In recent times, the concept of warehouse automation has gained significant attention within the logistics sector. Thanks to rapid technological progress, many companies are adopting new ways of storing goods in warehouses, aiming to effectively diminish the need for manual tasks and the associated challenges of time, labor, and errors.
While the idea of automating your warehouse presents countless advantages, what prudent considerations should influence your decision-making before embarking on your warehouse transformation journey?
In this piece, we will address the most frequently asked questions about warehouse automation and empower your journey toward implementing automation systems.
Reduce labor overhead while increasing throughput capabilities.
Streamline product storage while improving inventory organization.
Achieve higher storage density within the warehouse footprint.
Improve warehouse safety through optimized material flows and enhanced ergonomics.
Group frequent movers together, such as popular and complementary products. Items can be stored in specific locations to speed up the picking, packing, and shipping processes.
Implement warehouse software to optimize product storage, optimize labor throughput, and picking strategies.
Regardless of your industry, your requirements are closely tied to the products you handle—referred to as load units. What are load units? They are single or multiple items combined into a single entity as they move through the distribution process. From picking to shipping, load units impact every operation. While most automated systems use standardized load units, there are cases where non-standardized units fit better. Imagine the varied needs of electronics appliance manufacturing versus pharmaceuticals. Simply put, system needs are influenced by load units.
Yet, optimizing your facility goes beyond load units. Consider these key questions and the factors that would shape your load units, driving the automation design.
Automotive — Do you have special considerations for just-in-sequence or need additional spare parts storage?
E-commerce — Are you now having to implement an omnichannel or multi-channel distribution strategy?
Grocery/CPG — Does the ASRS require accurate temperature control or micro-fulfillment?
Industrial — Do you have specific weights or odd shaped units? Or need to meet stringent regulations for storage?
Manufacturing — Are you storing lots of product or need just-in-time assembly?
Pharmaceutical / Health & Beauty — Do you need extra security protections, track and trace capabilities, or temperature considerations in your ASRS?
Retail – Do you need a returns system? Are you focused on brick and mortar, e-commerce, omnichannel, or need to fulfill from store?
Determining your storage by the product characteristic may sound obvious, but products may have multiple characteristics to consider. If you distribute products that have a wide variation in characteristics, you might even need multiple storage zones within a single facility. Zones can then be brought together later during the fulfillment process downstream.
The key data you should consider:
What is the number of orders per day your facility handles?
What is the number of order lines per day your facility handles?
How many picks per day occur at your facility?
How many picks per order line occur in your facility?
What is the quantity of SKUs stored in your building?
How many SKUs in your facility are active per day?
How much SKU inventory do you have?
How many storage locations do you currently have?
How many storage locations will you need?
What is your SKU profile/ABC curve?
Yes, whether you are picking the perfect location for a new construction facility or installing an ASRS in a facility, you need to consider some of these options:
Installing Within an Existing Facility
When it is time to install a new ASRS, you need to have a good look at your facility. The location of a system matters as much for your material flow as the parts themselves. If utilizing an existing facility is your path, ask yourself:
In what area of the warehouse do you plan to install the ASRS?
What is the clear height of this area?
How does this area fit into my existing material flow?
Installing in a Greenfield or a New Construction Facility
If you are building a new facility, also called Greenfield construction, you need to have your ASRS be a part of your planning before you finalize construction on your building. The structural elements of an ASRS can require certain provisions — if something needs modifying, you can avoid even more downtime by including it as part of your final plan.
Planning for the Future
With a new ASRS and a more efficient material flow, you can expect a strong possibility of growth. In order to ensure future scalability, do not “land lock” your new ASRS! Make sure you have it near areas of the building such as walls for future expansions. You can also leave space within the ASRS design for future aisles.
By this point, you should have a good idea about your throughput metrics and spatial requirements. Let’s look at storage options you have for an ASRS.
Typically, these storage and retrieval machines (SRM) operate as a crane inside a single aisle, utilizing a fork that moves vertically on the crane mast. These systems are one- to two-pallets deep with single- or double-deep storage on either side of the crane aisle.
Instead of a telescopic fork, this SRM has a crane with a pallet satellite attached to it. The satellite starts in its dock attached to the crane. During operation, the satellite leaves the dock and moves into the rack, retrieving a pallet and returning to the dock.
Channel storage systems consist of multiple storage positions behind one another to create a dense storage facility. A channel vehicle moves back and forth within the channel to store and retrieve pallets. Forklifts move the channel vehicle to the desired position. The channel vehicle then either places or retrieves the pallet. This is a great solution for those looking to move towards semi-automation.
A tote shuttle is like a pallet shuttle, but for cases and totes. These shuttles feature one shuttle per level, each with a front-end lift that connects the levels for high-speed tote storage with medium- to high-storage requirements. You can achieve 300 to 600 totes in and out per aisle per hour depending on a single- or double lift design. Most tote shuttles have a weight capacity limit up to 110 Lbs. (50 kg).
Miniloads feature a single crane per aisle for tote storage and support single or double-deep tote storage. Highly dependable systems that deliver speeds up to 240 m/minute and is an energy efficient solution.
Vertical Lift Modules
Vertical Lift Modules (VLM) decrease your storage footprint by housing shelves vertically in an elevator-like system. By leveraging unused vertical space within a facility, the overall storage increases. Software is used to secure items and to provide audit trails, which is great for storing high value items.
Key Characteristics of VLM
Low to medium throughput
Security features include password protection and shelf level access
With these questions answered, you can start forming a plan for a new or upgraded facility. The goal is to make sure that you are ready to take the first step towards your new automated warehouse and have as much knowledge as possible about the different solutions available. The SSI SCHAEFER team of experts are leaders within the automation industry and have helped numerous companies develop a plan and implement complete ASRS solutions.
Have a question about warehouse automation? Contact our SSI Schaefer Logistics Automation Experts here
Download this best practice guide to determine what automated warehouse solution is best for your application. You'll benefit from decades of best practices across a multitude of industries.