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Automation: Filling the gap between narrow aisle and AS/RS

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
February 21, 2012

For the last couple of years, AGVs and mobile robots have been getting all the automation love. Who doesn’t get a kick from watching those Kiva vehicles shuttle around the floor at ProMat and Modex. Better yet, there have been exciting new developments around trailer loading and unloading AGVs along with the introduction of automatic lift trucks. While end users are still figuring out how these technologies fit in their operations, they could make significant inroads in automating receiving and shipping docks.

Less noticed have been the innovations around automated storage and retrieval. Look closely at some of the solutions on display at the shows, and you see technologies that fill the gap between narrow-aisle storage and a fully automated mini-load or unit load AS/RS.

One of the first examples I saw was the AutoStore solution from Swisslog at the North American show back in 2009. The technology uses mobile carts that ride atop rails to deliver products to and from a storage unit. You can watch a YouTube Video here.

Earlier this month, I visited two booths at Modex that highlighted two other takes on automated unit load storage. Both were designed to work as semi- or fully-automated solutions and to work in otherwise conventional warehouses rather than high-bay warehouses.

The first was from Power Automation Systems, or PAS. The solution uses vertical lifts and automated carts to store pallets in storage racks. You can watch a YouTube Video here.

The second was automated storage with an Italian flair from Smoov. The system uses radio controlled carts that can move in multiple axis to make the most of pallet storage. As with the PAS system, a pallet can be inducted into the system with a conveyor and vertical lift or by a lift truck dropping it off at the right level. From there, the cart takes over the putaway and retrieval duties. Depending on the layout of the racks, the carts can move forward and backward but also side to side. You can watch a YouTube Video of the solution in action here. 

As with some of the new developments coming out of the AGV market, these solutions aren’t right for every operation. And, as with automated lift trucks, it’s still an open question as to whether end users will embrace them. But with the current focus on labor costs, productivity improvements and incentives to invest in capital equipment, they appear to be worth a second look.

Modex 2012: Smoov automated storage solution introduced at Modex
Smoov ASRV (Booth 4109), an Italian company specializing in the design and manufacture of automation systems for storage and handling, introduced a new automated storage system using storage vehicles that can maneuver pallets on the X,Y and Z axis.

Modex 2012: Swisslog introduces new products, announces new projects
In a press conference yesterday, Swisslog (Booth 3105) unveiled the SmartCarrier automated goods-to-person picking system with carriers that are not restricted to only one per storage array level.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484 or email [email protected].

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