4 Common Applications for AS/RS in Warehouses and DCs
By now, most warehouse managers know the benefits that automated storage and receiving systems (AS/RS) can bring to an order fulfillment or materials handling operation: Everything from reducing labor costs to increasing safety to boosting efficiency, and more.
But exactly how can an operation utilize AS/RS in order to meet these goals? What applications within your operation are best suited to take advantage of AS/RS technology?
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Traditionally, AS/RS has been seen as a technology meant to serve a single function: To provide long-term storage for the product in a way that makes the best use of an operation’s space. But the truth is, there are many ways that an operation can use AS/RS to become a smarter, faster, and better.
To help you better understand the role that AS/RS can play in your workflow, below we explore some of the ways that your operation might be able to incorporate AS/RS in order to increase productivity and reach your warehouse automation goals.
Applying AS/RS in the Warehouse
1. Long-term Storage
One of the primary benefits of AS/RS is its ability to store product in a way that makes the most efficient use of available space, especially over the long term. By implementing AS/RS, an operation can automate their long-term storage of raw material or product and retrieve what they need when they need it.
By integrating the AS/RS with their Warehouse Execution Software (WES) they can intelligently auto-rotate stock as new product/materials are delivered so that older product is always used first, reducing waste and spoilage (especially when it comes to handling food or pharmaceuticals).
2. Managing Buffer Storage
In a typical warehouse or factory, different processes take different amounts of time to complete. If these discrepancies are not properly managed, then all it takes is a poorly-timed machine breakdown in one stage of production to bring an entire operation to a standstill.
Buffering aims to prevent such a breakdown by ensuring that enough supplies/product are always on hand in different stages to keep an operation running. But while buffering makes sense, poorly managed it can become a logistical nightmare, requiring miles of conveyor to properly buffer and stage.
AS/RS has the potential to replace these conveyor buffering systems, allowing an operation to efficiently store buffer product and retrieve it as necessary. And, depending on the specifics of the operation, this buffer management can be put in place in multiple areas of an operation’s workflow, whether that is staging product/raw material as it is delivered (“Inbound Receiving Buffer”) or storing inventory exactly where it will be needed along the production line (“Assembly Line Point-of-Use Buffering”).
3. Staging Orders for Shipping
The impact of e-commerce and omni-channel delivery on the order fulfillment process can not be overstated. Customers are now able to shop and place orders around the clock, and they want their product delivered fast and on time. But even if an operation accepts and processes orders 24/7, there are often constraints to shipping windows: Due to worker shifts, for example, or exorbitant night and weekend delivery fees.
To make up for these constraints, an operation can pick and process orders continuously and use an AS/RS to place them in a sort of buffer storage to stage them until the shipping window is open. This saves time and allows an operation to continuously produce, even when orders can not physically leave the facility.
4. Goods-to-Person for Order Picking and Packing
Picking and packing product for orders can be some of the most time-consuming tasks in the order fulfillment process. In fact, the process of walking and manually picking orders can account for more than 50 percent of the time associated with picking. AS/RS offers an alternative to this through the use of Goods-to-Person (G2P) order picking.
In a goods-to-person order picking system, the worker does not physically move from product location to product location to pick an order. Instead, a mini-load AS/RS crane is able to retrieve the necessary stock from storage and delivery it directly to the worker, who operates in a pick/pack station. Once the appropriate amount of product has been picked, the stock is returned to storage and the next item needed for the order is delivered to the worker for picking.
This can be done on a full-case or split-case basis, depending on the operation. In either scenario, the AS/RS can sequence product so that it makes the most logistical sense—allowing cases of heavy product to be placed on the bottom of a pallet, for example, or organizing product so that similar products are together.
The Bottom Line
Though originally conceived as a means of providing efficient, compact, long-term storage of goods and product, automated storage and retrieval systems have the potential to touch many different systems within your operation: from providing long-term storage of raw materials or product to providing shorter-term buffer storage, staging orders prior to shipping, and enabling goods-to-person picking solutions.