Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems -ASRS- Trends from Modex 2014

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems -ASRS- Trends from Modex 2014

At Modex 14, the Material Handling Institute’s (MHI) ASRS product group presented the latest developments, trends and directions for ASRS in North America.  This article combines that information with ISD’s experience.

During the presentation, it became clear within minutes that the technical advances in ASRS have truly vaulted this technology ahead in both the applications that it excels in as well as the business logic and cost justification for ASRS.  The educational room, with a capacity of over 100, was jammed full of attendees.  The leaders of the discussion rolled through the presentation and were inundated with questions and discussions after the presentation.  There were many different and new developments presented, but these four were the most important:

The four top highlights and discussions included:

  1. Using throughput, density and cost variables for decision making
  2. Introduction of a new class of ASRS systems called the Mid-Load
  3. Pallet shuttle technologies
  4. New ASRS applications


  1. Metrics of  Density – Throughput and Cost

With the landscape of ASRS equipment growing, the ability for organizations to determine their best solution becomes more complicated.  One answer is to use a consultant and integrator to help navigate the selection process, but often users want to start the due diligence on their own.

The graphic in this article shows a quick and easy away to begin the process.  Focusing on crane based ASRS solutions (mini-load; mid-load; unit load and; Shuttle technologies), you can clearly see the differences in storage density vs. throughput and its related cost.

If your operation requires 1,000 lines per hour/operator throughput, then shuttle technologies are likely to be your choice.  The trade offs of this technology are a larger floor space footprint and a higher acquisition cost than crane, multiple crane or robotic carousel solutions.

Speaking to end users at the Modex show, we found a plethora of companies running to shuttle technologies because they are fast and “new” without truly understanding the alternative technologies, the financial impact and realities they had just signed up for.

The reality is that each technology has a “sweet spot” and applications in which it excels. Make sure your organization is aware of the alternatives and the financial impact going forward.

  1. Mid-Load Joins ASRS Class

The mid-load genre of ASRS helps fill the void between mini-loads and unit load applications.  The UltraStore mid-load ASRS was nominated for MHI’s 2014 Innovation Award at the Modex 14 show.

Up to now, when organizations needed an ASRS for a “small or very small” unit load, the cost model for a unit load ASRS didn’t meet the application’s return on investment requirement.  The need for automation was there but the business logic failed and the application remained a manual process.

The introduction of mid-load ASRS equipment recognizes this need and a product has been designed specifically for it.  Up to 2,000 lbs per load, 35 foot high ceilings and up to 3 transactions per minute help define its applications.  The system excels in it’s flexibility of items handled from pallets to trays to hanging items to very unique profiles.

A unique feature of the mid-load ASRS is that it doesn’t use a center, floor-embedded guide rail.  This enables it to have a redundant back up system allowing up to 100% inventory access even during system maintenance cycles.

  1. Pallet Shuttle Technologies

Deep lane pallet shuttle technologies are exploding.  The ability to increase the density of a warehouse without expanding is exciting to many organizations.

Pallet shuttles operate by having an open pallet position at the end of each lane.  A fork lift driver places a pallet in this open position.  A small device moves under the pallet, lifts it and transports it deep into the lane and then returns for the next pallet.  These systems can work in both FIFO and LIFO operations.

Pallet shuttles provide very fast access to a medium number of SKU’s and excel in supporting case picking operations and for sequencing truck loads.

The level of sophistication and number of organizations manufacturing these technologies is growing however, there is one type which ISD recognizes as providing the “biggest bang for the buck” in LIFO applications.

This system is less automated than the competitors’, but the advantages are: the system can accommodate up to 10 pallets deep, it can be installed in existing static or drive-in rack, can handle up to 5,000 lb pallets, it saves space over drive-in rack, it uses virtually 100% of the rack depth for storage and is simple to use and maintenance-free.  Did I mention cost-effective?  Email us for more information.

  1.  New ASRS Applications

With today’s need to increase competitiveness, combined with enhanced levels of cost effectiveness, reliability and product innovations have led to a boom in increased ASRS applications.  Just a few applications with tremendous momentum include:

  • Product storage and retrieval to support high speed “each” order picking
  • Sequenced delivery for pallet building
  • Shipping staging and sequencing for route loading
  • Wave buffering
  • Automatic case order picking


It wasn’t that many years ago when new crane and aisle ASRS systems in North America were rare.  Goods to person applications were primarily filled by horizontal carousel systems.  Today the world of ASRS is expanding and growing rapidly.  The key is to match your business requirements, processes and growth expectations with the right system.