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Material Handling Systems: Automated & More

The modern supply chain calls for more precision than ever before. There is absolutely no room for error, and yet, the demand for efficiency and minimal downtime is also on the rise. Given these high expectations, it's imperative that you make the most of every opportunity to obtain a competitive edge — and automated material handling systems will allow you to accomplish exactly that.

The term automated material handling (AMH) refers to the integration of automation technologies with the storage, retrieval and sortation of various products. This stands in direct opposition to manual material handling (MMH), in which physical force is used for inventory management tasks.

These days, MMH operations largely rely on human labor. AMH, however, depends on advanced solutions such as computers and robotic systems. Many AMH systems integrate inventory management and asset tracking technologies like barcodes and RFID tags to deliver real-time data and revolutionize warehousing protocols.

Both manual material handling and automated material handling solutions can be useful in the right context, but forward-thinking business leaders increasingly favor automated systems, which allow them to improve cycle time and cut costs while boosting accuracy, productivity, and even safety. All these factors ultimately have a positive impact on profitability. Keep reading to learn how these systems work and why they are so versatile.

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Types of Material Handling Systems

A variety of solutions promise to improve operational efficiency and minimize errors. Not all, however, are ideal for every warehousing location. Several factors must be taken into account when choosing an approach, as poor selection can limit efficiency or cause problems if space is limited. The following are among the most common and effective systems available today:

An automated conveyor system in a warehouse with shelves of boxes in the background

Automated Conveyor Systems

Designed to efficiently move a wide array of items, automated conveyor systems come in many forms, ranging from rollers to spirals. Some even feature zero pressure accumulation styles that prevent products from coming into contact with one another. Conveyor systems are particularly useful for bulky or heavy items that can be difficult to handle via manual labor.

Shop individual conveyors.

An automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS)

Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems

Automated storage & retrieval systems (ASRS) such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and vertical lifts (VTUs) are controlled or aided by computers. This high-tech approach automates the retrieving of loads from specific storage locations. These storage systems limit the need for manual material handling processes and heavy lifting, thereby enabling greater speed and precision while also keeping labor costs to a minimum. For this reason, ASRS is a popular solution in distribution centers and for e-commerce.

A pallet rack system situated between shelves

Pallet Rack Systems

A key aspect of any warehouse or distribution center, pallet rack systems provide easy access to stored materials. They can be configured in single or multiple levels to make the most of limited space or enable swifter retrieval.

With modern automation solutions, pallet rack systems can be controlled via computers and sensors. These ensure that pallets are continually replenished — and that all items remain available at all times.

Shop individual pallet racks.

A pick module setup operating on multiple levels with shelves in the background

Pick Module Systems

Among the most versatile options for material handling, pick module systems often constitute multi-level operations. These are designed to streamline the movement of goods and materials through high-density facilities. Typically, these solutions feature a variety of different types of storage, including both pallet and carton flow. In general, pick module systems work best for FIFO (first in, first out) operations.

Material Handling Equipment: Where And How It's Used

Organizations within numerous sectors stand to benefit from customized material handling systems. While specific designs will vary based on desired applications, all systems hold the potential to improve both productivity and precision.

The following are just a few of the many industries that make extensive use of advanced material handling systems:

  • Distribution centers. Among the top settings for using material handling equipment, today's distribution centers require effective technological solutions to control costs for picking and packing at high volume. In this context, the right automated material handling system will boost resource efficiency while also promoting agile operations, even in an omnichannel context.
  • E-commerce. Demand for automated systems is on the rise in the e-commerce sector with record online sales each year. To keep up with this unprecedented demand, many companies are implementing ASRS and other high-tech solutions to help speed up the order fulfillment process.
  • Automotive. Flexible material handling systems are crucial in the modern automotive sector, where complex manufacturing protocols and short product lifecycles drive an increasingly high demand for automated systems.
  • Aerospace. Innovative solutions are essential in the quickly evolving aerospace industry, where delicate parts and strict security measures must be taken into account. Today's aerospace material handling systems are as advanced as the revolutionary equipment with which they deal.
  • Food and beverage. Temperature requirements and many other storage considerations must be taken into account when designing solutions for handling food and beverages. Strategically designed material handling systems can ensure that products move efficiently through facilities and are easily found, thereby limiting the potential for waste.

Warehouse1’s Systems Solutions

As you determine a preferred approach for material handling, look to the experts at Warehouse1 for guidance. We will work closely with you to develop a customized, innovative control system that meets your requirements for both automated material handling and manual material handling. We take the guesswork out of dealing with advanced technologies so you can reap the rewards of warehouse automation.

We'd love to learn more about your supply chain needs and your goals for the future. Contact us today to request a quote and get on the path to a better functioning warehouse or distribution center.


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