September 15, 2009

Advice for AS/RS users

Choose the wrong pallet rack, warns one rack maker, and your AS/RS could run into trouble.

By Toby Gooley

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are a marvel of engineering. They're speedy, efficient, and often in motion around the clock. To keep up the pace, every part and component must be in perfect working order—and the pallet racks must be precisely fitted and calibrated to the application.

But that's not always the case, says Skip Eastman, vice president of sales at Steel King, a manufacturer of pallet rack and custom storage rack solutions. In Eastman's view, for an AS/RS to operate most efficiently, the pallet racks must be built to FEM (Federation of European Material Handling) specifications—a standard that not all pallet racks meet.

Furthermore, the rack tolerances must be exact for the computer-controlled storage and retrieval system to work properly. "If the tolerances are significantly off, loads could be deposited into a beam, upright, or the wrong storage location," Eastman warns. Pallet rack tolerances for mini-load AS/RS (which carry lots weighing less than 1,000 pounds in totes, trays, or cartons) can be especially demanding, since the storage locations are smaller, and the loading device may still travel at a high speed, he adds.

Considering that the racks must be able to support stored pallet loads or mini-loads at heights of 40 feet or more, it's no surprise that rack strength is another concern. Add in the need for racking to comply with fire, seismic, and municipal building codes and you have a complicated situation indeed.

A good source of information about racks of all types is the Rack Manufacturers Institute, which is part of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). Specifications and technical data are available on the group's Web site.

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Contributing Editor
Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Senior Editor at DC VELOCITY and Editor of DCV's sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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