A vertical lift module (VLM) is an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) used in many modern warehouses. When implemented in conjunction with a warehouse management system (WMS), a vertical lift module has several advantages over traditional selective and dynamic racking systems.
How Does a VLM Work?
A vertical lift module is an enclosed storage system with two vertical columns separated by an inserter/extractor. When the VLM identifies a product, the inserter/extractor loads and retrieves inventory items from trays located in the two columns, delivering them to a pick window or bay that workers can access from the exterior of the system.
A VLM should not be confused with other vertical storage systems, such as vertical carousels, which operate like a Ferris wheel, with rotating rows of baskets or bins.
What are the Advantages of a VLM?
There are several advantages to VLMs, from increased pick rates to worker safety:
Reduces Wasted Floor Space
In the modern warehouse, floor space is at a premium, so anything that helps you maximize that space is beneficial. VLMs allow you to more efficiently occupy vertical space in your warehouse, which is often underused. This increases the storage capacity of your facility by relying on verticality to minimize the use of horizontal storage space.
Increases Pick Rates
One of the most significant advantages of VLMs, other than their reduced footprint, is their ability to increase productivity among your workers. VLMs increase worker pick rates, improve the order-fulfillment process, and deliver inventory items faster than other warehouse storage solutions. This can also be beneficial if you use a put-to-light system to guide worker placement of items in your warehouse.
Since VLMs only require one employee to operate them, they also reduce labor costs.
Improves Workplace Safety
VLMs use various safety features to reduce the incidence of workplace injury compared to many other storage systems. VLMs also lessen the need for forklift trucks and narrow aisles between racking and shelving systems, contributing to collisions.
In addition, the work area is set at an ergonomic retrieval height, and no specialized material handling equipment is needed.
Increased Inventory Control
Using a warehouse management system (WMS) with your vertical lift module can notify you of understocked or overstocked trays, when stock needs to be replenished, and where to position the system trays for optimum efficiency. It will also improve picking accuracy, reducing the error rate, and speeding up order fulfillment.
As a fully enclosed system, a VLM protects your valuable inventory items against theft. This contrasts with horizontal carousels, which use bins or baskets on oval tracks that are generally more accessible and easier to breach.
Is a VLM Right for Your Warehouse?
Whether a vertical lift module is suitable for your warehouse can depend on several factors. You’ll need to evaluate your needs and long-term goals carefully before purchasing a VLM.
Horizontal vs. Vertical Space
If your warehouse has limited horizontal floor space and high ceilings, a VLM can be a suitable addition to your range of storage options. You’ll need to determine the clear height of your warehouse during the evaluation period. If, however, your ceilings are too low or you have sufficient horizontal space, you can consider installing a horizontal carousel system.
A VLM is more efficient than competing automated systems if you need a storage and retrieval system suitable for various products. The VLM determines the most efficient location inside the system to store the item, improving retrieval speeds for pickers.
Does Your Budget Allow It?
A VLM can save money in the long run. Many warehouses see a high return on investment (ROI) relatively shortFerris due to savings in space, increases in labor productivity, and improved picking accuracy. However, the initial capital investment necessary to purchase or lease a VLM and install the system is higher than conventional storage systems, such as pallet racking or shelving.
However, depending on your throughput and turnover, you may decide your warehousing operation will benefit from adding an automated system in the first six to twelve months, making the investment worthwhile.
However, if you’re on a strict budget or it doesn’t make financial sense for you to invest in an automated storage and retrieval system, then a VLM may not be the right choice for you. Under those circumstances, consider purchasing used or new racking or shelving systems, depending on the inventory you need to store.
If you’re new to racking systems, consider our Lyon Pallet Rack Starter and Add-On Units which offer clear spans of 96”, 108”, 120”, and 144”, and corresponding weight capacities, per pair, of 5,200-9,370 lbs. These units are highly versatile and relatively inexpensive. Beam face heights vary between 4.1” and 6.5”.
Alternatively, if you need industrial steel shelving, Parent’s Industrial Boltless Shelving combines high strength with easy assembly. The unit boasts 14-gauge steel construction that provides a per-shelf weight capacity of 600-1,000 lbs. The upright columns and shelves snap together. You don’t need any special tools or fasteners. Each unit ships with four shelves, and the system features a gray polyester finish for rust protection.
Shelving units are generally preferable if you need to store relatively small parts for retrieval by order pickers.
Shelving, Racking, and Other Storage Solutions
At Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc., we specialize in supplying a wide range of storage systems, from traditional selective, drive-in/thru, and conveyor-belt systems to industrial steel shelving.
We can also consult on your warehouse setup regarding automated storage and retrieval systems, such as vertical lift modules. If you need help finding the best storage and retrieval system to suit your specific requirements and improve your supply chain logistics, call us at (800) 589-7225.