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Automation: From storage to store, stage and sequence

September 27, 2011

I’ve been in Maryland at the fall meetings of the Material Handling Industry of America, the sponsor of ProMat and Modex, the upcoming logistics show in Atlanta.

Yesterday, I sat in on the meeting of the automate storage product group, where there was an interesting discussion about how the technology – automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), mini-loads, horizontal and vertical carousels and vertical lift modules – has evolved.

“We used to be storage in a warehouse,” is the way Larry Strayhorn, president of TGW Systems described the change. Strayhorn came up with a three word description on the role automated storage is playing today that I thought was perfect: store, stage, sequence. “Is an AS/RS still used for storage?” Strayhorn asked. “Sure, but we’ve evolved into a tool for logistics.”

I think Strayhorn and his colleagues in the automated storage group are on to something: end users – the readers of Modern – are taking a harder look at automation than in the past and its not just to store stuff or move stuff from point A to point B. Instead, automated solutions are being employed to further corporate distribution strategies and enable the flow of material through a facility as part of sophisticated order fulfillment strategies.

That’s what Strayhorn was getting at with his store, stage, sequence concept. Yes, material is stored in an automated system, but the technology is also used to stage those materials at critical points in the order fulfillment process and to sequence them in the right order to fill demand, feed a manufacturing line or load a truck. In that sense, automation is delivering value – and delivering an ROI – in more ways than just reducing labor in the DC.

Store, stage, sequence. Think about that the next time you look at your warehouse processes and ask whether automation might have a role in your facility.   

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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.


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