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SAFER HANDLING: AS/RS—Safety and Ease of Use in Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

* By Jean Feingold *

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) combine equipment and controls to handle, store and retrieve materials as needed with precision, accuracy and speed using a defined degree of automation. Systems can range from relatively simple manually controlled systems operating in small storage structures to larger, computer-controlled storage/retrieval systems totally integrated into a manufacturing and distribution process.

Members of MHI’s Automated Storage/Retrieval Systems (ASRS) group are the Industry’s leading suppliers of these systems. Their systems are used worldwide in virtually every major manufacturing and distribution sector.

AS/RS overview

AS/RS handle “robotic automated storage and retrieval of products with minimal human intervention,” said Gary Frank of MHI member Westfalia Technologies, Inc. They can handle pallet loads, cases, boxes or individual items.

Generically speaking, AS/RS refers to several computer-controlled methods for automatically depositing and retrieving loads to and from defined storage locations. Within an AS/RS environment one could find one or more of the following technologies: horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, vertical lift modules, and fixed aisle storage and retrieval systems, plus others.

Training needed to use robotic and computer driven AS/RS depends on the worker’s duties. System operators must learn how to operate the equipment. Technical knowledge of electronics and equipment maintenance is required for the maintenance personnel. The AS/RS supplier will train personnel specifically on their systems. “Material handlers/pickers need to understand basic system operation and safety criteria, but do not require any specialized technical training to support the equipment,” Frank said. “Data processing personnel are typically remote to the system and do not interface physically with it.”

“Systems are protected with controlled access to the equipment and only trained authorized personnel are able to enter the robotic equipment area to correct faults or maintain the equipment,” said Frank. “These systems are extremely safe due to this controlled access. Safeguards are in place to restrict and keep unauthorized personnel from entering these systems. Equipment will shut down if a person enters an area where the equipment is operating. All personnel working with the system will be trained on its associated operation and safety.” Operator training for all automated systems is typically done on-site.

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This issue of MHI Solutions tackles the important topic of digital technologies in the supply chain industry, especially as it relates the transportation and logistics. Transportation plays a central role in supply chains, whether they are local or global enterprises. And just like the overall supply chain, transportation is facing a digital revolution including new solutions for tracking road, rail, sea and air freight and parcel transportation. These digital technologies are disrupting the industry, but they are also providing im-portant new solutions for transportation inefficiencies and urban logistics challenges. They are also creating new digital business models that enhance transparency and sustainability and contribute to end-to-end supply chain visibility. Like the innovations impacting supply chains, these trends are being driven by the growth of e-commerce and the consumers’ never-ending need for better, faster and cheaper. Ignoring them is done at your own peril.

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