Introduction to ASRS

Welcome to Automation: Understanding the Automated Storage and Retrieval System

Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) transform inventory management for warehouses and distribution centers. Optimize order fulfillment and gain supply chain efficiencies with ASRS.   

ASRS Basics: Is an Automated Storage and Retrieval Solution Right for Your Application?

As e-commerce transforms the marketplace, manufacturers and warehouse and distribution operators must adapt to greater consumer demand and more SKU varieties.

Further, industries such as food and beverage and pharmaceutical operate under stringent regulations that require safe and secure product handling in sometimes temperature-sensitive environments. 

Automotive and other industrial industries are also seeing the need to automate as much of the manufacturing process as possible. Just-in-time manufacturing is incorporating ASRS solutions to gain speed and accuracy with minimal labor.

What do these trends mean for storage and distribution operations? A competitive advantage that is essential in today’s business climate.

How is your warehouse performance regarding space optimization, inventory efficiency, workforce management, order processing, and picking accuracy?    

It may be time for an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS).

ASRS Solutions Defined and Benefits

At their core, automated storage and retrieval systems, or ASRS for short, are computer-controlled inventory management systems that automate the storage and retrieval of unit loads for picking, packing, and shipping.

Solutions can range from miniload or roaming shuttle to pallet shuttle to vertical lift modules to horizontal and vertical carousels. The choice of solution depends on a variety of factors and its application in the warehouse.

ASRS operate in conjunction with a warehouse management system (WMS) to optimize product storage, increase labor throughput, and warehouse picking strategies. A WMS supports daily warehouse planning and identifies where to allocate resources to meet customer demand.

How prevalent are ASRS solutions in warehouses? Evidence shows ASRS is a growing automation market. According to Allied Market Research, the global automated storage and retrieval system market was valued at $7,351 million in 2019, and projected to reach $12,928 million by 2027—a CAGR of 7.2% from 2020 to 2027.  Since the pandemic, that number has risen to $8,407 million by the end of 2026 with a CAGR of 4.4% during 2021 – 2026 according to Market Watch.

What are the benefits of an ASRS?

The growth of ASRS solutions can be attributed to the benefits this automation brings to warehouse operators. Here are major ASRS system benefits:

  • Implement 24/7 warehouse and distribution operations

  • 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 flow and enhanced ergonomics

  • Replace human labor with automation in harsh temperature warehouse environments.

Choosing the appropriate ASRS storage solution for your application yields the best benefits. This requires proper planning and decision-making prior to a solution investment. 

ASRS Solution Planning and Decision-making

Whether you are installing your first ASRS solution or upgrading an existing ASRS system, warehouse operators need to gather critical facts to determine the best ASRS system option for their application.

The choice of ASRS solution must be adaptable to your WMS and warehouse picking processes.

Here are several key questions to answer as part of your ASRS system investment.

What are your load units?

Load units, or sometimes referred to or seen written as unit loads, impact every aspect of an ASRS system as they travel throughout the distribution center. Is it a standardized load with items of similar size and weight (e.g., pharmaceuticals) or non-standardized product (e.g., industrial)? Understanding the characteristics of your load units often dictates ASRS storage system requirements.

What are your throughput requirements?

The ability to efficiently and accurately move orders into and out of the warehouse is essential. What are your peak throughout hours or time of year? Know your throughout requirements to leverage your ASRS system for increased throughout and capacity in the warehouse. 

What is your key data?

Critical data such as orders per day, picks per day, SKU quantity stored, and active SKUs per day, help establish the level of automation investment and key performance indicators the ASRS system performs against.

What are your storage requirements?

Operating a dry storage versus a cold storage facility means significant differences in ASRS system needs and installation. Aside from storage temperature characteristics, what are the attributes of the SKUs in your facility? How do those attributes affect storage capacity?    

Do you need additional safety or security measures?

Operators of food and beverage and pharmaceutical warehouses must meet stringent regulatory requirements. Compliance requires further ASRS system investment to ensure adherence to U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety and security protocols.

What is your building situation?

Location, location, location. Are you installing an ASRS system into an existing building? If so, choosing the area where the structure rests and knowing the dimensions of the facility are critical. Does the location of the ASRS system allow for a smooth transition into other material flow processes? Does the height clearance allow for high bay ASRS solutions?

Often, building a new facility (referred to as Greenfield construction) provides multiple options for ASRS solutions and future scalability. However, have your ASRS solution plans decided prior to construction. A high bay ASRS warehouse, for example, serves as a support structure for the building.

What is your operational schedule?

The more hours per day worked in your facility with automation, the faster your return on investment will be. Will your shift structure change after implementing an ASRS solution into your warehouse ecosystem? Also, if you cannot expand your facility further, you can leave an additional shift open to accommodate for future growth.  

Do you have a plan for the future?

With a new ASRS system 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 solution. Make sure you have it near areas of the building for future expansions, including walls where the building can expand. You can also leave space within the ASRS design for future aisles.

With these critical questions answered, it’s time to explore the various ASRS systems and their attributes.

ASRS Storage Solution Types

As supplier deliveries arrive at the receiving dock of your warehouse, product is stacked on pallets, placed on trays, or put in totes and placed on conveyers for storage by an ASRS system.

Often, warehouses store frequently ordered product together or in proximity to optimize picking, packing and shipping processes.

What follows are various ASRS solution types, their functional characteristics, and optimal operating conditions. 

Pallet Storage and Retrieval Machine with Forks

Typically, these storage and retrieval machines (SRM) operate as a crane inside a single aisle, using 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 crane aisle.

  • Full pallet dispatch

  • Used to replenish picking areas

  • Large SKU range

  • Ideal for medium throughput

  • Handles 20 to 30 pallets per hour per aisle


SRM with Satellite

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, retrieves a pallet and returns to the dock.

  • For applications requiring more than double-deep storage

  • Great for dense storage, but low SKU count needed for optimal efficiency

  • Medium throughput

  • Twenty to 30 pallets per hour depending upon channel depth and SKU count

  • First in, first out (FIFO) and last in, first out (LIFO) requirements


Miniload

Miniloads feature a single crane per aisle for tote storage. These support single- or double-deep tote storage racks.

  • Good for high storage, low throughput applications

  • Optimal for high SKU counts—100-150 totes (in/out) per hour per aisle


Pallet Shuttle

A multi-level pallet shuttle with front-end lifts to connect to all rack levels. A multi-level pallet shuttle provides multi-deep channel storage like an SRM with satellite, but suited for faster throughput applications.

  • High throughput

  • High storage density

  • Twenty-five to 40 pallets in and out per level or SLR module per hour


Tote Shuttle

Similar to 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. This solution uses high-speed tote storage with medium-to-high storage requirements. Common for 300-600 totes in and out per aisle per hour depending on single- or double-lift design.

  • High throughput

  • Medium-high storage density


Horizontal and Vertical Carousels

Horizontal carousels are ideal when implemented in groups, presenting pickers with cases for picking. Vertical carousels have a lower depth for storage and align to facility walls.

  • Low to medium throughput

  • Medium storage density


Cube Storage

Comprised of stacked bins in a dense cube, thus eliminating aisles and dead space. Robots run across the overlaid grid, bringing bins to workstations for order picking.

  • Medium to high throughput

  • High storage density and high number of SKUs


Vertical Lift Module

Vertical lift modules decrease the storage footprint by housing shelves vertically in an elevator-like system. By compressing what could be dead space in a facility, overall storage increases.

  • Low to medium throughput

  • Medium storage density


Each of these ASRS solutions has its own optimal density and throughput environments. Regardless of the system, ensure a smooth material flow from your ASRS solution into the picking, packing, and shipping process.  

Warehouse Picking Solutions Augment ASRS

We can categorize picking into manual, semi-automated, and automated solutions. In a goods-to-person system, product is moved directly to the operator who then picks the items needed to fulfill orders.

Manual Tote Picking, Pick-to-Tote Stations

Human picking remains the most common form of order assembly in the warehouse. Based on a person-to-goods principle, work stations produce an error rate of nearly zero. The picker accesses goods stored in fixed locations.

  • Provides up to 1,000 picks per hour

  • Pick by light, pick by voice technology

  • Radio frequency (RF) picking system

  • E-Pick and pick@work


Semi-automated Pick from Pallet

Picking is performed by robotic or semi-robotic technologies that augment human pickers. These solutions are ideal when used with dynamic flow, shelf racks and pallet racks.

  • Gantry picking robots for layer- or case-picking functions

  • Palletizing/de-palletizing robots for case picking


Automated and Robotic Picking

Picking performed by robotic or semi-robotic technologies that augment human pickers. Automated picking systems provide rapid order processing with high-quality results, even during peak times.

  • Gantry picking robots for layer- or case-picking functions

  • Palletizing/de-palletizing robots for case picking

  • Incoming goods, de-palletizing, buffering, and picking processes

  • Sequencing and palletizing alongside goods-out piece picking

  • Zone bypass picking


With an ASRS system, manufacturers and warehouse and distribution centers can operate with the confidence that storage and retrieval automation provides. Evaluate your current and future operations to choose the ASRS solution that best matches your operational and strategic goals.


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