AGVs vs AS/RS: What’s the Difference?
If you’re looking to automate your warehouse or distribution center, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many options available when it comes to technology. Between sortation, inventory management, storage, shipping, and everything in between, you may not know where to even begin, especially if you have always done things manually in the past.
One question that we get a lot from managers who want to take the first steps towards automation is: What exactly is the difference between AGVs and AS/RS? Are they the same thing? Which one is better for my operation?
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In order to set the record straight, we decided that we would take a look at both AGVs and AS/RS explore the similarities and differences between the two technologies.
What are AGVs and AS/RS?
Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are precisely what they sound like: Mobile robots (such as driverless trains, pallet trucks, or unit load carriers) that are able to move independently of an operator. How exactly they navigate the warehouse floor depends on the precise type of AGV in question, but typically the machines either follow markers or wires in the floor or use a combination of LiDAR and visual cameras in order to establish routes and avoid obstacles.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) is a kind of warehouse technology where goods are automatically brought out of, and placed back into, storage. This is typically achieved by pairing the technology with warehouse execution software (WES) that manages the process and helps warehouse personnel process orders.
Though there are a number of different types of AS/RS, each operating slightly differently and best suited to handling specific kinds of inventory, the inventory itself is typically retrieved from and placed back into storage either by an inserter/extractor or some kind of crane or articulating robotic arm.
AS/RS and AGVs: The Similarities
If you’re a warehouse manager who has always done things manually in your facility, it’s easy to understand why you might confuse the two terms. A part of that confusion comes from the fact that they’re often known by their acronyms, which can become a bit like alphabet soup when thrown together with other commonly used acronyms.
It also doesn’t help that both technologies are often talked about together as being solutions to some of the most common issues that today’s order fulfillment operations are facing: Rising labor costs, labor availability, etc.
But beyond that, there are a few key similarities between the two technologies. First and foremost, at their heart, both AGVs and AS/RS are used to accomplish the same purpose: Moving inventory and materials from point A to point B. They can both be controlled by WES software to streamline order fulfillment, and they can both be deployed as an answer to the question of getting more storage and throughput out of an existing warehouse.
AS/RS and AGVs: The Differences
Similarities aside, AGVs and AS/RS systems operate in very different ways, which makes each better suited to different tasks.
The routes that AGVs follow can typically be changed much more readily than the routes followed by an AS/RS system. Though laying these new routes (whether wires or magnetic track) will require an investment of time and money, it will be much easier to accomplish compared to moving an AS/RS system to a new location within a facility.
The primary focus of the AGVs is in the shuttling of materials or inventory from one location to another within a facility. For this reason, AGVs are often used by operations who are looking to reduce their labor costs by allowing personnel to be deployed to more valuable tasks.
AS/RS, on the other hand, are not as mobile. Generally speaking, AS/RS systems function by moving along a rail, carousel, or track system in order to interact with fixed racks or shelving that stores inventory. As such, their mobility is limited to wherever this track is laid (typically between aisles or a set of aisles), though the technology is often paired with conveyors, sorters, or other systems (potentially even AGVs) to deliver the goods to their final destination within a facility.
Because of this, AS/RS is primarily utilized by operations who are seeking to make better and more efficient use of their inventory space.
The Bottom Line
Both AGVs and AS/RS have the potential to dramatically increase the efficiency and productivity of your operation while reducing costs and boosting your bottom line.
Not sure which technology is right for your operation? A qualified systems integrator can help determine the right fit solution for your needs, whether that is solely AGV, solely AS/RS, or some mix of the two (or other) technologies.