I’ve been in the AS/RS business since 2005 and the backbone of that experience has been providing clients with solutions based on vertical lift modules. I even founded and built a business that sold and serviced this equipment in 6 midwestern states from 2015-2020. Prior to that I worked for the industry leader progressing up the ladder developing solutions for clients throughout the United States. I’ve supported distributors and sold directly to end users, many of which you would know. I’ve implemented systems to store/manage rocket parts, body parts, medications, engine blocks, etc.

One consistent question I fielded was, “where do I start?” As an engineer I developed a process for how to approach this question.

First I asked the question, what is the problem you are trying to solve.

  1. reduce the footprint inventory occupies
  2. increase productivity of those accessing inventory
  3. improved ergonomics of inventory movement
  4. buffer inventory (WIP) between processes

By knowing your problem you can determine the appropriate KPI for measuring the success of the solution as well as start to identify the features of asrs which can impact those KPI.

Second, question is where is the “stuff” you want to store. I always wanted to see the product, the variation of product, and more importantly how workers interfaced with the product.

Key points to obtain when seeing the inventory:

  1. How much inventory needs to be stored. (# of SKUs and volumetric data)
  2. What is the throughput requirement (how many picks/puts per min, per hr, per shift, per day)

Gathering volumetric data is simple and can be obtained a couple of ways. First, the old school way. Go out and measure it with a tape measure. Walk up to the inventory and if it’s stored on a shelf then measure the width, the depth, and the height of the shelf. Count how many shelves you have and that’s it. Create a spreadsheet and perform the calculations for cube and area. You now have how much cube you need to store plus how much shelf space you need to store it in.

Another way to gather this data is through your WMS. World Class organizations have EVERY SKU sized. They know the width, depth, height, weight of EVERY handling unit (ea, innerpack, case, pallet, etc). If you’re lucky enough to have this data then a simple export, creation of some pivot tables, and now you have the data you need.

The next step is determine the clear foot print and vertical height available for a piece of equipment. Taking all of these factors (clear height, footprint, cu. ft. needed, sq. ft. needed) a vendor can provide a quote for a VLM.

If you have any questions about vertical lift modules, vertical carousels, horizontal carousels, AS/RS in general, and the software/controls to run these systems never hesitate to reach out to me. I’d be more than happy to work with your team!

Tim Harrison

Director of System Solutions