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7 Energy Considerations for Material Handling Automation

Kyle Dorge | 11 March 2019


According to Modern Materials Handling (MMH), the market for automated material handling equipment is expected to reach $44.68 billion by 2022, which corresponds to a compound annual growth rate of 7.9% [1].  Automation can provide a wealth of benefits, including reduced labor costs, faster order fulfillment, and higher levels of order accuracy.  However, automation can also drive steep increases in your electric bill if energy considerations are neglected.  Below is a list of 7 energy-related questions to ask when considering automated material handling equipment.

1. What is the weight/size of the unit load handler compared to the unit load it will transport?

Consider a shuttle vs. a mini-load crane for tote storage and retrieval.  A shuttle robot has much less mass than a crane.   One controlled test performed by researchers at Graz University of Technology in Austria reported that a shuttle robot required approx. 60% less electricity than a mini-load crane to perform a dual cycle [2].

2. How well does the equipment utilize the vertical space of the building?

On average, lighting and HVAC are responsible for 70% of a warehouse’s electricity consumption [3].  Utilizing the vertical space of your building reduces the footprint of your facility that will require lighting and HVAC.

3. What ancillary equipment will be needed?

When comparing power consumption between multiple technologies, be sure to account for differences in ancillary equipment requirements as well.  For example, a goods-to-person system may be more energy efficient than its competitors, but it may also require more supplementary conveyor than competing technologies require.  

4. Can the equipment recuperate energy while in use?

An increasing number of technologies can recuperate energy when decelerating and/or lowering.  

5. How might a vendor’s estimated power consumption rates differ from what you will experience in your operation?

The observed power consumption rate of a technology can vary significantly across customer sites.  Work with the vendor to understand how your business requirements might cause your power consumption rates to differ from their estimates.     

6. Does the equipment provide you flexibility to reduce your peak hour electric demand?

Most warehouses are charged by their utility company for their highest average electricity used across a small window of time (often 15 minutes) in that month.  This “demand charge” can account for 30-70 percent of the total charges on a monthly electric bill [4].  Using battery-powered equipment can help you reduce your demand charge because you can charge the batteries during your facility’s low electric load times, such as overnight.  Additionally, equipment with soft start motors and variable speeds prevent sharp spikes in power consumption from occurring.

7. Does the equipment provide power consumption metering?

“What gets measured gets improved” – Robin S. Sharma.  Gaining visibility into the power consumption characteristics of your system can provide you feedback to understand what impacts operational changes have on your facility’s electricity demand.

Understanding the energy consumption of automated technologies is vital to finding the right solution that provides an acceptable ROI. Bastian Solutions has extensive experience providing warehouse and distribution center automation systems that exceed customer expectations, making sure every detail, including energy consumption, is taken into consideration. If you’re considering automating your order fulfillment or distribution operations, contact us



1. Staff, MMH. “Automated Material Handling Equipment Market Is Expected to Reach $44.68 Billion by 2022.” Recently Filed RSS, 7 Sept. 2016,

2. Stöhr, Thomas, et al. “Benchmarking the Energy Efficiency of Diverse Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems.” FME Transaction, vol. 46, no. 3, 2018, pp. 330–335., doi:10.5937/fmet1803330s

3. “U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Factors Affecting Gasoline Prices - Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy - Energy Information Administration,

4. NREL. “An Introduction to Demand Charges.”, Aug. 2017,

Author: Kyle Dorge

Kyle is an Associate Consulting Engineer with Bastian Solutions out of Indianapolis, IN.  In this role, he works with Bastian clients to develop and validate material handling system designs through extensive data analysis and computer simulation.  Kyle received his B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Missouri and is currently pursuing his M.E. degree in Sustainable Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.


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