The growth of online retailing and more sophisticated supply chains is driving a complete redesign of warehouse configuration and picking patterns. Many warehouses now need to ship tens of thousands of individual items or small packets a day whereas, in the past, they would ship just a few hundred pallets. The potential to improve warehouse productivity is hugely exciting for the industry which is continually asked by its customers to reduce costs, space and carbon footprint while increasing efficiency, accuracy and speed. Taking the retail sector as an example, especially those with online operations; smarter, more sophisticated solutions are being sought to handle the rising number of smaller shipments which its own customers demand.

Swisslog recognises these trends and has expanded its technology portfolio with sophisticated solutions specifically designed to handle increased throughput and more complex material handling requirements.

Swisslog’s launch of AutoStore, a complete system for the storage and order picking of single parts and small cases, has received an enthusiastic welcome from potential customers. Two orders have already been placed for systems which, thanks to their rapid installation schedules, will be fully operational before November 2011.

The AutoStore system designed purposely for high density warehousing consists of goods stored in plastic totes, which are stacked directly on top of each other. The storage and picking operation is handled by robots travelling on an aluminium grid above the totes. Each robot is equipped with a lifting device for picking up, carrying and delivering totes to ports manned by Operators. These ports can be located on all sides of the grid or underneath it, if the grid is on numerous levels. Totes are delivered back-to-back, allowing the Operator to carry out their picking tasks swiftly.

The system also demonstrates groundbreaking developments through its increased usage of valuable floor space, by eliminating the usual space associated with conventional crane storage. “Space is a regular issue faced when designing material handling solutions and usually a costly constraint to overcome,” observes James Sharples, Head of UK Sales and Consulting at Swisslog. “AutoStore can be easily integrated into existing buildings and makes optimal use of available area to increase space utilisation.”

Whilst each application and environment for material handling is different, the requirement is always the same; maximum productivity requires maximum reliability.

AutoStore has an impressive degree of redundancy and reliability, enabled through its setup of multiple modules. The system is able to remain operational at near full capacity even if one of these modules should fail. “For example if a robot is in the middle of a job and fails, it can be parked whilst another robot comes to finish the job,” explains James, “there are no limitations; any robot can get to any bin at any time.”

AutoStore is infamous for its high speed and capacity; it can cope with a large range of throughputs, up to several thousand picks per hour if required, by simply adding or removing robots. But what really sets AutoStore apart is its flexibility; since the factors that influence tote movements are all changeable software options, the flow of goods to be modified easily. This flexibility also encompasses the height, length and width of the system, allowing it to be easily extended in line with expanding SKU range and business growth.

AutoStore is manufactured by Jakob Hatteland Logistics of Norway and Swisslog has a worldwide distribution agreement.

AutoStore reinforces Swisslog’s commitment to serve the full range of light goods applications, complementing the SmartCarrier transport and storage system, QuickMove conveyor system and Tornado miniload cranes which they already offer.

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Emma Rawlinson

Tel: 01527 551 633

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