5 Applications & Uses of Unit-Load AS/RS
If you are looking to automate low-value tasks within your warehouse, distribution center, or order fulfillment operation, in order to better deploy your labor resources to higher-value tasks, you’ve got a lot of choices. One common option worth considering is unit load AS/RS.
Below, we take a look at what unit-load AS/RS is, the different types of technology that fall under this category of warehouse automation, and the different applications and uses that you can deploy unit-load AS/RS to perform.
Got questions about the software requirements involved with implementing AMRs in your facility? Speak with a member of the Conveyco team.
What is unit-load AS/RS?
Unit-load AS/RS is a term used to refer to any automated technology specifically designed to handle exceptionally large and heavy loads, such as full or partial pallets, gaylords, drums, racks, or cases. Though each system has its own capacity limits, as a rule of thumb unit-load AS/RS can typically handle loads ranging from 1,000 to around 5,000 pounds. Lighter and heavier weight capacities are available as well.
Generally speaking, there are three primary styles of unit-load AS/RS: Shuttle-based systems, crane-based and robotic-based systems.
- Shuttle-based unit-load AS/RS systems consist of a shuttle or bot that runs on a track situated between a racking structure. The shuttle navigates to the correct location in order to store or retrieve inventory. These systems can operate on one or multiple levels depending on your specific needs. When shuttle systems only move horizontally and vertically (i.e., in two dimensions) they are known as 2D shuttles. When they move in three dimensions, they are known as 3D shuttles.
- Crane-based unit-load AS/RS systems on the other hand consist of a crane which travels between aisles of pallet racks. When the crane reaches the correct location, it will either place or retrieve product. Crane-based systems can either be fixed-aisle (the crane is fixed to a single aisle of pallets) or moveable-aisle (the crane can move between different aisles as necessary).
- Robotic-based unit-load AS/RS systems provide the flexibility and agility that crane and shuttle based unit-load systems don’t come close to, but it trades off storage density and cube utilization. Robotic-based unit-load systems consist of several models of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). The models include a transportation AMRs, tugger AMRs and forklift AMRs. Depending on the number of pallets, pallet weight, available ceiling height, and distance to transport in your facility, an AMR system can provide unit-load AS/RS efficiencies. Unit-loads can be transported, lifted and placed in a rack without any human intervention just like a unit-load AS/RS system. Your specific requirements will determine which technology is best suited for your application.
Applications of Unit-Load AS/RS
1. High-Density Pallet Storage
If you find yourself struggling with a limited footprint or a shortage of storage space within your facility, leveraging unit-load AS/RS for high-density storage can enable you to address this issue. This is especially true in buildings with high ceilings of up to ~120 feet tall, as this vertical space might otherwise go unused and wasted. Likewise, pallet-in/pallet-out warehouses can benefit from leveraging AS/RS in this way.
2. Special Loads
While pallets tend to get most of the attention when it comes to discussing unit-load AS/RS, the truth is that the technology is not limited to only handling pallets. You can also leverage unit-load technology for special loads such as drums, gaylords, rolls (for example, of carpet or paper), water, or even heavy units such as automobile chassis. As mentioned above, most unit-load AS/RS will handle up to 3,000 pounds standard and 5,000 pounds total capability, though additional heavier capacities can also be available.
You can leverage a unit-load AS/RS system as a form of goods-to-person technology. All that this would require is having the unit-load delivered to a case-pick station, where a human worker can complete their pick. Additionally, you may be able to fully automate the picking process by delivering the pallet to a layer-picking robot or other technology instead of a human worker.
4. Cold & Freezer Storage
Unit-load AS/RS can be leveraged in all sorts of environments and temperatures, such as ambient, cooled, or frozen environments. Because cooled and frozen environments can take a toll on human personnel, automated systems can be especially effective when leveraged in those ways. In addition to a productivity boost, this can also lead to fewer accidents and workplace injuries.
5. Buffering & Staging
Finally, it is possible to leverage a unit-load AS/RS system for buffering and staging. For example, you might buffer and stage outbound orders in order to more efficiently load an outbound truck, by sequencing the orders to effectively load the truck in reverse delivery sequence.
Leveraging a Unit-Load AS/RS System in Your Operation
You can leverage a unit-load AS/RS system in your operation in a number of ways, as discussed above.
Better yet, this technology plays well with a host of other technologies, allowing you to craft a wide range of fully- or partially-automated solutions. For example, you can feed the system via pallet conveyor, pallet monorail systems, or even robotic forklifts, AMRs, and AGVs. On the other end, the unit-load can itself feed anything from a robotic gantry to a manual gantry, AMRs (which would then deliver to workstations), robotic picking cells, and more.
A trusted systems integrator can guide you to the right solution by asking these and other questions, and by designing the perfect system for your needs. Contact us today to speak with a member of the Conveyco Team.