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A New Approach to Minimizing Downtime in Highly Automated Operations

June 30, 2015
Automated storage and retrieval systems support MRO activities in a small, compact footprint. Keeping these supplies on hand can save time and money in your operations.

Facilities throughout the supply chain are increasingly installing large scale automation process and handling technologies that require readily available routine maintenance supplies and spare parts inventory to avoid costly downtime.

Automated systems and technologies, long deployed by manufacturing facilities, are now moving further into the supply chain to support distribution and fulfillment operations. Investment in these systems shows no signs of slowing.

With expanding, multi-million-dollar investments in large-scale automation systems – conveyors, sorters, palletizers, robotics, case erectors and sealers, packaging equipment and more – comes substantially greater emphasis on keeping everything running at peak levels of productivity.

Ensuring an automated facility’s maintenance and repair operations (MRO) are properly equipped with routine preventive maintenance supplies, tools and critical spare parts is essential to ensuring system uptime.

The shutdown of an automated system, whether schedule for routine preventive maintenance activities or unexpected due to a faulty or defective component that must be replaced is costly. Careful consideration of the areas of potential cost – labor cost, lost revenue or service costs – and losses from automated system downtime has more companies evaluating alternative solutions to support in-house MRO practices.

Further, for companies that do designate a storage room or area for MRO supplies, tools and spare parts, the space is usually small. That’s because most operations prefer to allocate valuable square footage for profit-generating purposes, rather than facilities support.

As an alternative, small-scale automated storage and retrieval systems can provide highly dense storage in an extremely compact footprint for a fraction of the dollars invested in the large-scale automation equipment it supports – particularly when considering the costs of operational downtime. Three primary types of automated storage and retrieval systems include: vertical carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs) and horizontal carousels.

Highly automated facilities that implement small-scale automated storage and retrieval systems to support MRO activities will benefit in a variety of areas:

  • Centralized Storage: By implementing an automated storage and retrieval system dedicated to the storage of maintenance supplies, tools and spare parts, an operation can be assured that all items are kept in a centralized, designated location. Items can be easily found and accessed, minimizing search time.

  • Better Organization: To help maintenance technicians find the items they need even faster, the equipment can be outfitted with partitioned trays or totes for organization and easy locations of small components, such as screws, nuts and bolts.

  • Track and Trace Accountability: If the machine is integrated with inventory management software, authorized operators can be required to first input a software-traceable personal login and password. For operations that wish to keep track of shared tools or gear required to service equipment, this additional measure of accountability allows depleted, missing or misplaced items to be quickly tracked back to an individual.

  • Parts Protection: Because automated storage and retrieval machines can be fully enclosed, the supplies, tools and spare parts stored inside are protected from exposure. This maximizes the useful life of the items, preventing scrap and waste.

  • Maximum Storage Density: Installing high-density automated storage equipment significantly reduces the amount of square footage required to store MRO parts and supplies. The equivalent amount of items held in 120 bays of static shelving can be condensed into two horizontal carousels (66% space savings), two vertical carousels (75% space savings) or a single vertical lift module (85% space savings).

  • Enhanced Ergonomics: Every item stored in an automated storage and retrieval system is delivered at the correct ergonomic work height. Called the “Golden Zone”, the unit’s opening is positioned waist-high, eliminating bending to retrieve an item stored low, or stretching to grab an item stored high. The automated storage equipment substantially lessen the chance of injury and absenteeism, while also reducing insurance premiums and claims for worker’s compensation.

Automated storage and retrieval systems support MRO activities in a small, compact footprint. Keeping these supplies on hand can reduce downtime in highly automated facilities. Parts are more organized, protected and traced throughout the facility. This new approach can save time and money in your operations.