If you’re not familiar with logistics, you probably are familiar with movies. If you’ve ever seen a movie where futuristic logistics are taking place, you’ve likely seen high tech machinery buzzing about amongst endless rows of boxes and bins while selecting, lifting, sorting and moving things about at a rate of speed a human could only dream about. Not long ago this was simply the thing of movies, but not any longer.
These systems are known now as automated storage and retrieval systems, or AS/RS systems. As companies aim to increase efficiencies, the term “doing more with less” has trickled its way down into logistics. In this case, it means using less space to store and move more products. So the typical image of a forklift operator buzzing between wide aisles of products still takes place, many companies have moved to a model that maximizes space, requiring different equipment to work in smaller areas, and also work more quickly.
Who is likely to use an AS/RS system?
Automation is nothing new in the world of manufacturing and logistics, but there seem to be some general guidelines for deciding when you need automation. Some baseline rules would be:
- 100,000 or more cases shipped per day
- 3,000 or more pallets received per day
- Cost per FTE of $45,000/yr or greater
- High volume piece picking requirements of > 100,000 pieces per shift
- Abundant sku proliferation and lack of predictability
- Refrigerated/Freezer work environment
- 2-3 shift operation
How does automated storage and retrieval affect you?
That’s the million dollar question, literally in some cases.
For companies moving from fork truck systems and pallet racks, there can be substantial savings. Better utilization of space and lower operating costs from more efficient machinery can lead to increased profit for the warehouse and lower prices for the consumer. Additionally, with computer controls, new warehouse layouts and pallet arrangement can be accommodated substantially easier. So from the warehouser’s perspective, there can be substantial long term advantages to implementing an AS/RS system.
Increased ROI for companies choosing to use automated storage and retrieval systems also depend on a variety of other factors. For new facilities, there can be significant construction savings and long term operational cost savings. By creating storage facilities with smaller footprints companies can save on the amount of land necessary for facilities, and with smaller facilities come lower costs from utilities, which can be significant in industries where temperature control is vital.
Obviously, automation also reduces the number of labor hours necessary to do a task. As a whole, this creates substantial cost savings as well. Generally, moving to AS/RS systems creates 10-60% cost reduction in terms of pay for full time employees depending on the amount of pallets or pieces that need to be shifted or shipped each day. Further, if you’ve ever received the wrong order from a place like Amazon, you realize the frustration of inaccurate orders. That’s something no business wants to deal with, but is less of a reality with a more automated system. Unfortunately, for high volume, fast paced environments, there’s just no way humans can match the accuracy of an AS/RS system when the majority of stocking and picking is done by a computer system.
If you haven’t walked into a material handling operation recently, just know that the future is indeed now. The move to AS/RS systems creates cost savings for logistics operations which passes on cost savings to end customers as well.
This article provided by viastore, an international AS/RS system provider with a U.S. location based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.