Pros and Cons of Switching to Vertical Lift Modules

Maximizing the use of space while keeping costs low is a challenge all businesses face as they grow and turning to automated picking systems such as vertical lift modules can be the key to overcoming these challenges.

The vertical lift module (VLM) System is an automated parts-to-picker system that digitally tracks, stores, and retrieves order items. This leads to a decrease in the warehouse’s required throughput time, and an increase in speed and efficiency.

As with many automated systems, there are benefits and challenges to implementing vertical lift modules.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using vertical lift modules in your warehouse?

Pros of Using Vertical Lift Modules
The VLM system can provide many benefits for your business.

  • Save space

When prices per square per meter of building space are increasing at the rates they are today, it becomes necessary to utilize the space in your warehouse in the most efficient way possible. VLMs can allow up to 80% space savings in your warehouse because VLMs can exploit the benefits of using vertical space and high density storage.
VLMs travel vertically to extract trays from the shelves and bring them to the operator putting it on the pick shelf or window. They also give you optimal storage density because the machines can pack products and items closer together than humans can.

  • Increase speed

Automation also has another big advantage over traditional warehouse racking solutions: the ability for programming and feedback modulation. This means that vertical lift modules can learn what the most frequently picked (and co-picked) items are, and then store them together on the same tray or carrier.

When the items with the highest pick frequency are stored together, the extractor/inserter does not have to travel as far to retrieve those items – increasing speed and saving you time.

This modulation and programmability can increase the maximum throughput of your warehouse.

  • Meet the needs of the new e-commerce world

As the shift towards e-commerce continues, many warehouse storage and picking needs are feeling the pressure to seek new efficient solutions for order-picking of small orders.

An April 2019 study showed that the smaller the orders and number of items to pick, the better the VLM system works than traditional systems.

Cons of Using Vertical Lift Modules
Of course, the VLM system also has some drawbacks that may make using other options more suitable for your business needs.

  • High initial investment cost

Automated systems such as vertical lift modules usually have higher fixed costs for installation. Research comparing the costs of using traditional warehouse shelving to the VLM system found the return on the initial investment would be unsuitable for businesses that do not access their warehouses very often.

For example, if the warehouse is only accessed one shift per day, the VLM investment cost would be too expensive for a good return on investment. In that case, it would be better to use traditional warehouse shelving such as carton racks.

  • Higher training and maintenance costs

When learning any new technology, the quality of training the workers receive will affect how much the system returns its investment cost.
Training of employees and maintenance workers will be an added, ongoing cost separate from the initial costs associated with the installation of a vertical module system.

Because VLMs are programmed machines, they have to be programmed based on an estimate of your peak required throughput over time. Therefore, if the system needs to be reconfigured, there will be higher maintenance costs associated with that. This is because automated machines are usually more difficult to reconfigure when compared to traditional storage systems.

Are Vertical Life Modules Right for Your Business?
The order-picking process is one of the most financially draining parts of running a warehouse and increasing the speed and productivity of the process is essential.

With so many industrial shelving options available choosing between which traditional or automated system is right for your business can be overwhelming.

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