AutoStore for future-proof warehousing as part of an integrated holistic planning design

Heidelberg - 2.9.2019

Short assembly times, compact storage features and superior energy efficiency make AutoStore one of the easiest systems on the market for introducing automation into a warehouse operation. io-consultants’ logistics and IT experts rate the AutoStore system as an efficient, future-proof and scalable alternative to more traditional warehouse automation systems. io-consultants takes a holistic planning approach to maximize the great features and efficiency gains that AutoStore provides for a distribution center and successfully integrates the highly automated processes.

Factors such as capacity, performance, planning reliability, and investment and operating costs play an important role when selecting the most suitable storage and sorting system for a customer. There is a wide variety of alternative manual systems (shelving, paletting) and automated small parts warehousing solutions (storage and retrieval systems, shuttles) on the market, so it is crucial to critically evaluate AutoStore’s added value for each automation project. AutoStore integration specialists focus on different key areas, in particular when it comes to tasks beyond the regular AutoStore features. By organizing tenders, io-consultants establishes a framework for professional and commercial competition in their projects, which serves to effectively select the most appropriate integration company for each setup.
 

Using AutoStore for process design

AutoStore must fit in with any functional processes and future logistics requirements:
io-consultants’ planning and consulting experts use forecasts and growth scenarios to determine, together with their customers, current and future capacity and performance requirements. Guided by these requirements, AutoStore will then be evaluated against other automation or manual systems to identify the best solution for the overall process and future logistics operations. io-consultants makes sure that any advantages and disadvantages are clearly communicated:

  • Flexibility to react to any changed requirements (e.g. customer and order structures, throughput times, product range, capacity and performance)
  • Work productivity compared to alternative systems
  • Special functions handling (such as repacking, consolidation, value added services)
  • Quality requirements (e.g. error rates, service levels)
  • Effects on infrastructure (e.g. fire protection systems)

If AutoStore is identified as the preferred choice, io-consultants then starts dimensioning the respective system using the following five modular components:

  • AutoStore Controller
  • Grid
  • Robots
  • Bins
  • Ports

io-consultants’ experts take a holistic approach in using these modules to design efficient warehousing processes. In addition to the AutoStore “machine” itself, processes such as unloading, repacking, quality assurance, special storage (e.g. pallets, hazardous materials), consolidation, packaging and loading must be optimized to take full advantage of the system.


Planning an AutoStore system with io-consultants

When planning an AutoStore system, io-consultants first carries out an ABC analysis. AutoStore benefits from the natural advantages of the Pareto principle, where 20% of the products create 80% of sales. This is the basis used by io-consultants to determine the customer’s ABC structure. The stronger the ABC structure, the fewer restacking operations are required and the more efficient the hourly output of the robots becomes. In order to determine product range dimensions, it is necessary to take into account that only a maximum of three bin types are available. “Mixing container types is not yet available, but it is possible to subdivide them in such a way that filling levels can be increased”, says Fabian Hesebeck, engineer and project manager at io-consultants’ logistics department. Seasonal fluctuations and the possibility that different workstations could simultaneously access an article must also be taken into account.

In a second step, io-consultants compares the various systems with regard to qualitative and quantitative requirements. Available space (clearance height), floor plans and the overall functionality within the distribution center are all essential factors when deciding which system is best. The system itself has few limitations so it is readily available and can be easily integrated into any existing building structures. “Compact storage saves between 50% and 70% of floor space, depending on individual circumstances”, says Hesebeck. “AutoStore is not limited by obstacles such as structural supports, for example, so it is easy to implement the system across floors and adapt it to the constraints posed by the building”, he explains, highlighting the benefits of AutoStore even when the building structures are more complex.

The AutoStore Controller is the command center from where robotic tasks are controlled and storage space is managed. It connects the network to the customer’s infrastructure and provides advanced access control for service personnel, simplifying task planning and scheduling. AutoStore Controller optimizes the transport streams within the system, but cannot determine other factors, for instance efficiency or sorting requirements of the overall process. In addition to the physical processes, a holistic view of all warehouse management processes is therefore critical for the success of the solution as a whole.
io-consultants’ planning and consulting experts help customers select and implement the best system for their processes within the available or newly selected warehouse management solution (SAP EWM or proprietary WMS).

The AutoStore Grid makes assembling easy and reduces implementation times to a minimum. It is made of aluminum, keeps the containers neatly stacked and provides the robots with the necessary rails to move along. The size and shape of the grid are only limited by the building’s volume and the process as a whole, offering optimal use of the available space.


Quick availability of goods using robots

The robots are the core feature of AutoStore: their wireless connection ensures seamless and efficient tracking of incoming and outgoing goods. “Energy-wise, the robots are very efficient, too,” explains Martina Maierhofer, logistics expert at io-consultants, “they require neither lighting nor heating." They move automatically along the upper grid and use gripper plates to take each container off the rack, from top to bottom. The gripper plates can be lowered down to the bottom of each stack. “If a robot fails, it can be replaced by others to compensate for the loss or, if performance needs to be increased, more robots can be added during normal operation,” says Maierhofer.

Picking, refilling and other inventory measures are displayed at the AutoStore workstations (ports). The working areas are designed for medium to high volume product supplies depending on the selected version. The ports are available in a variety of designs and can be tailored to the expected throughput and desired function. Special functions (such as weighing goods or aligning boxes) can also be integrated. Together with the customer, the experts at io-consultants develop a feasible holistic workstation design. Functions such as automatic consignment or retrieval of bins in or from production, for instance, should always be included in the concept, while at the same time, the quality of the bins shall never rank second to any consignment or retrieval activities because they are the guarantor for the reliable operation of the system.


Highly compact AutoStore in multi-level buildings

Compact space requirements, like those in the planning project of a new logistics center for Festo in China, are usually the biggest concern in automation projects. The planning and tendering project for the manufacturer of control and automation technology from Esslingen, which was successfully completed in 2018, is one of io-consultants’ most recent examples of how compactness can be achieved with AutoStore. io-consultants planned “Hub Asia”, a distribution center in Shanghai designed primarily for supplying the Asian region, as a space-saving, semi-automated warehouse on two floors, pursuant to Chinese requirements. The AutoStore warehouse is the first of its kind in China. The structure is also equipped with a large visitor platform offering a view onto the top level of the AutoStore warehouse and the robots. Since the warehouse was already running on SAP EWM, it was crucial to integrate AutoStore into the existing warehouse management software. All processes, from goods receipt to storage, order management, the consolidation of large orders, the paperless pick & pack processes through to goods dispatch, were documented by the SAP specialists of
io-DigitalSolutions, the IT subsidiary of io consultants, in an EWM technical specifications sheet.

The benefits for the customer are significant: with AutoStore as the heart of the picking system, Festo and io-consultants have developed a highly flexible and scalable order picking, layout and IT concept that fulfills all the Chinese requirements. More AutoStore projects are currently being planned or implemented.

Summing up,

  • AutoStore is a valuable alternative to established manual and automatic warehouse and picking order management systems which, when used wisely, can create immense benefits for the customer.
  • An AutoStore warehouse is still a significant investment. It is less flexible than manual systems and not as effective and open as a high-performance shuttle system. Therefore, the economically sound selection and use of the right system still requires the support of an experienced planner.
  • Integration companies might all deliver the same system, but choosing the best partner for your specific needs is crucial for the overall success of your project.

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