Say “NO” to Static and “Yes” to Automated


Many end users keep on choosing static storage solutions versus automated vertical storage solutions as they are concerned about how automation could adapt or transform their operations. Concerns surrounding flexibility, installation, cost and software integration that hold back companies from going from static/traditional storage system to automated ones are addressed in this interview with Paul Roy – V.P of Sales at Modula

One of the main concerns in some customers’ minds is that automated storage solutions will not offer the flexibility required and may not be able to store items due to their size or varied shape. Some often decide to stay with or turn to static solutions as they seem to be easier to be implemented in their facility.

What type of products fits into a Vertical Lift system? How flexible can it be?

Answer:         In today’s world of automated storage systems, the Modula Vertical Lift Module (VLM) is one of the most advanced dynamic and flexible solutions available. Today’s technology allows for a wide range of product sizes and weights to be stored in this type of unit. It is actually much more flexible than any static solution could ever be by allowing an even greater range of products to be stored. The unit utilizes a height detection system that measures the tallest item on the tray every time it stores a tray in the system allowing for the densest storage location to be determined in real time. The dynamic nature of the system allows for shelves to be stored and optimized on 1” centers providing the best cubic utilization possible. With static solutions, you are restricted with fixed shelf centers which either waste space or become restrictive for taller products. The Modula VLM unit is also constantly monitoring the weight of each tray to make sure they are properly loaded and even monitors how the weight is distributed in the unit at all times. Static solutions cannot provide any of these features for owners. In the end, products can range in size from paper thin to as tall as 28” and all sizes in between.

Another misconception is the belief that the integration and installation of automated storage solutions are too complex to install. This is understandable as most facilities wish to avoid the hassle of any delays in their production. Pair this to a perceived higher cost associated and you have a very difficult sale. Will a Vertical lift system installation require clients to shut down their operation? Will the installation take several weeks if not months to be completed?       

Answer:         These systems do require some time to be installed but in the end the time is not much different than that of a static solution and in most cases is actually less intrusive to operations. Static solutions take up much more space so the area that is disrupted during the install is much larger causing more headaches. The Modula Lift solution takes up a very small footprint and the area required for installation is a fraction of the space required for a static solution install. The time to install is about 5 days per unit so it depends on how many units are being installed and how many crews are used to accomplish the work.  Then the owner must load the system with their parts. This operation is actually much faster with the Modula Lift solution because it is done at the delivery window of the unit with tray levels being brought to the operator. In the static solution, the operator needs to walk up and down aisles to stock all of the parts into the shelves or drawers. Integration to software is very easy and in the end the software can handle picks from inside the Modula Lift or even in remote static areas that might be part of the overall picking process. In most cases, the daily operations in the facility can be run as usual. Transition plans are worked out in a way that minimizes any impact on the customers’ daily operation.

 Is it true that the integration and installation of automated storage solutions may not fit or be compatible with the existing software management? Will the Vertical lift system software be compatible with the client`s existing inventory management software?      

Answer:         This is a mistaken belief. We offer a full suite of software solutions that will provide the right solutions for any customer whether it is a standalone system utilizing our inventory management WMS software or a fully interfaced version to the customer’s Host management system. We develop and maintain our own software giving us complete control over its development and functionality. Interfacing can be done through shared SQL tables or even through SAP iDocs if required. It is our goal to keep the interfaces as simple and seamless as possible so that all inventory information flows easily through the system. Our software only enhances the existing information by handling all picking activity at the machine level and communicating information back to the Host system for real-time updates.

Automated storage solutions are often perceived with high costs associated and a long return on investment (ROI). Many potential clients simply think that they can`t afford automation. Are Vertical lift systems more expensive than traditional static/manual solutions? How long does it take to secure ROI? Are these solutions economical only in large installations?

Answer:         I think that most customers would be surprised by how affordable this level of automation really is to them. In most cases when people think about AS/RS (automated storage and retrieval systems) they think about big rack supported mini and unit load type cranes. These very large AS/RS systems can be a much larger investment in both dollars and time but this is not the case with VLM (vertical lift module) solutions. We see ROI’s anywhere from 6 to 18 months depending on the overall size of the project and the allowable parameters used in the ROI. Individual VLM’s range in price from $60k to $120k depending on the overall size and selected options. And, these units only take about 4-5 days to be fully installed and another week to transfer all of the products into the units and have them fully operational. Although the overall dollar investment for a static solution might be less the time it would take to implement would be just as long and would not provide the amount of benefits that the automated solutions brings in the end; advantages such as space savings, productivity increase, accuracy improvements and better ergonomics to name a few. This technology is the right decision for any customer.

Automated storage solutions raise many concerns about their impact on the labor force. What will be the impact on the workforce? Will employees need special training which will take too much of their time from production?

Answer:         There is no negative impact on the labor force. It is actually the complete opposite. There is a learning process to go through but no more that the learning process it would take for a new employee to understand where products are located on a bunch of shelves or in a bunch of drawers. In the case of VLM automation, the operators need to simply learn how to operate the very user friendly operator interface. In the case of the Modula VLM, we use a color touchscreen controller that makes picking from the unit very simple and fast. The increased safety is also worth noting. We find that employee retention is much greater because they are not forced to walk up and down aisles or climb up and down stairs or ladders all day. Plus all of the reaching and bending found in static solutions is eliminated completely. Finally, when the operator is fully trained you will find that you can get more picking per operator per hour. This will allow customers to either do the same picking with fewer people or to do more picking with the same number of people.   

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