Heavy equipment operators are a famously hardheaded lot, given to trusting their skills with the forklift over anything else. I know at least a couple warehouse supervisors and logistics coordinators who have heard an almighty crash and emerged from their offices to find products all over the warehouse floor and a sheepish forklift operator trying to think of an explanation for why they didn’t follow the manager’s instructions. Safety violations often happen when workers think they can ignore the rules, and sometimes, they can–until someone gets injured. This cycle can leave managers and supervisors wishing for a way to dispense with employees entirely.
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, that’s now possible. Warehouse automation in the form of an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) creates a warehouse environment that is minimally dependent on human labor, and, in this way, less vulnerable to human error. This is one of the big benefits of an ASRS, but there are some drawbacks to automation as well. It’s a good idea to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of an ASRS fully before deciding to implement one in your warehouse.
The Advantages of an ASRS
The most commonly cited advantage of an ASRS is a reduction in labor costs. ASRSs reduce the number of workers needed in a warehouse and the number of errors and injury that occur as a result. As well as independence from human labor, automation also offers increased accuracy, efficiency, productivity, and warehouse volume utilization.
- Accuracy: A computer never forgets, and, if programmed correctly, never gets confused. This prevents loads from being stored in the wrong area, confused with other products, or sent to the wrong location.
- Efficiency: Artificial intelligence has advanced to the point at which a properly programmed ASRS can notify workers of inventory nearing its expiration date and prioritize shipments on a first-in, first-out basis, thereby preventing spoilage. This is a critical advantage for warehouses dealing with cold chain products like produce, dairy, pharmaceuticals, and even machine components where corrosion is a concern.
- Productivity: An ASRS doesn’t need to take a break or double check the manifests. This enables continuous operation, and, as a result, much greater throughput than a warehouse without an ASRS.
- Volume Utilization: Automated equipment doesn’t need much space to operate. An ASRS allows aisles to be narrower and racks higher, maximizing warehouse floor space and improving cube utilization in the warehouse.
In aggregate, what these advantages amount to is better process control for products. This makes an ASRS an incredible addition to warehouses where products are sensitive and have to be handled and stored with care. Supply chains that specialize in chemically reactive items like pharmaceuticals and film or perishable items like food products are well served by an ASRS. However, that doesn’t mean that automated systems are without drawbacks.
The Disadvantages of an ASRS
Like anything else, an ASRS has pros and cons. Its two main drawbacks are:
- Requires Customization: An ASRS is only as good as its programming allows it to be. Since each supply chain is different and each warehouse in that supply chain subject to limitations set by its location, every ASRS must be tailored to account for unique variables. Modifying hardware like conveyor belts to fit the site, customizing programming for the system, and integrating it with other systems (as when AGVs are also used in the warehouse) takes time, energy, money, and expertise.
- Expensive to Install: In order for an ASRS to work correctly, everything from the racks to the cranes must be installed with a high degree of accuracy. As a result, there is a high labor premium on both installation and maintenance of an ASRS. Operators of the system will either have to keep highly trained staff on standby in case of an incident that requires repairs or accept an operational hiatus until personnel with the know-how arrive.
The bottom line is that an ASRS requires a significant investment to create, maintain, and operate. So why do companies still invest in them? Because, under the right circumstances, an ASRS is a worthwhile expenditure that can ultimately increase your profit margins and even future-proof your warehouse.
When the Advantages of an ASRS Outweigh the Disadvantages
When is an ASRS worth the investment? Automated storage and retrieval is usually worth implementing when a supply chain operation deals with large quantities of products. In these cases, an automated system operating on a large scale has a throughput and accuracy that can’t be matched by warehouses using the traditional model.
If products are sensitive to damage and command a high price individually—variables that are often related—then an ASRS may also be worth the money and time it takes to set up. The key factor in both scenarios is that the return on investment is likely to come soon after the ASRS begins operation. Yet another factor to consider is that warehouse automation technology is maturing, and the cost to set up an ASRS is falling. As these trends continue, more and more warehouses are likely to see a substantial return on their investment in automation, and automation is likely to be standard in the warehouse of the future.
The reusable wood block pallets that are the current standard in logistics don’t have the necessary precision and consistency needed for an ASRS.
In the present, making the most of supply chain automation and ensuring that an investment in automation pays off as quickly as possible requires minimizing the potential for costly interruptions in operations. A reliable shipping platform can help with that. The reusable wood block pallets that are the current standard in logistics don’t have the necessary precision and consistency needed for an ASRS. Wood is a natural material with variations in density, and when wood meets steel, wood loses. This means that wood pallets require frequent repairs to stay in use, and these repairs can alter the pallets’ weight, balance, and dimensions even further. The splinters, loose nails, and wood debris produced when wood pallets are damaged may get caught in machinery, bringing the ASRS to a halt. An engineered plastic pallet is a more reliable, consistent option that makes the most of an ASRS’ advantages while minimizing its disadvantages to keep your automated system working at peak efficiency.
The iGPS pallet pool offers a high-quality plastic pallet that is tough enough to work smoothly with an ASRS. To get started with a consistent, reliable, and intelligent shipping platform that can help your warehouse move into the future, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.