Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems


  • Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) provide dense inventory storage to maximize floor space.

  • Often used for tooling, components, documents or raw materials storage, vertical carousels are enclosed on all sides.

Providing dense storage that maximizes floor space, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) integrate automated hardware and software for accurate picking and replenishment. These systems automatically locate and deliver the required inventory to a conveyor system, manual outfeed, or an ergonomic operator station. This translates to a reduction in labor, floor space and inventory levels, while increasing accuracy and productivity in comparison to manual storage methods. Typical storage applications include order picking, tooling, consolidation, work-in-process, and buffering in ambient, cold, freezer, or clean-room environments.

There are several types of automated storage and retrieval equipment. These include:

  • Unit-load AS/RS or Fixed-aisle (F/A) storage and retrieval systems – Machines that store large loads (usually 1,000+ pounds), typically on pallets. These systems include one or more long and narrow aisles of storage rack structure, reaching 100 feet or more tall. Most systems are less than 40 feet tall. Software directs the automatic placement and retrieval of loads by a telescoping device that deposits loads into, or retrieves them out of, specific storage positions.
  • Mini-load AS/RS – Operating the same way as a unit-load AS/RS, a mini-load AS/RS handle lighter loads, usually weighing less than 1,000 pounds. Instead of storing pallets, the machines typically store trays, totes or cartons.
  • Micro-load AS/RS – Dealing with loads even lighter than a mini-load AS/RS, a micro-load AS/RS usually handles loads weighing less than 100 pounds in very small containers, totes or trays.
  • Vertical lift modules (VLMs) – VLMs consist of a column of trays in the front and back of the module with an automatic inserter/extractor in the center that stores and retrieves the required trays. Trays can be stored in fixed positions to improve throughput, dynamically to optimize storage capacity, or as a combination of both. Integrated controls, software and pick-to-light systems help increase accuracy and storage densities.
  • Horizontal carousels – Ideal for storing small parts and pieces, horizontal carousels are comprised of a series of bins that rotate horizontally around a track, similar to a merry-go-round. This system usually employs two to five horizontal carousels in an integrated workstation called a pod. When an operator inputs inventory information into the carousel’s control software, the carousels rotate into appropriate picking positions. A pick-to-light device between each carousel illuminates to indicate from which carousel, shelf and item to pick the required quantity. The operator picks out of each carousel until the batch is complete. Inventory can be inserted manually or robotically using an automated inserter/extractor.
  • Vertical carousels – Rotating vertically, like a Ferris wheel, vertical carousels house a series of shelves or carriers to provide high-density storage that is ideal for fast-moving, small items. Often used for tooling, components, documents or raw materials storage, vertical carousels are enclosed on all sides to secure high-value items, such as jewelry and electronics. When an operator inputs inventory information into the carousel’s control software, the machine rotates via the shortest path to position the item’s specific storage shelf at the picking window. Integrated pick-to-light technologies aid in determining the correct item and quantities to pick.

Automated storage and retrieval systems are used in a variety of areas to support processing and picking throughout a facility:

  • Order picking: Retrieving and presenting required inventory to pickers
  • Storage: Providing dense long-term buffering for small or large items that are slow- to medium-movers
  • Kitting: Providing an area to group component parts for assembly
  • Consolidation: Providing a dynamic area to hold parts and items until all pieces of an order can be merged ready for shipment. Often used for consumer, B2B and store orders.
  • Assembly: Storing work piece components for later production
  • Production: Storing tooling and component parts for manufacturing processes
  • Replenishment: Storing excess inventory for restocking of ancillary picking systems
  • Security: Providing an enclosed storage environment with software access controls
  • Retail: Providing a large quantity of parts and items at a customer service desk. Keeps workers in front of customers instead of walking and searching in back rooms.

Automated storage and retrieval systems provide a variety of benefits:

  • Saves up to 85%+ of otherwise wasted floor space
  • Reduces labor requirements by up to two-thirds
  • Extends order cut off times
  • Provides individual and department accountability
  • Enhances product security
  • Increases ergonomics by delivering items to the operator at a convenient height, eliminating time lost to walking, searching, lifting, bending and twisting activities
  • Increases accuracy levels to 99.99%+
  • Increases throughput capabilities
  • Creates new revenue generating activities by reclaiming otherwise wasted space and labor

Automated storage and retrieval systems are used in a variety of industries, including:

  • Automotive
  • Beverage
  • Electronics
  • E-commerce
  • Food
  • Hazmat
  • Hospital
  • Jewelry
  • Life sciences
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical devices and equipment
  • Maintenance & repair operations (MRO)
  • Paper
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Plastics
  • Spare parts handling
  • Warehousing and distribution

Read more about how automated storage and retrieval systems are used in different industries and applications. Additional case studies can be found here.