Saving time, space and money – Part 4

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by Emily Atkins

Automated storage and retrieval systems, also know by the acronym ASRS, are becoming increasingly popular solutions to current distribution centre challenges. In an era where speed is paramount, land and real estate are eye-wateringly expensive, and labour is scarce, these machines shine.

An ASRS stores goods in a dense, vertical structure, using machinery to place and retrieve items as they are needed. The systems come in numerous styles from vertical lift modules, which are essentially big chests of drawers, to the newer cubic honeycombs with robots that move between cells to collect totes.

All work on the goods-to-person principle, delivering totes of a single SKU to an order picker. Some feed items into a completely automated system to fulfill e-commerce orders. The ASRS can thus reduce the amount a picker needs to move, as well as increase the density of storage on the warehouse floor. By reducing movements, the ASRS increases picking speed and efficiency to reduce costs.

We’ve collected a set of interesting new case studies of different ASRS styles to illustrate the range and variety of applications for this technology. From the fully automated e-commerce system DHL uses for a client in Germany, to the innovative self-storage building in Florida, these examples show the versatility of ASRS in meeting warehousing challenges.

New entrant ramps it up

Stow robotics is innovating in the ASRS sector with a bin and shuttle storage system that uses ramps instead of conveyors or lifts to move shuttles between levels. The company says the ramps make its system simpler and less prone to fail, as the ramps themselves require no maintenance, unlike conveyors or lifts.

A demonstration set-up of the Stow e.scala system.

The goods-to-person e.scala system is designed for double-deep storage to five-deep storage, and can be deployed for as few as 500 containers. It can handle standard 600-by-400-mm euro totes as well as larger totes with 650- by 450-mm dimensions. Maximum payload per totes is 40 kg.

Stow says the system’s rails provide multiple routes to each storage location, which ensures high availability of all stored products. The robots charge on the fly, which eliminates the need for charging cycles and extra units. With fewer moving parts, the e.scala system is quieter than traditional automation, Stow says, coming in 20 decibels below standards. The modular system allows for multiple temperature zones within a single installation.

The company is working on its first customer installation in Germany, which it anticipates will be operational this spring. Stow envisions its primary customers will be in rapidly growing or volatile e-commerce businesses and projects that need to be quickly implemented. It also says the product will suit the pharmaceutical distribution sector due to its flexibility in order fulfillment.