Intro to AS/RS: Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems | Exotec

Intro to AS/RS: Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

November 20, 2023

In the dynamic world of warehouse management, finding the optimal mix of performance and flexibility is paramount to setting businesses up for future success. The Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) is central to this modern operational competency. An AS/RS is a robotic or mechanized system engineered to expedite the storage and retrieval of goods within a warehouse environment, optimizing space utilization and significantly improving the overall workflow.

The roots of AS/RS technology trace back to the 1960s, a period marked by a burgeoning need for faster, more efficient storage solutions amidst the wave of industrialization. Unlike the slow-evolving traditional AS/RS technologies, the recent emergence of robotic providers like Exotec has brought innovative solutions tailored for today’s dynamic warehouse demands, offering a significant leap toward meeting rapidly changing market conditions and supply chain challenges. Today, this technology stands as an indispensable asset, seamlessly integrating with the operational framework of warehouses to ensure higher order accuracy, better inventory control, and a substantial reductions in operational costs, along with an extensive array of other advantages that we will explore later in this article.

Investing in AS/RS

Implementing an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) can be the most impactful investment a business makes toward enhancing warehouse operations and, by extension, its overall supply chain efficiency. The ripple effect of this investment significantly contributes to elevating customer experiences, which is crucial in a competitive market landscape. A staggering 80% of consumers are reported to switch allegiance to a competitor following just one unsatisfactory encounter, with this tendency persisting whether it’s a customer’s first purchase or their 50th. In light of such data, the impetus for businesses to prioritize operational efficiency and accuracy is abundantly clear. By fostering a more efficient, reliable, and rapid operational ecosystem, AS/RS systems are pivotal in ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, solidifying a brand’s standing in the market.

Efficiency and Speed in Inventory Management

AS/RS systems are meticulously engineered to take on the redundant, strenuous, and time-intensive tasks traditionally associated with manual labor in inventory management. By automating the storage and retrieval of goods, these systems remarkably boost efficiency and speed within the operational workflow. The automation frees up valuable time and human resources, which can be reallocated to more strategic, value-adding tasks within the warehouse. Moreover, the swift and precise movement of goods facilitated by AS/RS systems ensures real-time inventory updates, allowing for a more fluid and responsive operational framework. The enhanced efficiency and expedited operations create a powerful ripple effect, leading to a marked decrease in order processing and fulfillment time. This improvement is crucial for adhering to the stringent delivery schedules of today’s market and plays a vital role in fostering customer loyalty and encouraging repeat business.

Cost Efficiency and Space Optimization with AS/RS

A hallmark benefit of AS/RS is its substantial cost savings to warehouse operations. By optimizing warehouse space, AS/RS systems enable a higher density of stored goods, thus maximizing storage efficiency. This optimization is particularly beneficial in light of rising commercial real estate costs as it allows operations to be carried out from smaller facilities, embracing a micro-fulfillment model. Moreover, the automation of labor-intensive tasks leads to a noticeable reduction in labor costs. It alleviates the need for manual picking, a process that typically sees pickers walking several miles daily in search of ordered goods. This cuts down on time and frees up employees to engage in more value-added operations within the warehouse. Over time, these savings accumulate, significantly impacting the bottom line while concurrently enhancing operational efficiency and the overall work environment.

Enhancing Accuracy and Reducing Costly Errors in Order Fulfillment

In the demanding world of warehouse management, achieving high order accuracy is paramount. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) play a crucial role by streamlining the most intricate tasks and minimizing decision-making. While they may not fully automate the process without a robotic picking arm, they effectively eliminate human errors. Operator tools like pick-to-light and put-to-light systems further aid in this process, ensuring enhanced precision and reliability, leading to consistent, timely order fulfillment.

The stakes are high when it comes to order accuracy. A small error rate can translate to many inaccurate orders, leading to unhappy customers. The average order-picking accuracy rate stands at 99.4%. While this may seem high, it implies that out of 1,000,000 orders, 6,000 will be incorrect. These inaccuracies can quickly escalate into a costly problem, especially considering the rising trend of returns. According to Insider Intelligence, returns surpassed more than $600 billion during 2023, with the average cost of a returned order equating to 21% of the total value.

AS/RS systems are instrumental in mitigating these challenges by significantly improving order accuracy. By reducing the margin of error in order picking, AS/RS aids in curbing the frequency of returns, which, in turn, directly impacts a business’s bottom line and customer loyalty.

Enhancing Safety and Reducing Workplace Accidents

Safety is paramount in warehouse operations. AS/RS systems significantly mitigate the risks associated with manual handling of goods. Minimizing the need for human intervention in storage and retrieval processes reduces the likelihood of workplace accidents considerably. Furthermore, the systematic organization of goods within an AS/RS minimizes the risks associated with falling objects or misplacements, fostering a safer work environment.

In summation, the benefits of AS/RS extend well beyond operational efficiency, permeating through various facets of warehouse management. The result is a more streamlined, safe, and cost-effective operational milieu ready to meet the necessities of modern-day market demands. 

AS/RS utilizing robotics to pick ordered goods

How Do AS/RS Work

The operational prowess of the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) lies in its seamlessly integrated components. Understanding the mechanics of AS/RS is pivotal in appreciating its transformative impact on warehouse operations. This section delves into the technical components of AS/RS and the process governing storage and retrieval.

The Process of Storage and Retrieval: A Step-by-Step Walkthrough

  • Input: The process begins with transferring inventory from decanting stations to automated conveyors, which feed into the AS/RS.
  • Storage: Once inside the system, the control software assigns a storage location based on factors like the size, weight, or frequency of access to the item. The goods are then transported to the designated location in the storage aisles.
  • Inventory Update: Post storage, the inventory data is updated in real-time, reflecting the accurate status of goods within the system.
  • Retrieval Request: When a retrieval request is initiated, the control software identifies the location of the desired item(s) and directs the goods accordingly.
  • Retrieval: The goods are navigated to the specified location, retrieved, and transported to the picking station.
  • Output: The goods are collected by station operators or robotic picking arms and transferred into preparation containers that are then dispatched to the next phase of the order fulfillment process.
  • Inventory Update: Post retrieval, the inventory data is updated to reflect the current status.

By automating the traditionally labor-intensive and error-prone storage and retrieval processes, AS/RS significantly enhances the operational efficiency of warehouses. The synergy between its technical components and systematic process ensures streamlined, accurate, and speedy inventory management, propelling warehouse operations into heightened productivity and reliability.

Types of AS/RS

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) come in various configurations, each tailored to meet specific operational needs and space constraints within warehouses. Understanding the distinct types of AS/RS and their respective advantages is pivotal for making informed decisions in optimizing warehouse operations. Let’s delve into the various types of AS/RS and explore their comparative merits and use cases.

Unit-load AS/RS

Unit-load AS/RS is designed to handle large loads with a single retrieval action. They are ideal for storing pallets, containers, or large unit loads. These robust systems can handle heavy weights, making them preferred for bulk storage and handling.

Mini-load AS/RS

As the name suggests, mini-load AS/RS are engineered for handling smaller loads. They are adept at storing and retrieving totes, cartons, or individual items. Mini-load systems deliver high speed and accuracy, yet they exhibit low degrees of flexibility due to their reliance on heavy mechanical equipment.

Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs)

Vertical Lift Modules are essentially enclosed systems with two columns of trays and an automated lift mechanism that travels vertically to store or retrieve trays. VLMs are highly space-efficient and provide a secure, protected environment for stored goods. They are ideal for operations with diverse item sizes and a premium on-floor space.

Carousel Systems

Carousel systems consist of rotating shelves that move vertically or horizontally to bring the desired item to the access point. They are efficient and provide quick access to items, making them suitable for high-throughput operations or where quick retrieval is a priority.

Robotic AS/RS

Robotic AS/RS systems represent a blend of automation and robotics designed to provide the optimal mix of performance and flexibility for modern warehouses. Unlike traditional systems, robotic AS/RS utilizes autonomous mobile robots to store, retrieve, and transport goods within the warehouse. This type of system is highly adaptable to varying operational needs and can be easily reconfigured or expanded. A notable example is the Exotec Skypod System, which employs robotic technology to provide a modular and easily adaptable solution to meet evolving warehouse demands. Robotic AS/RS is ideal for warehouses looking to leverage cutting-edge technology for enhanced efficiency, accuracy, and scalability.

AS/RS Applications

The implementation of the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) across various sectors showcases its potential to modernize warehouse operations and meet diverse operational demands. The case of Rediv, a leader in second-hand fashion, illustrates the transformative impact of AS/RS on warehousing solutions. Furthermore, the flexibility and adaptability of AS/RS to various warehouse demands are emphasized through this real-world application.

Rediv Case Study:

Rediv, with its robust presence in the second-hand fashion market across Europe, faced challenges in managing an expanding catalog within a 3,500 m² warehouse in southwest France. The goal was to enhance order fulfillment while aligning with sustainability goals for employees and the environment. Implementing an AS/RS solution led to a remarkable 4X boost in throughput, significantly improving shipping capacity and operational efficiency while reducing the system’s footprint in the warehouse.

Eric Gagnaire, CEO and co-founder of Rediv, appreciated the flexibility of the chosen solution: “The flexibility of the goods-to-person system was decisive in our choice of robotic solution. We were convinced by the ability to adapt to our industry and its constraints.”

For a detailed insight into Rediv’s challenges, the AS/RS solution implemented, and the transformative results achieved, we invite you to read the full case study.

The Flexibility and Adaptability of AS/RS to Various Warehouse Demands:

The Rediv case study underscores the flexibility and adaptability of the Exotec AS/RS in catering to diverse operational demands. Whether accommodating an extensive range of SKUs, enhancing operational efficiency, or aligning with sustainability goals, AS/RS systems are a versatile solution. The modular nature of AS/RS allows for seamless expansion and adaptation to evolving operational needs, making it a robust and future-proof choice for modern warehouse management.

Deploying AS/RS is not confined to a particular type of operation or industry. Its ability to morph in alignment with operational demands makes it a formidable asset in the quest for optimized warehouse operations.

Choosing the Right AS/RS Solution

Selecting the most suited Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) is a nuanced endeavor that necessitates a thorough understanding of current operational needs and future growth aspirations. The right AS/RS solution can significantly elevate the efficiency, accuracy, and safety of warehouse operations. Below, we delve into the crucial factors to consider, provide an overview of reputable providers, including Exotec, and extend an invitation to explore the range of available AS/RS solutions for achieving smarter, faster fulfillment.

Factors to Consider When Selecting an AS/RS System:

  • Operational Needs: Assess the specific operational requirements, including the volume of goods, throughput needs, and the level of granularity in inventory management required.
  • Space Constraints: Evaluate the available space and how different AS/RS configurations can optimize space utilization.
  • Budget: Determine the budgetary allowances, considering the upfront investment and long-term operational savings.
  • Integration Capabilities: Consider how seamlessly the AS/RS system can integrate with existing warehouse management systems and operational workflows.
  • Scalability: Assess the scalability of the system to ensure it can grow in tandem with the evolving needs of the warehouse.
  • Support & Maintenance: Examine the level of support and maintenance services the vendor provides to ensure smooth operations post-implementation.
Order being fulfilled at an AS/RS picking station

Exotec Skypod: The Optimal AS/RS Choice for Modern Warehouses

With modern warehouses’ complex challenges, finding ways to get the job done faster and more efficiently is crucial to success. The Exotec Skypod system can help you transform your warehouse’s most fundamental aspects with elegant goods-to-person robotic solutions.

The Skypod system is fully modular, allowing customers to deploy in a matter of weeks and easily expand without interrupting production by simply adding robots, stations, or racks. Over 30 industry-leading brands, including Carrefour, Decathlon, Gap, and Uniqlo, trust Exotec to improve their operations and profitably navigate rapid shifts in business models while meeting customer expectations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Operational Efficiency: The Exotec Skypod system is a linchpin for achieving higher operational efficiency, enabling rapid and accurate storage and retrieval of goods.
  • Cost-Efficiency: The Skypod system presents a viable avenue for substantial cost savings through optimized space utilization and reduced labor costs.
  • Accuracy & Reliability: The Skypod system’s automated nature minimizes the error margin, ensuring high accuracy and reliability in order fulfillment.
  • Safety Enhancement: By reducing the manual handling of goods, the Skypod system contributes to creating a safer workplace environment.
  • Adaptability: The modular nature of the Skypod system provides a flexible solution adaptable to various operational needs and space constraints.

As we stand on the cusp of a new era in warehouse management, embracing the future of warehouse automation through the Exotec Skypod system is timely and compelling. The Skypod system offers a tailored solution for warehouses striving to meet the necessities of modern-day market demands.

The narrative of Rediv illustrates the tangible impact and the scalability that the Skypod system brings to the table, reflecting a broader trend of modernization sweeping across the warehousing sector. As the market continues to evolve, exploring and adopting Exotec’s Skypod system emerges as a prudent step toward staying competitive and future-ready.

We encourage stakeholders to delve into the transformative potential of the Exotec Skypod system, seeking the perfect synergy between current operational needs and future growth aspirations. The trajectory towards smarter, faster, and more reliable warehouse fulfillment is well within reach. The Exotec Skypod system is a robust vehicle propelling warehouses toward a horizon of unparalleled operational excellence.

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