Automated storage and retrieval system is designed for automated storage and retrieval of parts and items in manufacturing, distribution, retail, wholesale and institutions. They first originated in the 1960s; initially focusing on heavy pallet loads but with the evolution of the technology they handled loads have become smaller. The systems operate under computerized control, maintaining an inventory of stored items. Retrieval of items is accomplished by specifying the item type and quantity to be retrieved. The computer determines where in the storage area the item can be retrieved from and schedules the retrieval. It directs the proper automated storage and retrieval machine (SRM) to the location where the item is stored and directs the machine to deposit the item at a location where it is to be picked up. A system of conveyors and or automated guided vehicles is sometimes part of the AS/RS system. These take loads into and out of the storage area and move them to the manufacturing floor or loading docks. To store items, the pallet or tray is placed at an input station for the system, the information for inventory is entered into a computer terminal and the AS/RS system moves the load to the storage area, determines a suitable location for the item, and stores the load. As items are stored into or retrieved from the racks, the computer updates its inventory accordingly.
The benefits of an AS/RS system include reduced labor for transporting items into and out of inventory, reduced inventory levels, more accurate tracking of inventory, and space savings. Items are often stored more densely than in systems where items are stored and retrieved manually.
Within the storage, items can be placed on trays or hang from bars, which are attached to chains/drives in order to move up and down. The equipment required for an AS/RS include a storage & retrieval machine (SRM) that is used for rapid storage and retrieval of material. SRMs are used to move loads vertically or horizontally, and can also move laterally to place objects in the correct storage location.
The trend towards Just In Time production often requires sub-pallet level availability of production inputs, and AS/RS is a much faster way of organizing the storage of smaller items next to production lines.
Material Handling Institute of America (MHIA), the non-profit trade association for the material handling world, and its members have broken AS/RS into two primary segments: Fixed Aisle and Carousels/Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs). Both sets of technologies provide automated storage and retrieval for parts and items, but use different technologies. Each technology has its unique set of benefits and disadvantages (like everything in the world). Fixed Aisle systems are characteristically larger systems whereas carousels and Vertical Lift Modules are used individually or grouped, but in small to medium-sized applications.
A fixed-aisle AS/R machine (stacker crane) is one of two main designs: single-masted or double-masted. Most are supported on a track and ceiling guided at the top by guide rails or channels to ensure accurate vertical alignment, although some are suspended from the ceiling. The 'shuttles' that make up the system travel between fixed storage shelves to deposit or retrieve a requested load (ranging from a single book in a library system to a several ton pallet of goods in a warehouse system). The entire unit moves horizontally within an aisle, while the shuttles are able to elevate up to the necessary height to reach the load, and can extend and retract to store or retrieve loads that are several positions deep in the shelving. A semi-automated system can be achieved by utilizing only specialized shuttles within an existing rack system.
Another AS/RS technology is known as shuttle technology. In this technology the horizontal movement is made by independent shuttles each operating on one level of the rack while a lift at a fixed position within the rack is responsible for the vertical movement. By using two separate machines for these two axes the shuttle technology is able to provide higher throughput rates than stacker cranes.
Storage and Retrieval Machines pick up or drop off loads to the rest of the supporting transportation system at specific stations, where inbound and outbound loads are precisely positioned for proper handling.
In addition, there are several types of Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) devices called Unit-load AS/RS, Mini-load AS/RS, Mid-Load AS/RS, Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs), Horizontal Carousels and Vertical Carousels. These systems are used either as stand-alone units or in integrated workstations called pods or systems. These units are usually integrated with various types of pick to light systems and use either a microprocessor controller for basic usage or inventory management software. These systems are ideal for increasing space utilization up to 90%, productivity levels by 90%, accuracy to 99.9%+ levels and throughput up to 750 lines per hour/per operator or more depending on the configuration of the system.
An effective automated storage and retrieval system provides several benefits for supply chain management:
· An efficient AS/RS system helps companies cut expenses by minimizing the amount of unnecessary parts and products in storage, and improving organization of the contents of a warehouse. Due to automated processes, it also allows for more storage space due to high-density storage, narrower aisles, etc.
· Automation reduces labor costs while lowering workforce requirements and increasing safety.
· Modeling and managing the logical representation of the physical storage facilities (e.g. racking, etc.). For example, if certain products are often sold together or are more popular than others, those products can be grouped together or placed near the delivery area to speed up the process of picking, packing and shipping to customers.
· Enabling a seamless link to order processing and logistics management in order to pick, pack, and ship product out of the facility.
· Tracking where products are stocked, which suppliers they come from, and the length of time they are stored. By analyzing such data, companies can control inventory levels and maximize the use of warehouse space. Furthermore, firms are more prepared for the demands and supplies of the market, especially during special circumstances such as a peak season on a particular month. Through the reports generated by an AS/RS system, firms are also able to gather important data that may be put in a model for it to be analyzed.
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