Traditional warehouses were labour intensive and required a lot of space (primarily to accommodate large shelving racks that were accessible to workers). When German company, Demag, developed a new warehouse design in the 1950s, marrying vertical space solutions with automation technology, it revolutionised warehousing.

Today, the automated storage and retrieval system, or AS/RS, delivers a key competitive edge as it automates the retrieval and deposition of high-volume loads, accurately and at speed. The AS/RS is ideal for use in warehouses handling high volume loads, where storage density is a key factor due to cost or lack of space.

What is an AS/RS?

An automated storage and retrieval system is an automated system designed to store and retrieve inventory or products – replacing traditional shelving. Here, Robots are used to bring the goods to workers. The AS/RS solution isn’t limited by size and is easily tailored to meet customers’ requirements using cube storage, robotics, carousels, and shuttles. All these components and systems are managed by a Warehouse Management System (WMS).

The AS/RS installation depends on the size and weight of the products in the warehouse and will consider the storage structure, physical automation, conveyance interface, and control software.

The benefits of AS/RS systems

While AS/RS installations require significant changes to working practices, warehouse infrastructure and layout, as well as regular maintenance to maintain peak performance, the payoff is significant. Our customers typically achieve labour, energy and space savings of up to 75% which means the effort is well worth the pay-off.

The benefits of an AS/RS include:

  • Improved accuracy, efficiency and productivity: Czech e-grocer Rohlik implemented warehouse automation in their Prague fulfilment centre and increased picking speed by three times, leading to an overall increase in productivity. While they offer a standard three-hour delivery guarantee, 10% of all orders are now delivered within 60 minutes.
  • Higher volumes: The AutoStore Robots – the R5 (Red Line) and the B1 (Black Line) – can handle up to 350 order lines and 650 order lines per hour, respectively, per port. As part of an AS/RS system, they enable exceptional throughput. Zeek Logistics (a US-based third-party logistics and e-commerce fulfilment company) deployed an AutoStore AS/RS system, including 22 Robots, to speed up order fulfilment. The AutoStore solution enabled them to achieve same-day shopping on incoming orders.
  • Improved working conditions:  The AS/RS reduces repetitive and physically demanding tasks, freeing personnel to focus on more strategic pursuits. This is particularly pertinent in the local context, where labour shortages are prevalent. German ribbon and gift manufacturer, C.E. Pattberg, installed an AutoStore AS/RS system to streamline operations during the Christmas rush at their warehouse in Hättingen. The system made work less arduous for employees, who no longer walk long distances to pick orders or print labels. In addition, staff training expenses have been reduced, as new employees need only 10 to 15 minutes of training to use the system.
  • Optimised density storage: Zeek Logistics’ AutoStore system optimised their warehouse space utilisation – fitting into less than 40% of the area previously occupied by rack storage.

Why the Cube Storage AS/RS is favoured

Cube storage typically comprises a Grid (the framework of the system), which holds storage Bins and Robots. The Robots travel over the Grid, picking up and carrying the Bins, which contain products or stock items.

Cube storage offers the highest storage density and most efficient use of space among the different AS/RS systems, as it removes all the empty space found in traditional shelving.  It sorts products by popularity, putting those on the top of the grid to ensure higher picking speed. The building block design of a cube storage system enables ease of installation as well as expansion.

With the different technologies available now, nearly every warehouse can be automated. AS/RS systems offer a superior warehousing solution as they optimise space and enable greater accuracy and productivity.

Jason Wu is business development manager for AutoStore Australia and New Zealand.