Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) are designed to optimize picking processes for greater efficiencies. But what exactly are those efficiencies and what key benefits can you expect ASRS to have on your operations? What are the advantages of automated storage and retrieval systems over traditional rack and shelving?
The Benefits of ASRS are:
- Improved Floor Space Utilization
- Reduced Labor Requirements and Costs
- Increased Picking Accuracy (Reduced Picking Errors)
- Improved Picking Throughput (Speed)
- Tighter Inventory Control
- Improved Ergonomics
Let’s get into the details.
1. Better Floor Space Utilization = Increased Storage Capacity
The most obvious benefit of ASRS is the considerable space savings they provide. Removing the wasted aisle space shelving requires and utilizing the full ceiling height of your facility; ASRS technologies offer high density storage in a compact footprint.
These dynamic systems utilize tightly configured totes, bins, dividers, drawers and specialty holders to organize inventory most efficiently to maximize storage capacity. Further, integrated inventory management software dynamically manages the cube space within the storage system, keeping all inventory tightly compressed.
The compact storage within an automated storage and retrieval unit adds up to more efficient floor space utilization. For instance, the equivalent amount of inventory held in 120 bays of static shelving can be condensed into two horizontal carousels (66% space savings), two vertical carousels (75% space savings), a single Vertical Buffer Module (75% floor space savings) or a single Vertical Lift Module (85% space savings).
The value of the recovered floor space depends on its use. The open space can be used to expand manufacturing capabilities, accommodate additional inventory, add a kitting process or a integrate a quality control check. Alternatively, the opened-up area might be rented out on a sub-lease providing additional revenue.
2. Reduced Labor Requirements
The second most obvious advantage of automated storage and retrieval systems is the labor savings. ASRS units deliver the required item directly to the operator via the “goods to person” concept, dramatically reducing operator walk and search time. Often workers are traveling miles during a shift (use a pedometer to check your walk times); and that walking time translates into wasted time. In a manual operation—where workers must travel to the stored items—associates frequently spend as much as 60-65% of their shifts walking. Further, upon arrival at a picking destination, a worker must visually search the shelves, looking for the correct item and matching up part numbers, a process that can take several minutes or more.
Using ASRS technology, a worker remains within the assigned work area and the machines deliver stored goods to the operator as needed. Pick lights illuminate the item’s location and pick quantity required, cutting the operator time spent searching for a specific item, resulting in more time spent picking.
Further, because the automated solution interfaces with both inventory management and order management software, the picks are sequenced so the machine’s movement is optimized to match the required picks. This means all items can be picked in one rotation, or cycle, of the machine’s storage bins or trays, further maximizing pick time.
One worker using ASRS can handle the picking assignments of multiple operators in a manual system, allowing you to reassign as many as two-thirds of your manual picking labor to other, non-picking tasks—without a loss of throughput. Alternately, implementing these automated storage solutions can compensate for scarce or unreliable labor.
3. Improved Pick Accuracy
Each step within the picking process is an opportunity for human error. The more manual the process, the greater the opportunity for error.
ASRS systems integrate with a variety of light-directed picking technologies and integrated message centers that communicate pick information to the operator for high pick accuracy. Together, these systems indicate the precise area within the carrier of the item to be picked, display the part number or description, pinpoint the exact location, direct picking (or storage for replenishment) and indicate the required quantity. These visual picking aids reduce picking errors and increase accuracy up to 99.9%.
4. Increased Pick Throughput
In a manual operation, pickers often fill just one order at a time, translating into pick rates of approximately 50 lines per hour. ASRS technologies utilize the goods to person delivery concept to eliminate walk and search time to double throughput. Integrating pick to light systems that direct the operator to the exact location of the pick double the throughput rates again.
Using batch picking—a process that groups together orders with a common item or items—integrated inventory management software sequences the picks for completion in a single rotation (or cycle) of the unit. Multiples of the same items are picked then delivered to a nearby workstation for sorting into appropriate orders. Because multiple orders can be filled at the same time, throughput rates can be doubled again.
5. Greater Inventory Control
ASRS solutions house inventory within a fully enclosed system; providing safe, secure and controlled inventory management. The system can be configured to permit only authorized personnel access to stored inventory through a personal login and password. This allows missing or misplaced goods to be tracked back to a specific individual. This enhanced level of accountability and security eliminates inventory shrink and its negative impact on the bottom line.
Additionally, items are kept clean and protected from exposure to dirt, dust and other environmental contaminants. Not only does this extend their useful life, but also reduces the amount of products or components that must be scrapped due to damage.
Machines can be interfaced with a facility’s warehouse management system (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems allowing you to closely monitor stock levels in real time—and potentially eliminate physical counts—to reduce the amount of inventory they must have on hand. FIFO (first in, first out) or LIFO (last in, first out) picking processes can also be implemented for better inventory turn.
6. Improved Ergonomics
Every item stored in an ASRS can be delivered to the operator at an optimal ergonomic height - also called the “Golden Zone” (between a user’s shoulder and knees). Shelves, trays or bins of items are presented in easy reach, eliminating bending down to retrieve an item stored low, or stretching up to grab an item stored high. With some ASRS units, the addition of a lift table can be necessary to achieve this ergonomic benefit. This substantially reduces the risk of worker injury, absenteeism, insurance premiums and claims for worker’s compensation.
Further, by delivering items to the operator and eliminating walking through rows of shelving operator fatigue is minimized.
So there you have it, the details on how an ASRS can save you floor space, reduce your labor, minimize picking errors, speed your pick rates, provide better inventory control and create an ergonomic work environment for your employees.
For more on Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems, check out our Intro to ASRS post.