4 Applications of Mini-Load AS/RS in Order Fulfillment
Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) hold a lot of potential for warehouses, distribution centers, and order fulfillment operations looking to automate their processes and become more efficient and profitable. But not all AS/RS systems are the same: There are many different varieties of AS/RS, each of which is best suited to be leveraged for different tasks and applications.
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One such variety that you might be considering is mini-load AS/RS. But how does mini-load AS/RS differ from unit-load systems, and what applications is the technology most often used in? Belore, we answer these questions and more so that you will have a better understanding of whether or not mini-load AS/RS makes sense for your operation.
What is Mini-Load AS/RS?
Mini-load AS/RS is a form of automatic storage and retrieval system typically used for case-sized loads. Mini-load systems can also be called “case-handling” or “tote-stacking” systems.
While system capacities can vary, most mini-load systems handle a maximum load of around 75 pounds, compared to unit load AS/RS which may handle loads up to 5,500 pounds. Unit-load AS/RS typically handle pallets and larger loads; mini-load systems, on the other hand, typically handle cases, totes, trays, and cartons.
This makes mini-load AS/RS especially well-suited for applications like order fulfillment (picking, case handling), buffer storage, slow moving item storage, and order sequencing. We explore each of these applications below.
Applications of Mini-Load AS/RS
1. Order Fulfillment
Mini-load AS/RS can be leveraged in a number of ways to facilitate order fulfillment within an operation. One of the most common of these applications is in support of your picking processes.
When an operation utilizes a goods-to-person order picking strategy, the worker does not travel throughout the facility in order to pick the various components of an order. Instead, inventory is brought directly to the picker. Mini-load AS/RS can be an incredibly effective means of implementing goods-to-person picking in your operation.
Mini-load AS/RS can also be especially well-suited for operations that require storage locations for a large number of SKUs, but which lack the floor space required for traditional carton-flow shelving to provide a pick face for each SKU.
2. Buffer Storage
A mini-load AS/RS system can also be an effective means of managing your buffer storage, potentially allowing you to replace miles of conveyor and make more efficient use of your operation’s footprint. In this way, a mini-load system can be leveraged in many areas throughout your workflow, including as an inbound receiving buffer, an assembly line point-of-use buffer, or in order consolidation.
3. Storage of Slow Moving Items
All operations carry a mix of fast moving and slow moving SKUs. Because each time you handle (or “touch”) a piece of inventory translates into higher processing costs, finding ways to reduce the number of touches your slow-moving inventory sees can be an excellent way of driving down your fulfillment costs and driving up your ROI.
One potential solution to reduce these expenses? Receive slow-moving items directly into your case- or tote-based mini-load AS/RS system for storage. When necessary, you can pick directly from the mini-load. All in all, this means you never have to handle the case after it’s been received into the building, saving you on handling costs, warehouse space (since you don’t need space to store a pallet), and loss of product (due to less human error).
4. Other Uses
In addition to the applications discussed above, mini-load AS/RS can be leveraged to perform a range of other roles within an operation, including:
- Reverse stop tote/case sequencing (though a shuttle-based system is likely to be faster than most mini-load systems)
- Returns processing, or “reverse logistics”
- Spare parts storage and management
Weighing Your Options
Are you unsure which form of AS/RS (mini-load, Shuttle, VLM or AMR system) is the better option for your operation? Do you have an application in mind that you are considering deploying mini-load AS/RS to fulfill? Are you curious how other AS/RS technologies such as a Shuttle, VLM, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) might be able to play in your operation?
Speaking with a trusted systems integrator can be an excellent means of weighing all of your options and determining your best path forward. Click here for a no-obligation consultation with one of our skilled integrators.