In recent years, companies have been looking for new systems to automate production and storage processes.

When the goal is to optimize lead time and costs, standard manual storage solutions are far from efficient, having been designed to serve industries with completely different needs from those of today.

New production processes must guarantee a competitive response to market dynamics, but this is only possible if we think from a 4.0 perspective, especially for warehouses.

How to choose the ideal automatic solution for a warehouse?

The first step in identifying the most suitable storage system for a warehouse is to locate the areas which can benefit from the installation of an automatic storage system.

To establish whether to adopt an automatic vertical storage system or a horizontal carousel, it is essential to answer some relevant questions.

  • What is the height of the warehouse structure?
  • Is space running out?
  • Is there a need to increase productivity?
  • Is there a need for better inventory control?
  • Is it difficult to keep up with the growing demand even if it is seasonal?
  • What types of products are stored?

Vertical storage systems and horizontal carousels: the points in common

Both technologies are based on the “goods to person” principle and offer very similar advantages: space optimization, high productivity, efficiency, safety, quality control, and inventory management.

But which is the best?

The choice between a vertical or horizontal automatic storage system depends mainly on the following factors:

  1. Available space and ceiling height of the warehouse building
  2. Dimensions and weight of the stored goods
  3. Economic or trade cycle

Let’s take a look at the main features of these 2 solutions.

Automatic vertical storage systems: Features

A vertical storage system is based on trays arranged vertically. The trays are retrieved automatically and delivered to the operator in an ergonomic position directly at the picking bay.

Vertical storage systems eliminate the need to search for goods and picking operations are error free thanks to the assistance of the WMS.

By exploiting the height of the premises (from floor to ceiling), this storage system frees up to 90% of the floor space used by traditional racking systems.

The trays can be organized for goods of any type and size. In fact, using separators and dividers it is possible to configure each tray with a specific number of compartments. These configurations are not fixed and can be changed any time depending on the specific needs.

Vertical storage solutions can also dramatically increase productivity and picking accuracy as they are equipped with intuitive visual aids that guide operators through the picking process.

Automatic vertical storage systems are more efficient when:

  • The ceiling height exceeds 4 meters, since in this case the vertical space is often wasted. With a vertical storage system that space can be used efficiently.
  • Stock is made up of a range of different items with different sizes and weights.
  • The weight and dimensions of the products create ergonomic and space-saving challenges and therefore an integrated lifting system is required.

Horizontal Carousels: Features and functionality

Horizontal carousels are automatic storage systems suitable for different types of buildings with particular characteristics such as special geometric structures, low ceilings, architectural obstacles, essentially all those buildings where it is difficult to take advantage of the vertical space.

Horizontal carousels are made up of bins mounted on an oval track that rotates horizontally and conveys the stored goods directly to the operator.

When the operator requests a specific item, the horizontal carousel automatically rotates so that the appropriate bin is made available and the item can be picked. Also in this case, the goods to person principle applies and the operator does not have to go back and forth for picking.

Horizontal carousels are most efficient when:

  • The ceiling height is less than 3 meters and there is sufficient floor space available.
  • The budget is tight but you don’t want to give up the benefits of an automatic storage system: horizontal carousels tend to be more economical.
  • The applications require high throughput. Arranged in a pod of 2 to 4 units, horizontal carousels can guarantee a picking speed of up to 550 picks/hour.
  • The product mix has a medium to low turnover rate.
  • The applications must always have access to the inventory even in an emergency.

So, choosing between a vertical and a horizontal automatic storage system?

In conclusion, in order to properly evaluate an automated storage and picking system it is important to consider the characteristics of the building and the handling needs. Sometimes the optimal solution involves both products.

With the proper assessment and design, the installation of a horizontal carousel or a vertical storage system is an investment that requires just 6 months for an effective return on the investment (ROI). This is due to improved use of floor space, reduced labor costs, higher picking accuracy, and better inventory control.

How to optimize picking operations?

Picking is the heart of any warehouse, and it is an activity that must be designed and organized very carefully. Download our in-depth analysis on how to optimize picking.