Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are inventory management systems that are widely used in distribution centers and warehouses throughout the United States and the world. AS/RS systems generally consist of machines that move up and down one or multiple parallel storage aisles, storing and retrieving products and materials for dissemination to internal and external destinations alike. The advantages of these systems are numerous. They provide users with increased inventory control and tracking, including greater flexibility to accommodate changing business conditions. Indeed, these systems are comprised of modular subsystems that can be easily replaced to minimize downtime and extend the service life of the overall system. AS/RS systems also reduce labor costs, lowering necessary workforce requirements, increasing workplace safety, and removing personnel from difficult working conditions (such as cold food storage environments). Perhaps most significantly, however, AS/RS systems can produce major savings in inventory storage costs, as vastly improved warehouse space utilization—both vertically and horizontally—creates greater storage density.
Automated storage and retrieval systems do require considerable investments of a company’s resources, however. “Maintaining highly integrated systems requires training and experience and is not without occasional frustrations,” noted Michael Wigington in Plant Engineering. “Even the most experienced AS/RS user struggles to support the changing requirements of maintaining aging technology and tired mechanization.” The cost of purchasing and implementing an effective automated storage/retrieval system is significant as well, encompassing everything from pre-purchases analysis of supply chain and inventory management needs to the actual purchase price of AS/RS equipment and software.