Automated Pallet Storage and Retrieval Systems are the Future
There has been and continues to be a considerable amount of controversy regarding the role of automation in the workplace. The majority of criticism comes from employees who believe technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence will rob them of their jobs and the incomes upon which they and their families depend. Most employers, however, are proponents of advances such as automated pallet storage and retrieval, believing that they promise greater productivity and reduced operating costs. In practice, while the employers are correct in their beliefs, experts predict that automation will create more jobs than it destroys but that their nature may be rather different.
In the meantime, robots have already proven their worth on the factory floor where they perform intricate tasks on assembly lines in less time and to the same or even better standards when compared to a skilled machine operator. Experience has shown that the same can be said of automated pallet storage and retrieval systems. Of course, these systems do not function completely autonomously but require a degree of assistance from human operators, albeit substantially fewer than in a purely manual warehousing facility.
Just as with the transition from the typewriter to the word processor or from wired to wireless communication systems, there will be an upfront cost involved if a warehouse owner should decide to convert from a strictly manual operation to automated pallet storage and retrieval system. The precise amount of that cost will be determined by the degree of automation required. That is a decision that needs to be based on the available budget for capital purchases and estimates of future space and production requirements. In some cases, it may only be necessary to upgrade part of the operation, leaving some of the tasks to be performed manually.
For companies that may wish to make the transition but would prefer to keep their investment to a minimum, rather than pursuing the fully automated pallet storage and retrieval option, they could begin by installing some pallet moles and compatible racking. The moles, which are also known as shuttles, are battery-driven and dispense with the need for wide access aisles, providing more space in which to store stock items. They are designed to travel on rails beneath the pallets, raising or lowering a mechanical jack to lift, transport and deposit the loaded pallets.
The packing and picking processes can be controlled remotely, leaving a forklift driver to simply deliver or collect the loaded pallets at the system’s entry and exit points on each level of this partially automated pallet storage and retrieval system. Furthermore, with this basic infrastructure in place, it is a relatively simple matter to upgrade and further automate your warehousing operation if the need to be even more productive should arise in the future.
The Pretoria-based company, Storage Management Systems offers a fully automated system known as FAM. Its modular design makes it easy to extend the system as necessary. The addition of transfer cars on each level, vertical lift units, and conveyers eliminates all need for lift trucks. This fully automated pallet storage and retrieval system can even recognise barcodes and radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags, using them to perform stock counts and flag discrepancies when not in active use.