Published by: SI Systems

A-Frame Automation Reliability is Unsurpassed

The Unmatched Reliability of A-Frame Automation vs. Conventional Systems

A-Frame Automation Reliability is Unsurpassed By Conventional Picking Systems
A-Frame Automation Reliability

Understanding how different classes of inventory move through the fulfillment process is critical to designing a system that is accurate and efficient. Both the A-Frame and mobile A-Frame, are designed to solve these problems. They are easily integrated into virtually all facilities. 

The various classes or strata of inventory are usually designated A, B, and C, generally signifying the fast, medium and slow movers. Those Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) classified as A, or fast, movers most often conform to Pareto’s 80/20 rule that 20% of the items account for 80% of the orders. 

Then there's a sub-order of A class SKUs, we’ll call them Super A SKUs, that almost literally fly off the shelves and out of storage. These Super A SKUs might represent a small percentage of your total inventory, but because they consume a large percentage of labor resources, they represent a significant challenge to efficient order fulfillment. A-Frame Automation controls the Super A’s and turns them into “completed orders” with a fraction of the resources. 

What is the most efficient and economical way of handling these Super A SKUs? 

Super A SKUs have three characteristics in common: 

  1. High Velocity: usually range from a few thousand picks per day consuming from one third to two thirds of picking labor resources.
  2. Size: There is a certain size and weight range as well. Items that are smaller than 8” x 8” x 3” and weigh under a pound can provide issues when being picked by manual or automated systems.
  3. Quantity: As few as nine SKUs, or as many as hundreds can make up the Super A inventory sub-group and consume a disproportionate amount of a facility’s resources.
Velocity, size and quantity of SKUs combined create a unique order picking challenge. Few material handling solutions offer the speed, accuracy, flexibility, scale, and cost effectiveness to handle these hot movers. 

When taking your order fulfillment performance to the next level it’s all about:

  1. Reducing labor
  2. Increasing throughput
  3. Orders delivered on-time
  4. Orders are accurate
  5. Items are in great shape

These improving metrics help turn a warehouse from operating overhead to a profit center.

An order delivered not only on-time, but as promised… and that promise must include processing the order in just a few hours from receipt with late cut-off times. So, we are talking about taking orders and fulfilling them within 2-3 hours before pick-up. This may not be a big deal if you are processing hundreds of orders per day, but how about thousands?

A piece of cake with the right automation equipment. A Dispen-SI-matic® A-Frame or portable Mobile-Matic™ A-Frame system can often pick 2,200 to 4,200 orders per hour while utilizing zero order picking labor. Items are automatically picked by the Dispen-SI-matic A-Frame directly into totes or shippers and then routed to packing and shipping or to the next zone.

The goal is to automate in an A-Frame the 20% of the fastest moving SKUs which often account for 60% to 80% of your orders. 

Order accuracy beyond 99%…  an Dispen-SI-matic A-Frame system utilizes multiple sensors to assure the proper item and its quantity has been dispensed into the correct order.

The A-Frame system reads an inducted tote’s or shipper’s license plate. The WMS/WCS sends the Dispen-SI-matic A-Frame controller the content for each order. An order can be started by the A-Frame controller by automatically assigning an order to a specific tote or shipper or receiving from the WMS/WCS. Either way, as the order goes through the center of the Dispen-SI-matic A-Frame, each dispenser automatically inserts the correct item(s) and quantities of items from the order into the tote or shipper.

Sensors on every channel in the Dispen-SI-matic A-Frame helps assure there is inventory ready to be dispensed and that it has been dispensed into the correct order. In the rare case, any anomalies are flagged and communicated to the WMS to be re-routed for manual checking.

Items are in great shape… The item moves from the dispenser directly onto a slide pan and into a tote, shipper or belt. The distance a dispensed item moves is often dramatically less than the distance a manual picker drops an item into a tote. 

A-Frame Automation Reliability – Managing Risk

What and how much risk are you introducing to an operation and what are the true benefits? The common thought is the more automated a facility, the more downtime is possible.

In some automated technologies, this can be true, (single point of failure) but for other technologies such as an A-Frame, the system keeps producing (short of a facility power outage).

An A-Frame dispenses inventory into a passing open order shipper, belt position or tote at up to 4,200 orders per hour (not lines, but orders) with zero picking labor. The throughput is great, but the key benefit is the uptime and reliability the system provides.

A-Frame Automation Reliability – Additional Details

If an A-Frame were to experience a hardware problem, it would likely be a component in a channel’s dispenser. Because a system can have up to 2500 dispensers (one for each channel), if any dispenser were to fail, it simply means one SKU position didn’t dispense but all other dispensers in the A-Frame are still performing.

Every dispenser has three sensors to detect a problem. If a sensor detects a problem, it is instantly communicated to the A-Frame controls. The controls then instantly flag that specific order.

If an order is flagged, the A-Frame controls either:

  1. Directs another channel with the same SKU to fill the order before it leaves the A-Frame
  2. Diverts the order for manual inspection when it exits the A-Frame and reports it to the WMS
  3. Re-circulates the order via conveyor back into the beginning of the A-Frame to be filled

Any dispenser issue is immediately reported to the controls which instantly logs and reports the failure to the supervisory station. An operator is then immediately dispatched to check on product blockage or damage. If it’s not a product issue and truly a dispenser hardware issue, within 15 minutes, a new dispenser can be mounted and fully operational.

Another channel with the same SKU is used while the dispenser is being changed. The A-Frame never stops running: orders keep getting filled and zero productivity is lost!

This is a major differentiator between A-Frame automation and other technologies. The eliminated labor, unsurpassed levels of throughput, accuracy, uptime and reliability, make the A-Frame a logical warehouse automation tool.

A-Frame systems have been used in high speed order fulfillment applications for over 25 years.

The realities, myths, and misconceptions of the product are huge. The following mini-articles are designed to debunk common A-Frame myths and highlight the truths of these incredibly efficient systems.

Many of the myths-misconceptions stem from a specific customer application or manufacturer’s limited product capabilities.

A-Frame Replenishment Lights Improve Efficiency (FALSE)
  • In our findings, low-level inventory lights (or replenishment lights) allow the operator to be lazy. In typical operations, replenishment operators keep the channels and inventory as full as possible. By implementing replenishment lights, it signals the operator to only replenish once a channel has depleted its inventory below a set threshold.

Changing A-Frame Inventory Is Time Consuming and Difficult (FALSE)
  • Replenishment rates for the average replenishment operator run between 1,000 and 3,000 pieces per hour. Compare this to the average pick rate of ~300 pieces per hour and the efficiency is clear. Additionally, replenishment rates can be improved by providing replenishment-assisting packaging or product sleeves to rapidly fill products.

A-Frame Order Re-Circulation is Impossible (FALSE)
  • Ask us how we support existing customers and their order recirculation needs today.

SI Systems has been providing world class automated software and material handling systems to order fulfillment, distribution center, warehouse, manufacturing and assembly operations for over 50 years. Systems include WMS (Warehouse Management Systems), WCS (Warehouse Control Systems), and WES (Warehouse Execution Systems) software, order fulfillment dispensing A-Frames, towline in-floor conveyor, slotting and integration services. Along with Gap-Track™ jam-free operating technology, remote dial in controls support, integrated NFF (No Fault Forward) assembly systems, zero-pit 6 inch trench technology, Rejuvenation & Retrofit (R&R) program.

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