Automated storage and retrieval systems are designed to help efficiently store and pick products. While these systems are commonly associated with warehousing, they hold valuable applications in manufacturing storage solutions as well.
Aside from storing products in warehouses, these systems can be used in kitting environments, service and support areas, and on production floors – there are even use cases for supermarkets and banks. Automated storage and retrieval systems are also used in a number of different manufacturing industries, from aerospace to automotive to tooling.
These manufacturing storage solutions are a versatile tool for manufacturers that helps them free up space, reduce waste, and increase productivity.
Capabilities of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Automated storage solutions allow manufacturers to capitalize on underutilized space within their facilities and/or warehouses by leveraging the facility's vertical space. The systems are a convenient way to securely store varied products in terms of size, dimensions, and weight.
“A typical automated storage system in a manufacturing environment has an electrical control functionality that drives the mechanical device, allowing it to store and retrieve product,” explains Rick Havener, Vice President of Sales at Modula, a manufacturer of modern storage solutions and inventory management systems.
Havener describes different features of these automated systems, saying they can store and retrieve by lot number, serial number, expiration date, etc. This technology can also communicate with robot workers in facilities that have robotic picking systems.
David Lind, Business Development Director at Modula, says automated storage and retrieval systems are ideal for storing small items, such as nuts, bolts, and repair parts, to name a few.
“The smaller your part, the more product you can fit,” Lind states. “These systems facilitate everything that goes on in a warehouse, improving efficiency, reducing workers, improving processes, and optimizing inventory management.”
The software capabilities on these systems are also impressive. They empower manufacturers to manage and track what product is being retrieved, along with the time of retrieval, and the person doing the picking. The display on these machines can even show a picture of the product alongside detailed information, significantly reducing errors and enhancing inventory management.
This data gives manufacturers more visibility and control of their inventory. Systems like Modula’s can also integrate with almost any client’s software, making the data readily available and easily shared internally.
Benefits of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
The capabilities of these systems are significant, but how do they translate into tangible benefits for manufacturers? Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits is reduced waste. Lind explains that automated storage solutions can effectively store product all the way from the facility’s floor to the ceiling, allowing manufacturers to maximize space. These machines also have a much smaller footprint when compared to racks and pallets.
“If you’re not using all the space up to the ceiling, there’s an opportunity cost,” Lind explains. “If you’ve got 20-feet of empty space that can be utilized with an automated storage and retrieval system, then there’s an enormous opportunity to increase your revenue by being more efficient.”
Havener said that in addition to wasting less space, these machines also help to minimize product waste. There are temperature and humidity-controlled units that can safely store materials that are sensitive to these external factors. These units can also effectively store products that require a certain level of cleanliness in the storage environment. This extends product shelf life and reduces product waste.
The security of the units is another factor that helps to reduce waste. To operate these systems, each picker needs a password to login to the machine before they can search for and take a product from storage. This system helps the operator make an accurate pick the first time, leading to reduced errors in inventory picking.
According to Havener, picking errors can account for thousands of dollars a day being wasted to correct mistakes, and that’s assuming the error is caught in the manufacturing/warehousing facility. Reducing these errors helps ensure manufacturers aren’t wasting money and time.
Another benefit of these systems is they help to combat the manufacturing labor shortage. For starters, automated storage and retrieval systems are more ergonomic for workers. These systems deliver parts and products directly to the worker at a height that is comfortable for them. This addresses the challenges posed by an aging workforce and enhances employee retention.
“Today with the aging workforce, you can retain people longer if you eliminate the monotonous drudgery of walking through aisles and looking for product, bending to pick below the knees, reaching to pick above the shoulder,” Havener elaborates. “You can retain employees and minimize the potential for accidental injury.”
Moreover, these automated storage and retrieval systems are also so user-friendly that just about anyone can learn how to pick effectively with them in less than an hour. Many manufacturers are turning to temporary workers during the labor shortage, and it’s important for these workers to be quickly trained, because they may only be there for a day and then gone tomorrow.
Manufacturers that choose to install an automated storage and retrieval system also see a good return on investment (ROI). These systems are able to condense product storage and give a lot of floor space back to manufacturers.
By optimizing product storage and freeing up space, manufacturers can diversify their offerings and attract new customers. This newfound space can accommodate additional production lines, potentially leading to increased profit.
“The other key contributor to ROI is productivity,” says Havener. “A picker working in a static storage environment is probably retrieving no more than 40-line items each hour. Using an automated system, the same person should easily be able to get 200-to-300-line items an hour.”
Aside from being able to pick items faster, these workers can also pick more accurately. And since every machine operator is tracked through their login, manufacturers can track every product and part that operator picks. All this data can be audited and verified. This impacts ROI by reducing inventory shrinkage at these facilities.
These systems don’t only make individual workers more efficient; they impact the productivity of entire processes and operations.
“We often find that if a manufacturer has been using three or four people to do a certain task or a set of tasks in a warehouse, that can be done by one person with the installation of an automated storage and retrieval system. So, that’s a significant savings,” Lind says. “Then the manufacturer can upskill their other staff and give them more complex tasks.”
Improving Manufacturing Operations with Automated Storage Solutions
Automated storage and retrieval systems can help factories and warehouses to eliminate waste, significantly optimize manufacturing processes, and dramatically improve efficiency and productivity of overall operations.
Even so, many manufacturers are still hesitant about jumping into implementing automation. They don’t always realize that automation doesn’t have to completely change their operations. Automation is flexible and can be scalable based on the wants and needs of an individual manufacturer.
This also applies to automated storage solutions for manufacturing. Lind and Havener agree that many of the companies they work with have started with one automated unit or have added automation to one specific area of their facility. Then, after they see the benefits of these systems, they’ll start implementing additional units and grow in their automation journey.
Automated storage has many considerable benefits, but this technology is also a good entrance point into automation for manufacturers.
To learn more about automated storage and retrieval systems, reach out to Modula. Their staff is well-trained to help analyze a manufacturer’s needs and design a solution that helps to reduce pain points.
Rick Havener, Vice President of Sales at Modula Inc.
Rick Havener has over 35 years of hands-on experience in optimizing warehouses and logistics. As the Vice President of Sales at Modula, Rick focuses on helping clients modernize their operations with the latest technology. His down-to-earth approach, combined with a genuine passion for warehouse and factory automation, drives his commitment to making businesses more efficient and effective.
David Lind, Director of Business Development, Modula Inc.
David is Modula’s director of business development based at the company’s manufacturing plant in Franklin, Ohio. He has been working in the logistics and supply chain industry for over 30 years. A business leader with a strong international background, David has worked in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.