Supply Chain Council of European Union |

Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS) as efficiency hub

Accurate and timely distribution for growing companies typically calls for some technology to serve as a foundation for efficiencies. Aurobindo Pharma, one of the leading generic pharmaceutical companies in the world, has deployed an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) as a means of making its new distribution hub for the U.S. market a highly efficient operation—both in terms of throughput as well as storage density and capacity, all while keeping secure traceability over its products.

India-based Aurobindo manufactures and distributes millions of pharmaceuticals to more than 150 countries, overseeing a complex, global operation where safety, security and speed are paramount.

Seeking to improve its expanding U.S. footprint, the company broke ground in 2016 on a new state-of-the-art, 567,000-square-foot distribution center in East Windsor, N.J. Located about 50 miles outside of New York City, the facility is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved, Current Good Manufacturing Practices-compliant operation, powered by 39,000 rooftop solar panels.

It serves as the exclusive hub for Aurobindo Pharma USA, the company’s vertically integrated U.S. distribution entity. The facility currently ships more than 200 million units annually across 200 product categories to hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and retail outlets nationwide. With annual growth routinely surpassing double digits per year, the operation required further automation investments to meet current and future demands. It turned to an already familiar AS/RS solution provider (Signode) to meet these needs.

One of the company’s manufacturing sites in India had already seen success with StorFast ASRS, a solution engineered by Signode, a provider of packaging automation. The company decided to invest in the system for its New Jersey operation in late 2017, with further build out in 2020.

The AS/RS manages the inbound and outbound storage and retrieval of up to 80 pallets per hour, which equates to approximately 18 million units moved per month at the East Windsor, N.J., DC.

“We were able to work collaboratively with the global team at Signode to develop and implement a strategy that had the ability to address our ambitious growth objectives,” says James Downey, senior director of distribution for Aurobindo Pharma USA.

The investment paid off. Aurobindo Pharma’s U.S. nerve center has upped its warehouse storage capacity from 7,000 pallets to 34,000 pallets, a 450% increase. The AS/RS provides high-density, 24/7-access to all products in the warehouse. The shuttle and cart system allows multiple orders to be processed simultaneously and can flex between high-volume input (i.e., more replenishment) and peak picking output to hit shipping schedules, to optimize the utilization and efficiency of the system.

“This sophisticated system seamlessly manages the inbound and outbound storage and retrieval of up to 80 pallets per hour simultaneously,” says Scott Pruner, distribution manager at Aurobindo Pharma USA. “In one month, that equates to approximately 18 million units, which is a high benchmark we couldn’t reach without the system.”

The pallets can also be stacked as high as needed, making use of untapped vertical warehouse space. In dense urban environments where land is at a premium, like the New York City metropolitan area, the ability to “build up instead of out” allows the company to maximize its automation investment.

The AS/RS is integrated with Aurobindo Pharma USA’s existing enterprise resource planning and warehouse management system for complete inventory control and product security.

Data transfer starts with product arrival at the facility, where U.S. regulatory agencies verify the overseas shipments, including the Customs and Border Protection, Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“It’s a very intelligent system that can do wonders,” says Khantesh Pandya, distribution manager at Aurobindo Pharma USA. “There are no issues with its ability to smoothly interface with our current systems—with accurate data-transfer throughout the process.”

Arrivals are tracked and traced in the system. Pallets are sorted and placed in the most appropriate location—based on volume, product type, expiration date and other factors—and then stored until ready for retrieval-based, order-fulfillment needs. For instance, high-demand products are positioned closer to the front of the warehouse, ensuring optimal placement of the pallet based on predetermined business rules.

Because some shipments contain more than one type of medication, they must be assembled by pulling products from various pallets. The system knows which pallet to pull from—so if there is a pre-picked partial pallet that meets the need, the system pulls from there instead of retrieving a full pallet.

Large orders are proactively planned. The benefit of being able to schedule shipments also means that when Aurobindo Pharma USA has to prepare time-sensitive shipments, it can avoid time crunches, versus suddenly having to shift gears and work at double the speed to meet important deadlines.

“AS/RS is the best thing we’ve ever invested in,” says Lorie Johnson Lawson, distribution manager of inbound import receiving at Aurobindo Pharma USA. “From where we are now, we can move more product faster and with greater accuracy to our customers.”

About the Author

Roberto Michel

Roberto Michel, senior editor for Modern, has covered manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1996, mainly as a former staff editor and former contributor at Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous show dailies, including at ProMat, the North American Material Handling Logistics show, and National Manufacturing Week. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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