What Is an ASRS? All You Need to Know About Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

Over the last two years, businesses around the globe were forced to halt production or sit idly by while their products were stuck mid-transportation, resulting in unhappy customers and lost revenue. 

Long-established supply chain practices are being re-examined, and businesses are looking for ways to prevent such disruption from happening again. According to a recent report, just-in-time sourcing and manufacturing is expected to reduce from a pre-COVID 39% down to 29%, shifting to what is being referred to as just-in-case sourcing. 

Another solution? Over-buying and storing items in your warehouse to keep a healthy backlog. 

With automated storage and retrieval systems, this not only a possible solution, but a profitable one. 

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about automated storage and retrieval systems, from how they can optimize your warehouse space and increase productivity too.

What is an ASRS?

An Automated Storage and Retrieval System (also known as ASRS or AS/RS) is a technology solution supported by robots and computers. It is used in warehouses to store goods in defined locations and retrieve them when necessary.

Inaccessible not so long ago due to high costs, ASRS have gained popularity and offer solutions that fit any business, thanks to their flexibility, size variety, and budget diversity. 

There are several types of ASRS that can be integrated with various warehouse software solutions such as Warehouse Management Software (WMS), Warehouse Execution Software (WES), and more.

Where to Use Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

ASRS are typically used in manufacturing, warehouses, and distribution areas to help organize a high volume of items that need to be stored and moved, and to optimize space. 

From the automotive and manufacturing industries to retail and pharmaceuticals, ASRS redefine workflow and the use of physical, financial and human resources. 

Let’s look at the different ASRS applications: 

1. Point of Use Inventory

An automated storage and retrieval system can optimize your workflow by storing the items you need and quickly retrieving them when necessary. 

Integrating this system with your Warehouse Execution Software (WES) can determine the order in which you pull inventory, using product expiration dates, lot numbers, First in First Out or Last In First Out options and more.

2. Goods-to-Person in the Picking & Packing Process

The manual process of walking to the location where goods are stored, then picking, packing and processing orders, can be time-consuming for employees.  

Add the possibility of selecting the wrong item and the possibility of an injury — both of which can lead to substantial medical expenses. 

An automated storage and retrieval system eliminates the need for physical movement and the risk of human error. 

A shuttle, carousel or crane retrieves the goods you need and delivers them to an assigned workstation. In addition, it can arrange the items based on size and weight, take into account the store’s floor plan and shipping zones and cut down on the time it takes to perform these operations. 

3. Buffer Storage Management

An automated storage and retrieval system can manage buffer stock to ensure you always have an adequate supply of what you need. 

Depending on the program set, systems can move the product where it is expected or hold and consolidate it for packing and shipping. 

4. Shipping & Planning

Maintaining a workforce around the clock is not always possible for every business, but consumers shop 24/7 and they expect a timely delivery. 

An automated storage and retrieval system can assist your operation by retrieving the goods ordered by customers and holding them in buffer storage, ready to be taken to the next working stage.  

Although the shipping window may be closed at the time of purchase, automated systems save time and ensure uninterrupted operation when your employees return to work.

A warehouse with automated storage and retrieval systems​ ASRS
From point of use inventory to buffer storage and shipping planning, automated storage ASRS and retrieval systems optimize your workflow, save time and maintain ongoing operation​

Benefits of ASRS

The global market size of ASRS is expected to reach $4 trillion by 2028, compared to $2.4 trillion in 2020.  

The use of automated storage and retrieval systems: 

  • Saves space 
  • Encourages utilization of vertical space
  • Reduces rental costs by optimizing smaller spaces 
  • Reduces labor costs 
  • Improves safety 
  • Increases productivity 
  • Improves accuracy
  • Optimizes inventory control 
  • Increases shipping speeds
Automated warehouse with digital technology​
An automated storage and retrieval system reduces labor cost, optimizes inventory control and boosts shipping speed​

Types of ASRS

Depending on the space parameters and the features you’re looking for in an ASRS, you can choose from six types of automated storage and retrieval systems:  

  • Unit-Load ASRS  
  • Mini-Load ASRS  
  • Shuttle- and Bot-based ASRS 
  • Horizontal Carousel-based ASRS
  • Vertical Carousel – based ASRS 
  • Vertical Lift Module ASRS 
  • Micro-Load (Stocker) 

Which one is right for you? Let’s take a look. 

Unit-Load ASRS

Unit-Load ASRS are large systems that store and retrieve bulky and heavy loads, including pallets, pallet-sized loads, and cases.

The weight they can handle ranges from 1,100 to 5,500 pounds (500 to 2,500 kg) while their height can reach up to 100 feet. The structure of the unit-load ASRS includes narrow aisle racks and a crane that moves the pallets according to your instructions. You can use unit-load ASRS in high-density areas with bulky loads to ensure space optimization, safe storage, quick retrieval of goods, and minimal labor. 

Unit-load ASRS are divided into two sub-groups: fixed-aisle and moveable aisle cranes.

Fixed-aisle unit-load ASRS is a system that allows narrow aisles between pallet racks. A crane positioned in a single-aisle of pallets moves vertically and horizontally between the aisles to transport the needed items. 

Moveable aisle crane unit-load ASRS function in a similar way, but the crane is not fixed and it uses a track to move between the aisles. This type of unit-load ASRS is suitable for larger facilities with more space.

Mini-Load ASRS

Mini-load ASRS (known also as “tote-stacking” and “case-handling”) differ from unit-load systems in terms of the weight they can handle, which is typically around 35 kg. The height of these systems usually does not exceed 40 feet. 

Mini-load ASRS allows more storage space and less wasted space. 

You can use a mini-load automated storage and retrieval system to store and retrieve cartons, trays, or totes in small-space facilities with many stock keeping units (SKUs).  

They are also a good solution if you need to buffer and release products to packing and picking stations. 

Shuttle-based ASRS

Shuttle-based ASRS uses a shuttle (bot) to deliver items.  

The shuttle is powered by a battery or a capacitator. It works on single or multiple levels, using a track to move between racks and transport goods to the assigned workstations.  

You can choose between vertically or horizontally oriented shuttle-based automated storage and retrieval systems to optimize your warehouse space and facilitate workflow. 

A horizontal carousel-based automated storage and retrieval system consists of a track with rotating bins. The bins contain the products or other goods you would like to store, retrieve and transport to assigned locations. Once you request an item, the ASRS rotates in a way that is convenient for you to pick the product, with an indicator showing the carousel and shelf where it is located. 

Horizontal carousels are the ideal solution when you need high-speed picking in a low ceiling environment.  

In either a production or distribution setting, the horizontal carousel is extremely effective in saving space, reducing labor costs, speeding throughput and improving accuracy and inventory control. 

Vertical carousel-based ASRS consist of carriers that rotate vertically and deliver stored goods to the operator at an ergonomic height. They are mainly used to store small parts or documents. 

Vertical Lift Module ASRS

Vertical lift module ASRS are made of an inserter/extractor and a tray column arranged in an enclosed system. They are a recommended solution if you are looking for a goods-to-person ASRS. 

Upon your request, the inserter/extractor device finds and retrieves the tray where the item is located and transports it to an operator who proceeds with the order. 

Vertical lift module ASRS are an ideal solution for the storage and management of materials of any shape, weight and size. 

Micro-Load Stocker

If you are working in a high-density warehouse and you need an automated storage and retrieval system for buffering, sequencing and point-of-use goods, a micro-load stocker might be the perfect fit. 

A micro-load stocker consists of a series of robots running across a dense storage grid to store and pick inventory bins and deliver them to a conveyor or workstation. There are different systems of micro-load stockers available on the market and they are typically integrated with other ASRS systems. 

Modula’s ASRS Solutions

At Modula, we redefine your warehouse operations. Our automated storage and retrieval systems ensure space optimization and flexibility, along with improved accuracy and efficiency, increased safety and a return on investment within 6-18 months on our horizontal carousels. 

Our automated storage and retrieval solutions can be implemented quickly and at a reasonable cost, and they can be easily relocated and/or expanded. 

Modula Horizontal Carousels

If the ceiling in your warehouse or storage area is low and you cannot use height to fit as many items as possible, consider our Modula horizontal carousel.  

With a picking accuracy of up to 99% and picking rates of up to 550 lines per hour for each employee, this solution will allow you to use every inch of your space while improving productivity and reducing the risk of hazards. 

Boasting compactness and flexibility, Modula horizontal carousels fit perfectly in areas of complex geometry or architectural complexities. 

The carousels are made of solid 304 stainless steel, making them extremely stable and durable. The system is equipped with a Copilot, which facilitates the process of finding and retrieving items. The execution speed is enhanced due to the single or dual 3-horsepower drives. 

The automatic inventory tracking function provides real-time data about the inventory available and helps you plan shipments. 

Automatic safety doors and an emergency stop button keep your employees safe while on the job. 

A horizontal automated storage and retrieval system ASRS by Modula​
Our horizontal solutions fit spaces with complex geometry and offer speed, accuracy of execution and increased safety ​

Modula Vertical Lift Modules

If your warehouse has high ceilings and you are looking for ways to utilize this space, we recommend our Modula vertical lift modules

You can store large inventories securely and access your items at any time with a single click on the Copilot controller.  

Fast, accurate and safe, this simple process eliminates the possibility of errors and boosts productivity.

Our vertical lift modules include:

Modula Lift: With a height range of 10’10”–52’10” and tray widths of 59, 75, 98, 122 or 161” Modula Lift ensures a throughput of up to 130 trays per hour and 2,200 pounds of tray payload capacity.  
Convenient for heavy loads and quick picking times, Modula Lift is the ideal storage solution for industrial products, components and spare parts for all possible environments and industries. 

Modula Slim: This vertical lift option is similar to Modula Lift, but we recommend it for smaller footprint facilities. The unit height is 7’11”–22’12” and the tray widths are 51, 75 or 98”. You can install it quickly and easily and prep it for running in only 48 hours. 
With twice the load capacity of typical vertical carousels in a small footprint of only 32.29 square feet (3 square meters), Modula Slim can change your working environment and improve your storage and retrieval process. 

Modula OnePick: With unit heights of 10’10”–52’10” and tray widths of 75–161”, Modula OnePick combines the strengths of vertical lift solutions and a robotic system that stores and retrieves boxes or totes, without the need for an operator.
It is fully automated, adjusted to various container sizes and easily integrated with the ASRS you are currently using.

A vertical automated solution by Modula​
At Modula, our diverse vertical lift modules are designed to fit your space requirements in any size operation​

Wrapping up on Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

From space optimization and cost savings to enhancing safety and increasing productivity, ASRS can improve the storage and retrieval process in your company. 

At Modula, you can select a vertical or horizontal automated storage and retrieval system in line with your space specifications, business needs and goals. Our solutions are safe, efficient and designed to streamline your operations.