickly. They can travel between levels of racks, allowing them to access a variety products. However, shuttle systems are only able to retrieve entire pallets, and so they’re less efficient for warehouses that manage a variety of different inventory with a broad variety of throughput processing speeds.
Vertical Lift Modules (VLM) are closed-storage systems that securely store trays on racks on either side of a retrieving mechanism. A VLM can be controlled by an operator or the warehouse management system (WMS). The selected tray is grabbed by the retriever and moved down the center to a picking window, where the operator is able to receive the tray without having to move to find and retrieve the items. The operator then selects the necessary items from the tray (often using a pick-to-light system or other automation to assist), before it is returned to storage.
Vertical carousels are similar to VLM’s in that they are most frequently enclosed storage. However, instead of racks and a retriever like in VLMS, the trays of a vertical carousel are fixed to a rotating chain mechanism that rotates, bringing the attached trays to the picking window.
Horizontal carousels contain shelves of products that rotate to face the operator. Pick-to-light systems are often utilized here as well to mark where the required product is located.
AMRs are a type of automated storage and retrieval system that are able to navigate without human guidance. They’re able to use sensors and cameras to make their way to products, select them, and transport them around an area. Depending on the size and capability of the AMR, they can transport boxes, trays, crates, totes, or pallets. They can be used in picking to bring items to operators, or can be used for security, maintenance, and inventorying purposes.
Overhead gantry systems are infrastructures built into the ceiling of a warehouse. These systems select, manage, and transport stacked products like crates or pallets. They can be used for picking or for storage and organization.
GTP Picking: Most commonly automated storage and retrieval systems are used in goods-to-person environments to reduce the need for operators to manually find and retrieve product. GTP environments are designed so the operator remains at one workstation while the products are brought to them. AS/RS, controlled by the WMS or by the operator, are able to quickly find and retrieve products for operators, even from complex storage facilities.
Buffer Storage: Automated storage and retrieval systems are used as buffer storage, meaning they’re used to store individual products, partially packed shipping orders, completed orders, or parts until they’re ready to be shipped or to move to the next part of the process. This allows for continuous order fulfillment, even when operators aren’t able to ship products or complete assembly from start to finish.
Secure/Controlled Storage Environment: Automated storage and retrieval systems are often used for sensitive material that needs to be stored securely, or needs to be stored under specific circumstances. Because they utilize vertical space, AS/RS are able to store inventory securely and out of reach with safeguards on the WMS. The environments inside closed storage units like VLMs or vertical carousels are also able to be closely controlled and monitored for factors like humidity or temperature, making them ideal for a variety of uses, like the pharmaceutical industry.
Some form of automated storage and retrieval systems are used in most industries. Some of the most common industries where AS/RS is used are:
AS/RS can be very expensive. They take extensive infrastructure to implement and effort to maintain. AS/RS must be integrated with existing warehouse technology (WMS). Operators will need initial training, as well as continual updates and assessments to make sure they are using the systems correctly. However, the return is worth the investment for most facilities.
Some benefits of AS/RS include:
If your facility is running into any of these problems, you should consider implementing an AS/RS.
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