Users Should Feel Confident in AS/RS Reliability

A recent study examined the perceptions of reliability and flexibility of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS).

An independent study concluded that users and potential users can feel confident in the reliability and adaptation of AS/RS systems for use in an array of operations for large, medium or even smaller businesses. This two part study commissioned by the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) and conducted by Brigham Young University’s graduate students of the Marriott School of Management determined how users and non-users felt about this technology, its benefits and shortcomings.

In today’s fast pace and changing economy, the uses of AS/RS are increasing in importance. These systems are used to perform a wide range of functions and do much more than just manage inventories. Some of the other tasks include staging raw materials and work-in-progress for Lean and Just-in-Time (JIT) applications. The popularity and significance of these productivity tools raises some questions about reliability, economics and satisfaction of these systems. This study addresses these concerns, focusing in particular on fixed-aisle systems that rely on mobile load handling machines to store and retrieve loads to and from storage racks aligned along aisles of various lengths.

The study, released on August 20, 2007 found that users of AS/RS Systems had very high expectations for their systems, expecting uptimes of 97.98%. The study showed that today’s AS/RS systems do deliver on these expectations with average uptimes of 97.34%. Among current AS/RS users, the report also indicated that downtime or unreliability was at the top of their list of concerns. Flexibility and initial costs to implement these systems were also mentioned. The study included industries such as Automotive, Distribution, Food, Logistics, Manufacturing, Military, Printing, Retail and more. The AS/RS task is that of pick up, transport, and insert load into storage locations and then at some future time retrieve the loads and deposit them to another location.

The report discovered that accurate record keeping was a factor in realizing how reliable the systems are and in dismissing any perceptions of reliability. The report quoted a respondent that questioned his AS/RS reliability. It was not until reviewing corporate records that he noted just how efficient the system was. He indicates, “when I started looking at the efficiencies, I really saw how amazing it is, 99.8% efficient. Now I’ll change the way I track uptime and efficiencies of AS/RS.”

The report noted that there is a period of time immediately following the installation needed to have workers or operators become accustomed to the operations of AS/RS systems. During this learning-curve period, performance is lower. The report indicated that a level of preventative maintenance is required to achieve optimal performance and reduce downtime. The incidence of unexpected downtime can be reduced, or even avoided, with appropriate preventative maintenance. One respondent indicated “We do the scheduled maintenance for two reasons 1) to not void the warranty and 2) because the supplier seems to know what is best for our AS/RS. Downtime is always unexpected, so being prepared to deal with situations quickly with maintenance is very important. The report indicated that systems greater that 10 years old did not yield the highest levels of performance. The industry finding is that many customers are upgrading their systems to the latest technologies and those are the users experiencing the highest levels of performance. An overwhelming majority of respondents reported they are more than pleased with their system’s reliability and said their system exceeded expectations.

The report noted some of the main reasons companies are purchasing Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems. The main operational reason cited was space efficiency, followed by increased throughput, reduced labor cost, speed/time to access inventory and accuracy. The survey noted companies who purchased AS/RS systems for the main reason of space efficiency said their expectations were met or exceeded. In this same report, another survey also measured return-on-investment (ROI). In this survey, expectations vs. performance noted that expectations were exceeded by 26% of the respondents and met by 70% and only 4% said they had unmet expectations.

This report dealt with a few other misconceptions such as AS/RS are only useful in managing large amounts of inventory and in large companies. The findings indicated that AS/RS have proven useful and in many cases exceeded performance in small to medium companies or applications as well. A majority of the respondents who are users of small to medium operations said their systems also met and exceeded expectations. It appears that size does not appear to have a bearing on the economic viability of these systems.

The study concluded that AS/RS systems are living up to their potential and clearly show that today’s AS/RS offer very high levels of reliability. The report determined that space efficiency, time efficiency, accuracy and other benefits associated with AS/RS, combined with the flexibility needed to handle today’s world of rapid change, make it a powerful tool, especially in applications where customer service is an important factor.

“It is amazing to me what they can accomplish”
“It enabled us to grow at the pace we have.”
“The AS/RS is worth its weight in gold”

Ray Kulwiec, (2007). RELIABILITY OF AUTOMATED STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS (AS/RS). The Material Handling Industry of America. http://www.mhia.org/news/9_6_07.cfm

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