Imagine a warehouse where vertical lifts work in conjunction with automated row and aisle pallet retrieval and delivery systems to store and deliver palletized loads to the dock without the need for a forklift. Imagine this system working independently, yet harmoniously, to intelligently store and retrieve your product on demand. Imagine an automation solution that provides optimum density, the highest throughput, and ultimate reliability. Now imagine that warehouse is yours.
Believe it or not, such automation is not a ‘pipe-dream’, nor a futuristic endeavor like ‘putting a man on Mars’, such automation is a reality, and in fact it is a reality today.
One of the keys to this type of automation is ‘optimized density’, a warehouse layout designed to make use of deep storage for full or mixed palletized loads, in many cases doubling the standard density of typical warehouse layouts. With limited exception, most warehouse designs have been traditionally based upon a 2-dimensional footprint, with vertical height limited by rack-storage based upon manual maneuvering.
But automation designs for warehouses make the most of verticality, reaching almost into the stratosphere in terms of vertical loading of the footprint. Further automated moving equipment maximizes this capability far exceeding man-operated loading equipment. When such density is maximized the need for additional warehouse space is eliminated, and in fact some current (extra) facilities may no longer be necessary. This type of savings can go a long way in helping defer the costs associated with implementation of warehouse automation.
Last time in discussing ‘racks’ we briefly discussed vertical carousels and vertical lift modules which some experts will consider at least ‘entry level’ automated storage and retrieval systems. Vertical carousels tend to be used more commonly in areas where storage density, rather than pick speed, is the driving factor. Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) are used in similar applications, but are functionally different from carousels.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) technology can be broken into two broad categories—pallet handling (unit load) and tote handling (mini-load) systems. In pallet handling systems, a storage and retrieval mechanism (often a stacker) transports full pallets into and out of a pallet racking system. It is used to achieve extremely high storage density and greatly reduce labor costs. Mini-load systems function similarly to Vertical Lift Modules, except, instead of bringing an entire shelf of product to a pick station, the AS/RS can usually bring a single tote or case of product. AS/RS is used both as a means of primary picking, and as a means of replenishing a forward pick area.
Shuttle or cart-based systems are growing in popularity, compared to crane based systems. Cart-based AS/RS solutions tend to be more cost effective, offer higher throughput, greater flexibility and increases in the density of storage. Cart-based systems work by taking pallets to a desired row within the racking system via a simple lift at the front of each aisle. A cart then retrieves the pallet from the lift and takes it to its predetermined location within the rack. Because the carts operate on each level of the system they have built-in redundancy and increased throughput……resulting in greater efficiency.
Parcel sortation can be used in a variety of areas in the warehouse, but most high-speed sorters are found after the picking process in the shipping area of a distribution center. When cases of product must be routed to specific dock doors, palletizing areas, or packing areas, sortation technology allows this process to occur in a high-volume environment with minimal labor requirements. Each case of product is scanned by a bar-code reader at induction. The sorter control system determines the correct destination for each case, and diverts that case to the right lane at the right time. There are a number of different mechanisms that actually perform the divert, depending upon volume requirements and the characteristics of the product to be conveyed.
Palletizers utilize robotic technology for efficient, flexible and scalable pallet loading. Layer forming robots enable quick pallet changeovers, gentle product handling and minimal maintenance. Palletizers can handle a wide range of products and packaging formats with minimal changeover between products and configurations. These systems feature integrated, layer-forming robots that accurately orient each case into its proper position. Eliminating slat dividers and “bump turns,” the robots can execute virtually any pallet pattern.
Increased density, reduced manpower requirements, diminished carbon output, and improved/expedited order fulfillment are the reasons that these ‘automation options’ are on the rise. When density is maximized the need for additional warehouse space is eliminated, and in fact some current (extra) facilities may no longer be necessary. Manpower and injury cost reductions increase the bottom line. As more and more environmental concerns are placed upon industry, carbon savings are having a growing impact on the businesses of the future. Obviously in the ‘internet age’ where everyone has reduced the time they spend ‘ordering product’ they expect no less than stellar-speed in the delivery of the products they purchase, and they also expect ‘get it right the first time’. Automated warehouses can operate ‘around the clock’ 365 days a week, and insure prompt service. The resultant improvement in efficiencies and savings associated with these enhancements can go a long way in helping defer the costs associated with implementation of warehouse automation.
You know when you think about it, perhaps that automated warehouse is no further away than man on mars.....