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PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: E-Commerce, Selectivity Spurring Innovation in AS/RS

* By Katie Kuehner-Hebert *

Innovation and evolution don’t just happen. They are a result of continually challenging the boundaries and testing the unknown. That is where MHI’s Automated Storage/Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) Industry Group comes in—as far as automated solutions are concerned. The companies in this group are repeatedly questioning and challenging the limits in order to come up with innovative and cutting-edge technologies that will help everyone in the supply chain impacted by the capabilities of AS/RS equipment.

“E-commerce and omnichannel strategies are spurring innovation, as companies try to find the right approach for their market and the overall level of capital investment stays strong,” said Andy Williams, vice president of automation at MHI member Schaefer Systems International Inc.

In the new build/retrofit market, requirements for dense storage and very high throughput are pushing the next generation of shuttles in both bin/carton and pallet AS/RS systems, Williams said.

“These systems are being asked to store an ever broader range of load units, so development in flexible handling is just as important as storage density and machine speed,” he said. “The need to be able to de-couple throughput from storage is changing the way the systems are intra-connected.”

Retail companies are also experimenting with store-based solutions and small format distribution centers in more populated areas, which increases the focus on being effective in smaller footprints, either in a small distribution center or store, Williams said. Companies need to educate themselves on the different types of solutions available.

“It starts with an evaluation of your own core competencies in engineering and warehouse/logistics, which should provide the framework for connecting to the industry—via a consultant, integrator or subsystem provider,” he said. “Once the general approach is established, contact two to three AS/RS suppliers delivering those services and discuss the project requirements. Doing so will allow a company to narrow the choices to a specific solution or solutions.”

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There is no silver bullet to building a workforce that can thrive in this new digital environment. It takes leadership, collaboration, innovative talent sourcing, continuous training and improvement. This issue of MHI Solutions focuses on this important topic from the technologies driving changing skill sets to industry-academia collaboration to how to hire, retain and develop the digital supply chain workforce.

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