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Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems Explained

Automated Storage & Retrieval System Close-up

Efficient inventory management is critical for companies to remain competitive in today's fast-paced business world. One way to gain an edge is by incorporating an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) into an existing warehouse or distribution center. This technology has transformed warehouse operations, helping businesses increase efficiency, accuracy, and productivity, while providing the opportunity for employees to focus their energy on more complex tasks.

What is an ASRS?

Automated storage and retrieval systems, as the name implies, are used to store and retrieve goods within a warehouse or distribution center. These advanced systems utilize robotics, conveyors, and computerized control systems to streamline inventory management. The main goals of operational leaders seeking to implement an ASRS are typically one or more of the following: to automate material handling, eliminate manual intervention, increase efficiency, streamline order picking, optimize storage space, and increase order accuracy.

 An ASRS uses three key components that optimize storage capacity and facilitate efficient retrieval:

Storage Units

Storage units, such as racks, shelves, bins, or trays, are structured to accommodate different product sizes and weights.

Retrieval Mechanisms

Retrieval mechanisms, which include robotic arms, cranes, shuttles, or vertical lifts, work alongside the storage units to quickly and accurately retrieve requested items.

Control System

The control system acts as the brain of the ASRS, managing and coordinating all operations. These controls receive input from the warehouse management software, which enables the control system to monitor inventory levels, track item locations, and direct the movement of storage and retrieval mechanisms.


Types of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

There are several types of ASRS available on the market. Some of the most common options include the following:


Crane-based ASRS utilize overhead cranes to transport and store unit loads, such as pallets or large containers. These cranes move horizontally along the storage aisles, and vertically to access different storage levels. Crane-based ASRS offer high storage capacity, flexibility in layout design, and efficient handling of heavy loads.


Some automated storage and retrieval systems use shuttles that move horizontally and vertically to transport items to designated locations. The shuttles can work independently and simultaneously, allowing quick storage and retrieval operations. These systems are known for their high throughput, scalability, and ability to handle different load sizes and shapes.


Cranes for unit-load systems come in two variations: fixed-aisle and movable aisle systems. In fixed-aisle systems, the cranes move on a track within a specific aisle, retrieving and storing pallets or large containers. They can move vertically and horizontally to access different storage levels and locations. Alternatively, movable aisle systems feature a trackless design where the entire racking structure moves to create an aisle for the crane to access. Unit-load ASRS cranes offer high storage capacity, efficient handling of heavy loads, and flexible layout designs to meet different warehouse needs.


Mini-load systems have fixed aisles and automated shuttles that are used to retrieve and deposit loads. The shuttles can travel horizontally along the aisle and access multiple storage levels at once. The cranes are versatile and adaptable to different load sizes, and they have a high throughput.


The carousel-based ASRS uses rotating shelves or bins to bring items to a central picking station. There are vertical, horizontal, and robotic carousels, all of which can offer fast picking speeds, improved order accuracy, and reduced operator walking distances. This type of ASRS is ideal for applications with high pick rates and a need for compact storage.

Vertical Lift-Module (VLM)

VLMs are designed to make the most of vertical space in a warehouse by storing items in vertical trays or bins. An automated lift mechanism retrieves the requested trays and presents them to the operator at a workstation. VLMs can help optimize space, increase picking efficiency, and improve inventory control.


The Benefits of an ASRS

Warehouses and distribution centers that implement automated storage and retrieval systems can experience massive gains in efficiency and productivity. Here are some of the key benefits you can experience by incorporating an ASRS into your operation.

More Efficient Use of Floor Space

ASRS are designed to maximize available floor space by utilizing vertical storage. As a result, businesses can store their inventory in a more organized manner, freeing up valuable floor space for additional storage, production, or workspace.

Increased Inventory Storage Density

By storing items more compactly and sometimes vertically, ASRS can accommodate a larger volume of inventory within a smaller footprint. This increased storage density translates into improved inventory management, reduced storage costs, and optimized picking and retrieval processes.

Increased Order Picking Accuracy

An ASRS will improve warehouse order picking accuracy since it automates the retrieval process. With the ability to precisely position and control movement, these systems eliminate human errors that often occur during manual picking, like misplacement or miscounting of items. As a result, order accuracy is improved, and the likelihood of shipping errors and customer dissatisfaction is reduced.

Ability to Scale Up With Your Business

Due to their modular design, ASRS are easily scalable to unique business needs. One can start out with a small system and build upon it as their operation and needs grow, without having to start over with a whole new system. This might include adding more racks or robotic retrieval systems or restructuring the system if needed. This modularity allows for easy expansion - similar to adding extra blocks to a Lego structure.

Easy Integration With Emerging Technologies

Thanks to advanced software and system standards, ASRS can be efficiently integrated into warehouse management systems and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This integration can significantly improve operational visibility and enable advanced capabilities like predictive maintenance and inventory forecasting. For example, integrating ASRS with IoT sensors allows you to track inventory in real-time. Additionally, using AI algorithms, ASRS can predict when certain products will run out and automatically reorder them, optimizing inventory management.

Increased Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

Modern ASRS designs minimize energy consumption, reducing facility carbon footprints and supporting company environmental initiatives. The systems can be designed to use less energy per retrieval compared to traditional, older systems. For instance, using energy-efficient motors and AI to optimize retrieval paths minimizes energy consumption.

Reduced Labor and Associated Costs

By automating inventory storage and retrieval with an ASRS, warehouses can limit their reliance on manual labor for repetitive tasks. Automation relieves employees from physically strenuous tasks, allowing them to focus on strategic activities like inventory planning and quality control, simultaneously reducing injury risks and enhancing job satisfaction and efficiency.

Automated storage and retrieval systems have revolutionized warehouse operations by improving efficiency, space utilization, and inventory management. They streamline order picking, reduce errors, and through these optimizations - they enhance customer satisfaction.


Automate Your Warehouse With Equipment Depot

Incorporating an ASRS into your warehouse or distribution center can have many benefits. When you’re looking for the right automated system to enhance your operation, our EQSOLUTIONS™️ team is ready to support you with innovative, customized warehouse solutions. Contact our team at 888.EQDEPOT today to set up a free site evaluation and see what an ASRS can do for your business.



Equipment Depot is your full-service provider and single source for efficient warehouse automation — delivering the maximum ROI with the right mix of automated equipment and systems integration.

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