Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) have been in use since the 1960s. Some
common types handle unit loads such as car frames and pallet loads, while others are designed
for small loads such as totes and small parts. Over the years, these systems have been significant
productivity tools. At the same time, however, stereotypes and misconceptions have developed
about them, such as "only for managing large inventories" and "unreliable; too much downtime."
In reality, today's AS/RS do far more than just manage inventory. Some now stage raw materials
and work-in-process for Lean and Just-in-Time (JIT) applications, and many more stage finished
goods prior to shipping and in distribution center applications. Although most current systems
perform at high levels of uptime, the perception that AS/RS lack reliability continues to persist.
The purpose of this White Paper is to examine the sources of perception about AS/RS reliability,
and to compare the perception with the reality actually experienced in today's manufacturing and
distribution operations. The discussion is based on findings from two independent research
studies conducted by Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management. The studies
were commissioned by the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), a not-for-profit
trade association based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The research project team consisted of
graduate students from BYU, along with faculty advisers. The first study entitled, "AS/RS
Market Research," was commissioned in the fall of 2005. Its goal was to determine how users,
potential users, and non-users of AS/RS felt about this technology, how the technology was
being used, and what its benefits and shortcomings were in the minds of study participants. The
second study, "Reliability of AS/RS," was completed in late 2006. It focused in large part on the
perceptions about AS/RS reliability expressed in the first study.
by Ray Kulwiec
Ray Kulwiec Associates