The Technology and Benefits of ASRS Systems
Given the burgeoning demand for consumer goods, many warehouses and distribution centres have found it necessary to update their existing manual operating procedures. In place of their outmoded storage facilities, they have installed ASRS systems. The 4-letter acronym stands for automated storage and retrieval systems and represents a technology that has the potential to transform the way we manage the inventory in storage facilities.
Early attempts to reduce the dependence of warehouses on human operators led to the development of several partly-automated solutions. Among them is an innovative, remote-controlled device known as a pallet mole. Not only does the pallet mole automate the picking and packing processes but it also eliminates the need for access aisles thus dramatically improving space utilisation. These smart devices remain core components of the more fully-automated ASRS systems that have subsequently begun to replace them.
As implied above, pallet moles provide the basic functionality of these more advanced fully-automated storage and retrieval solutions. The moles run on rails positioned beneath the suspended pallets and their movements and precise positioning within the racking are managed remotely by sophisticated process control software. When instructed to store a pallet, the upper portion of the mole extends to lift the pallet clear of the rack; travels to the designated storage slot, and then retracts its upper section to deposit the pallet in position. When retrieving a pallet, the ASRS system then simply reverses the process, depositing the pallet at an appropriate exit point ready for collection.
One of the most valuable pallet racking features is that it allows a warehouse owner to store palletised goods on multiple levels. Accordingly, the pallet moles must also possess the ability to move between levels. This movement is made possible by the use of two additional system components. The first of these is the mole transfer car or MTC. When it is necessary to move between levels, the software instructs an MTC to retrieve the pallet from the mole. At this point, the third component of the ASRS system takes over. The vertical transfer unit or VTU will then act as a lift, raising or lowering the MTC together with the palletised load to the designated level. On arrival, a second mole will already be waiting to receive the loaded pallet from the MTC for final positioning as instructed. When not in use, the moles and MTCs dock automatically to recharge their batteries.
Inbound and outbound conveyors respectively, serve to deliver and collect loaded pallets to and from the racking as required, adding further to the mechanical functions of the ASRS system. Perhaps even more impressive than the extensive mechanical abilities of these automated systems is the extensive range of digital functionality provided by its software programmes.
To control the storage and retrieval processes, the software must record each pallet’s location and the nature of its contents as well as the position of every vacant space. This information can then be used to maintain stock level records, flag any potential shortages in real-time, and generate detailed reports on demand. Incidentally, the ASRS system developed by Storage Management Solutions (SMS) utilises software that can even report on the battery-charge status and recommended service times for each one of its components.