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An automated storage system uses machinery, often controlled by computers, to move items to and from shelving in a setting such as a warehouse or library. In large systems, barcodes can be used to identify items, which may be contained in storage bins and retrieved by robotic cranes. The advantages of an automated storage system include a smaller workforce, reduced need for floor space, greater ability to control the storage environment in terms of security, temperature and humidity, and increased speed and efficiency.
Automated storage systems are also referred to as automated storage and retrieval systems, or ASRS, because the robotic equipment is able to retrieve items for use as well as sort and deposit them within the system. Different types of automated machines may be employed according to the requirements of a company. For example, in warehouse management, types of automation might include what are referred to as fixed aisle systems, horizontal and vertical carousels and vertical lift modules.
In a fixed aisle automated system, metal racks line both sides of an aisle, and a robotic crane travels along it, depositing and extracting boxes at various heights. Crane movements are programmable, and may be controlled from a computer terminal. Another type of automated equipment, the vertical lift module, consists of a computer-controlled elevator traveling between two vertical sets of shelves, depositing and retrieving containers.
Carousels, both vertical and horizontal, are often a feature of an automated storage system. A vertical carousel is a unit that rotates in a vertical direction, is divided into shelves and takes up little floor space. The amount of rotation is controlled automatically to bring shelves into the correct position for the user, and items are frequently removed manually. With a horizontal carousel, where the unit rotates horizontally, items are often extracted automatically. Carousel usage ranges from file storage in an office to automated materials handling in a warehouse.
Following the success of the automated warehouse, libraries have begun to adopt automated storage system technology. Reading materials which are fragile or less frequently browsed, such as journals, are commonly placed in the automated system. Identifying barcodes are attached to items, which are stored inside storage bins within densely packed racks. Using a robotic crane, it is possible to store containers to make better use of available space that is difficult for humans to access. When users request items from their computers, they are selected by the crane and delivered to library staff almost instantly.