Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are inventory management systems made up of equipment and controls that handle, store and retrieve materials in manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, and warehouses.   AS/RS systems depend on a variety of computer-controlled methods for automatically depositing and retrieving loads to and from defined storage locations, providing  precision, accuracy, and speed in applications where there is a very high volume, storage density is important, and/or accuracy is critical.

Benefits of AS/RS

  • Cuts  expenses by minimizing the amount of unnecessary parts and products in storage
  • Improves organization of warehouse contents
  • Increases storage space and efficiency
  • Reduces labor costs
  • Increases safety
  • Better product tracking and data analysis

Types of AS/RS Equipment

MHIA, the trade association for the material handling world, has broken AS/RS into two primary segments: Fixed Aisle (F/A)and Carousels/Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs). Both groups of technologies provide automated storage and retrieval, but use different technologies, with each technology having its unique set of benefits and disadvantages. F/A systems are characteristically larger systems, whereas carousels and VLMs are used individually or grouped, but in small to medium-sized applications.
Here’s a look at some of the technologies you would find one or more of in an AS/RS environment.
Horizontal Carousels consist of a series of bins which revolve on an oval track, bringing the required items to the operator. Every bin has adjustable shelves and can be configured for a range of standard and special applications Adjacent storage columns or bays are linked mechanically to a drive mechanism (overhead or floor-mopunted), and the link forms a complete loop. As the name implies, horizontal storage carousels rotate and store product in a horizontal plane.
Multiple horizontal carousels (pods) integrated with pick to light technology and inventory management software are often used to speed picking times in order fulfillment. While the operator picks from one horizontal carousel in the pod the other is pre-positioning the next pick so the operator has minimal downtime. By applying the “product to person” principle, operators do not have to move from their position to prepare the order.
Horizontal carousel
Vertical Carousels are basically horizontal units except they rotate vertically with rotating shelves that move up or down in response to the commands. And unlike their horizontal counterparts, these vertical units are enclosed in a metal housing and have an opening for storing and picking. Overall, vertical carousels have about the same features as horizontal units but with the added benefit of better utilization of vertical building space. And because they are enclosed, they offer better security.
Vertical Lift Modules (VLM)  are similar to vertical carousels in how they basically function (and look), but VLMs can be built quite high, often extending through several floors of a building. With a capability of having multiple access openings on different floors, operator workstations can be located on each floor and product replenishment can take place at the same time items are being picked. And unlike carousels, VLMs don’t rotate the product to the operator position; instead, the goods are brought to the operator via an internal shuttle device. Also, the storage trays are not attached like carousel shelves – entire trays can be moved about and can quickly and easily be added or removed to maximize efficiency as needs change.


Fixed Aisle (F/A) Storage and Retrieval Systems consist of one or more aisles framed on both sides by a storage rack structure that can reach 100 feet or more tall. Storage and retrieval is generally performed via a crane system controlled by computer software that directs a hoisting carriage on which loads are handled. Insertion/extraction devices on the crane system manipulates  in and out of specific storage positions.   Loads are typically large pallets weighing 1000 pounds or more.

Next Level is committed to helping our customers increase efficiency and profitability through lower material expenditures and cost efficient design solutions. Contact us here our speak with one of our material handling pros at 800-230-8846.
Image Credits
Click on images to view sources.
Horizontal Carousel: By Ingenieria-logistica (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Vertical Carousel: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Vertical Lift Module: By WindyPrints from flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons