6 Benefits of Unit-Load AS/RS
If you are considering implementing automation technology or new equipment in your warehouse or distribution center, you have a lot of options to choose from.
While that’s certainly a good problem to have (and better than having too few options to choose from) it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and even potentially paralyzed into inaction. Warehouse automation is an investment in your business, after all, and it’s only natural to feel a pressure to get things right.
One popular and versatile automation technology you may already be considering is unit-load AS/RS. For the right operation, unit-load AS/RS can be an excellent means of realizing significant benefits. Below, we take a look at the main benefits that come with implementing unit-load AS/RS so that you will be able to make a more informed decision about whether or not it is the right choice for you.
Are you considering unit-load AS/RS for your operation? We can help you think through your options.
What is unit-load AS/RS?
Unit-load AS/RS is a form of automatic storage and retrieval system that handles full or partial cases, drums, racks, gaylords, pallets, or other exceptionally large and bulky loads. Often, the storage capacity tends to fall somewhere in the range of 1,000 to 5,000 pounds, depending on the material’s physical characteristics and the facility’s space availability. Higher capacities can also be available, but require discussion and analysis.
In addition to Unit-Load AS/RS there is a class of automated storage and retrieval systems called a Mid-Load AS/RS. This uses a central (non-mounted) crane in the center and covers up to 2,000 lbs. per load position. The Mid-Load AS/RS doesn’t carry as heavy a load, isn’t as fast or tall as a Unit-Load AS/RS system, but it is more flexible, reliable and far less costly. So when investigating Unit-Load AS/RS, you should review your requirements and see if the Mid-Load is a better fit.
Benefits of Utilizing Unit-Load AS/RS
1. More Efficient Labor
Like other forms of automation, implementing unit-load AS/RS will often translate into significant labor savings. Material transportation can be a low-skill task in most cases. Automating this task allows you to leverage your existing labor for tasks that add more value to your operation, or else reduce payroll expenses. Additionally, because the system can be operated 24/7, multi-shift operations can dramatically reduce staffing requirements.
2. Fewer Accidents
If you are not leveraging unit-load AS/RS in your operation for staging and storing materials or product, then there is a good chance you are transporting those things using forklifts, which can be prone to aisle congestion and accidents. Operations that switch to unit-load AS/RS will typically see a reduction in accidents, fewer workplace injuries, and less damaged or wasted product. All of this contributes to your bottom line and ROI.
3. Increased Inventory Visibility
When material is stored and retrieved manually, there is always a possibility that it will be mis-racked or otherwise misplaced within the facility. This lack of inventory visibility causes many problems. Implementing a unit-load system removes this challenge, because the system always knows exactly where inventory is placed.
4. Space Savings
Unit-load AS/RS can especially make sense in operations with a small footprint or otherwise limited or shrinking space. This is because implementing the systems will often lead to significant space savings of up to 85%. Unit-load AS/RS provides high-density storage and allows you to reduce aisle space, optimize your facility’s vertical height to convert open air to valuable storage space.
5. More Efficiency in Controlled Environments
For operations that are required to store product in refrigerated or frozen environments, AS/RS can lead to improved efficiencies. Humans, naturally, do not work well in such conditions, making them prone to error and accidents. Human workers also typically demand higher pay for working in such conditions. Implementing unit-load AS/RS for tasks in controlled environments will lead to both increased efficiency as well as labor savings.
6. Additional Functionality
Unit-load AS/RS can be leveraged to perform a wide range of applications, from buffering, sequencing to staging and more. Each of these applications has the potential to significantly increase your operation’s efficiency and throughput.
Types of Unit-Load AS/RS Systems
For decades, unit-load AS/RS systems were solely crane-in-aisle systems. An inserter-extractor crane would be mounted in the center of an aisle. The crane runs up and down plus back and forth to find its required position and then extract the pallet/inventory and deliver it to a workstation or conveyor transfer.
Today, technology provides more choices to match your application, throughput, weight, size, facility characteristics and business requirements. Technologies such as autonomous mobile robots, shuttle systems, crane and aisle unit-load AS/RS, Mid-Load AS/RS, and hybrid 3D mole and shuttle systems are available. Each system provides a different balance of capabilities and cost that need to be evaluated.
Is unit-load AS/RS right for you?
If you are considering unit-load AS/RS for your operation, it should be clear that doing so could lead to significant benefits. It does not mean, however, that it is the best option for all operations. Some businesses may realize greater benefits by implementing a different form of automation, for example.
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 Solutions Consultant to determine your RightFIT system.