What is an automated warehouse or automated storage system?
Automatic storage: The efficient control of (small) parts of all kinds
When it comes to optimizing processes and, in particular, making them more efficient, automated warehouses form a sound basis. The production volume in the materials handling and intralogistics sector has been rising for years, and is now more than EUR 22 billion (2019) in Germany alone - meaning that this segment has grown by more than 50 percent in less than a decade (2010: EUR 14.8 billion). This includes industrial trucks, cranes and hoists, series hoists, logistics software, continuous conveyors and warehouse equipment.
The point is: an automated warehouse, with which internal material and goods flows can be better organized, controlled and handled, is now indispensable in industry and commerce alike. We explain the classic structure, the functioning of the warehouse control system and the most important aspects concerning automated warehouse systems.
What exactly is an automatic bearing?
The term acts as a generic term and covers all systems and solutions that can be used to automate and optimize warehouses. Depending on the type of good in question, this refers to both stacker cranes and fully automated systems.
Task and function of an automatic bearing:
- Storage as well as retrieval of certain goods by means of prefabricated pallets, boxes or containers
- Automation of distribution steps
Important: When we talk about an automated warehouse, we are usually referring to the automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS). It enables safe, space-saving storage that utilizes the full room height and is fully automated.
The typical structure of an automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS)
Whether tools, machines or other equipment: secure, reliable allocation and provision is the basis for smooth internal processes. In order for this to work, such an automatic storage system is based on boxes or trays that are specifically controlled.
The highlight: an automated warehouse combines not only racks and the necessary mechanics, but also the control unit in the form of the warehouse management software in one and the same system. Unlike traditional storage solutions, the product can be transported to the user without barriers - and not vice versa. This saves time, increases the efficiency of processes and makes the entire warehouse management more economical.
An automated storage system for small parts has the following standard structure:
- Shelving system with different dimensioned aisles, depending on the intended use
- One stacker crane (RGB) per aisle as control element
- Optional cartons, bins, trays, etc. for storage of individual items.
- Different number of operator stations for order pickers
- An integrated conveyor system enables the transport of each individual item to the respective order picker
The decisive factor: Orders for outsourcing can be easily generated via the respective control software. This reduces the administrative effort and at the same time eliminates sources of error that repeatedly lead to expensive business interruptions in non-automated warehouses.
Things to know about the bearing control of an automatic bearing
To make the system usable in the first place, a special control unit is needed. The automated warehouse system, i.e. the software linked to the hardware, is thus the warehouse management system. Not only can tasks related to goods receipt be controlled, but also aspects such as forklift control, order picking and goods issue.
In short, the automated warehouse represents the basic structure within which intralogistics processes can be controlled and designed to meet requirements. This makes it possible to optimize the entire process chain, which in turn translates into a wide range of benefits.
Advantages of using an automatic bearing:
- Automation of all storage tasks
- Space-saving integration due to full utilization of the room height
- Scalable and thus adaptable to operational requirements
- Transparent processes, which reduces or completely eliminates sources of error
- High throughput even with a diverse product range
- Optional structuring in the form of single or multiple bin storage
- Reduced access times result in shorter delivery times
In plain language: an automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS) enables fully automated operation as well as control by means of stacker cranes or so-called shuttles (autonomous warehouse vehicle).
Selected aspects that speak for an implementation of automated warehouses
Since every company has different objectives and at the same time different basic requirements, automated warehouses are generally custom-made. At least in the respect that a modular structure is given. This is to take into account the aspect that a later adjustment (expansion of capacities and/or change of the system structure) is possible.
The principle applies: the more flexible such an automated warehouse is designed, the more complex and expensive it is to implement.
In industry, so-called adaptive automation systems are increasingly used, which are based on a fundamental algorithm and adapt to new situations and tasks in a self-learning manner. Since internal logistics costs often account for more than ten percent of annual sales, especially in industry, the potential synergy effects are enormous.
Other factors that should not be ignored when evaluating automatic bearings:
This means that intelligent, automatic warehouse control can make processes more dynamic and cost-efficient. This in turn has an impact on margins as well as competitiveness in an increasingly competitive market.