High-Density Storage: Automated Warehouse Systems Deliver Flexibility, Savings

When it comes to maximizing the amount of inventory held within the four walls of a facility, more companies are turning to high-density storage supported by an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). Whether handling unit loads that require automated pallet storage, or cases, or eaches held in totes and moved by a mini-load AS/RS, high-density storage solutions offer a variety of warehouse optimization advantages over conventional rack. These include load handling flexibility, less product damage, storage of more inventory in a compressed footprint, lower energy and labor costs, and construction and tax savings.

Automatisches_Kleinteilelager_AKL_Regalbediengeraet_Stacker_Crane_Miniload_System_Mennekes_2_NRHigh-Density Automation Can Be Flexible: Companies that value the flexibility a manual handling process and conventional racking deliver (particularly third-party logistics (3PL) providers) are often surprised to learn that a high-density automated storage system can be engineered to adapt to future changes in product handling. If an operation anticipates high variability in its customer or inventory mix, it might be worth budgeting an additional 10 to 20% more to engineer a system that is flexible from the start—rather than spend considerably more to retrofit a less flexible system later. A slightly higher budget can deliver:

  • Construction that accommodates multiple load heights, with low-, medium- and high-load locations distributed throughout the same high-density rack structure. Directed by the system’s control software, the AS/RS crane is sent to the appropriately sized opening for a given pallet height. Prior to storing the load, the crane’s integrated photo eyes visually verify that the opening does indeed have enough clearance for the item.
  • Designs that integrate modularity to permit expansions and modifications. For example, more beams can be added to divide single openings into multiple storage spaces, or removed to create larger openings. Deploying upright columns with adjustability in 1-inch increments allows for highly refined changes that can further maximize storage density.
  • Load handling devices that can be replaced should load types change within the automated storage system. A crane can be equipped with a shuttle, moving it from area to area as needed. Alternately, dual-duty load handling devices might feature extendible forks or a shuttle and a chain conveyor, letting the device interface with different rack types if storage locations are later converted to pick locations. The forks and shuttle interact with the rack locations while the chain conveyor transfers loads to and from the pick up/drop off conveyor and pallet flow locations for more throughput.

Store More Products, SKUs in a Smaller Footprint: Conventional rack systems are limited to heights of 50 to 60 feet, or the equivalent of the upper limit reach of most forklifts. Conversely, a high-density storage solution supported by AS/RS can be built to heights of 150 feet. That allows storage of far more products and stock keeping units (SKUs) within far less square footage. That minimized footprint can make high-density storage rack much more appealing for landlocked facilities with no room to expand, or those located where the cost of real estate is prohibitively high.

High-Density = Lower Costs: A facility housing a high-density, automated system can run without lights or heating and cooling systems if personnel are not routinely in the area. In these “lights-out” operations, floor-based and/or spot illumination can be deployed as needed to support routine maintenance. For other operations, it may make sense to integrate pick modules at the lowest levels of a high-density AS/RS and use the automated storage system to replenish pick faces. (Obviously, these facilities would be lit, heated and cooled for associate comfort and visibility.) Eliminating forklifts to store, remove and transport inventory in and around racking and personnel enhances safety and dramatically reduces the potential for product and structural damage.

Rack-Supported Buildings Deliver Savings: High-density storage systems can be engineered as rack-supported buildings to generate further savings. The rack structure itself—uprights, beams, footings and supports—supports the facility roof (instead of joists, columns, and other structural elements). Because the rack is constructed first, then the shell of the building added around it, the building costs are considerably less. Additionally, rack supported buildings offer tax benefits as well. While the IRS depreciation schedule for commercial buildings spans 39 years, a rack-supported building is considered equipment, meaning it can be depreciated over a 15-year schedule, a real tax break.

Find out how a high-density, rack-supported facility with automated pallet AS/RS supports this 3PL’s storage and handling processes. Read how the leading global third-party logistics (3PL) provider of temperature-controlled warehousing, Americold, worked with viastore to engineer a new facility in Indianapolis to handle a wide variety of customer products. Or, call us at 616.977.3950 to discuss your high-density storage and automated warehouse systems needs with one of our warehouse planning specialists.

About Jason Perks

Jason Perks is a regional sales manager at the North American headquarters of viastore systems in Grand Rapids, MI.
He has been in the material handling industry for over 15 years. Jason holds a degree in Mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech. University.

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