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Our AS/RS has eliminated all unnecessary handling steps.

Most companies set up manufacturing on a single floor, heading off various materials handling obstacles.

Glaxo Wellcome, on the other hand, recently went against such convention. It built a six-story pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Mississauga, Ontario, even though there was sufficient real estate for single floor manufacturing.

The difference between success and failure in this new facility is an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), says Doug Entwistle, manager of operations systems.

"Our AS/RS eliminates all unnecessary handling steps and makes multi-floor manufacturing practical for us," Entwistle explains. The integration of the AS/RS with the high-rise facility also minimizes the need for traditional transport equipment such as conveyors.

Glaxo uses the two-aisle AS/RS to manage raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods in this make-to-stock operation. The storage/retrieval (S/R) machines deliver pallet loads of materials directly to point-of-use doors on five of the facility's floors. A gravity feed bulk handling system moves work-in-process between floors during processing steps.

"We're aware of only one other AS/RS that works like ours but it isn't teamed with a gravity feed system for between-floor materials movement," says Entwistle.

Today, the facility is well into its startup phase, clearing various regulatory hurdles common to the pharmaceutical industry. It will soon be the source of 90 Glaxo Wellcome tablet, liquid, and cream products for the North American market. In addition to manufacturing, the facility is used for advanced research and development which is limited to two floors.

Unusual use of an AS/RS

While Glaxo Wellcome is not unique in its use of AS/RS technology, it is a member of a club with very limited membership.

As the drawing on this page shows, the AS/RS is at the center of the facility. Two banks of single-deep storage racks back up to each other in the center of the building. Each bank runs the full length of the building and has 17 levels and 1,700 storage locations. There are two S/R machines, one servicing each bank of racks. Each aisle is 450 ft long.

Whether a load is required on the manufacturing or research and development floors, an S/R machine removes it from the rack and delivers it to the designated point-of-use door on the opposite side of the aisle. There are 74 point-of-use doors on the five floors serviced by the AS/RS. A sixth floor in the facility has offices only.

During production, a gravity feed bulk handling system transports materials to the floor below. As required, the AS/RS picks up a pallet load of work-in-process or finished goods, depending on the stage of manufacture, and returns it to a storage location.

"All of this means the AS/RS is actually a part of the manufacturing process," says Entwistle.

Storing loads

Just as storage and manufacturing are side-by-side, the receiving and shipping areas are co-located too (see layout drawing).

Raw materials arrive at Glaxo's receiving docks on wooden pallets. If the load has a bar code label, it is scanned to initiate receiving. Otherwise, workers key input data about the receipt to a fixed terminal. This information is used to automatically generate bar code labels for each of the units on the pallet.

In addition to raw materials, the AS/RS also receives packaging materials for finished goods. Pallet loads of those materials are handled and tracked the same way as other inventory stored in the AS/RS.

The inventory is then manually transferred to an aluminum pallet which has a bar code label permanently applied to it. The pallet is immediately placed by lift truck on a short conveyor spur that feeds the AS/RS.

A putaway location is selected automatically by software using the data from the receipt. Ideally, the pallet is putaway in a zone closest to the point-of-use door where it will be delivered first. If no storage locations are open, the pallet will be putaway in the closest available space.

Due to the location of the receiving/shipping area, the S/R machine closest to it will handle all loads whether or not they are stored in that closest aisle. Loads for the other aisle are delivered by the first S/R machine to a conveyor spur that carries the pallet through a tunnel on the first level of rack to the other aisle. The other S/R machine then picks up the load and stores it in its pre-selected location.

Managing production

As Entwistle explains, multiple layers of control manage this make-to-stock manufacturing operation.

Order requirements and expected dates are transferred from a central corporate database to the manufacturing resource planning (MRP II) software. It builds a schedule for two weeks or longer and allocates inventory resources based on that plan.

This information is transferred to the manufacturing execution system (MES) which dynamically controls daily production. The software makes the bridge from the MRP II schedule to the materials management software and cell controllers that coordinate sequencing of the AS/RS with real-time production activities.

In a typical production run, raw materials are delivered by the AS/RS to the fourth floor. Materials are transferred to process bins and returned to the AS/RS.

When required, the bins are called to the third floor, processed, and gravity fed to the second floor. After additional processing, materials are gravity fed to the first floor, put in bins, and stored in the AS/RS.

Finished goods are later called to the second floor packaging line and palletized. Storage of packaged goods in the AS/RS is generally for less than 24 hours before the product is sent to shipping for delivery to a warehouse that is located 10 miles distant.
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Title Annotation:automated storage and retrieval system
Author:Forger, Gary
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 1, 1997
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