Implementing Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems to Support Social Distancing

Guest blog by Christina Dube from MHI Member Company Kardex Remstar

With the CDC recommending social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, automated storage and retrieval solutions can support social distancing in the warehouse through assigned work zones 6-feet apart, reduced labor requirement and zero interaction processes.

The coronavirus has created a pandemic that has impacted manufacturing and distribution operations in so many ways. When “stay at home” orders went into effect some operations saw unprecedented growth rates while others temporarily shut down. Many operations and facilities managers are now faced with the task of assessing current processes, reducing employee contact and interaction and adjusting to the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the threat of exposure to COVID-19.

Social Distancing is the new normal and has made its way into the workplace, including manufacturing and distribution centers. It’s a simple concept – maintain a 6-foot distance between you and the people around you. While it is a challenge in the office where people are in cubicles, it’s an even greater challenge in the warehouse where people are required to be onsite to perform their job. Adjusting a facility to accommodate these changes can be quite the undertaking.

Social distancing is just one of the long-term effects COVID-19 will have on manufacturing, distribution, logistics and supply chains globally. Adapting your warehouse operations for social distancing will not only provide your workers a safer work environment, it will help prepare you for a second wave of the virus. Implementing automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) can help support social distancing in the warehouse.

How ASRS Technologies Support Social Distancing

Optimized Work Zones for Social Distancing

The use of ASRS, whether it be vertical lift modules, vertical buffer modules, vertical carousels or horizontal carousels, allows for easy assignment of work zones. Multiple units can be combined into one pod or work zone, and one person can be assigned to each work zone. Instead of workers walking up and down aisles throughout the warehouse criss-crossing paths throughout the day, they can now be assigned to a specific zone for the entirety of their shift to maintain a 6-foot distance from other workers.

Work zones can be designed 6-feet apart. To protect employees further, zones can be separated by plexi glass dividers.

Operate with Reduced Staff while Boosting Productivity

Automated storage and retrieval systems reduce labor requirements while increasing productivity, which is particularly helpful as implementing social distancing requires overall less people in the warehouse. Designed on the goods-to-person principal, ASRS bring stored parts to the operator with the touch of a button. This allows the operator to remain in one area to pick parts instead of spending time walking up and down aisles searching for parts.

Not only do these systems provide workers more distance from one another, they increase productivity by eliminating the time spent walking up and down aisles to search for stored items. Automation keeps workers safely within their assigned workstation, less fatigued and more productive. Installing an automated storage and retrieval system can reduce labor requirements by as much as 66%, enabling current workers to be reassigned to new tasks (such as cleaning and sanitizing) while easing hiring pressures and labor expenses.

In addition, goods-to-person picking systems can also speed up item picking for a boost in throughput, yielding higher rates of product picked or moved through the facility within a given period of time. This allows an operation to extend order cutoff times, so more orders can be filled within a day, or to pick up to 400% more items with the same number of workers during the same amount of time.

Making Space for Distancing

Social distancing might seem near impossible for manufacturing and distribution facilities that are already squeezed for space. In some facilities, creating distance between workers means using only every other workstation, which will dramatically decrease productivity. ASRS recover up to 85% of an existing warehouse, stockroom, toolcrib or parts area.

This essentially enables operations to take space from an existing area and reallocate it to another area to accommodate social distancing. This could be the solution to finding the physical space for social distancing in manufacturing cells or in a distribution shipping area.

Implementing an automated solution immediately reduces the amount of square footage required to store items within static shelving and pallet rack in two ways: one, by utilizing previously unused overhead space, and two, by compressing items stored within the technology for greater storage capacity. This is because the volumetric efficiency of each automated technology is so much greater.

Implementing Social Distancing

COVID-19 has impacted the manufacturing and distribution world in a way we’ve never seen. In order to protect workers and business operations, sustainable social distancing solutions are critical. Automation is the answer. Implementing automated storage and retrieval systems into your operation will help facilities comply with social distancing recommendations and prepare for future virus outbreaks.

Practice proper hygiene and don’t forget to wash your hands. Stay safe!