Cold storage automation is a top-rated solution in logistics. Using the cold for storing goods isn’t a modern trend. Rather it has actually been performed since the Middle Ages. Thanks to the controlled temperature, the goods are able to retain their properties, freshness, and quality, prolonging the products’ life cycle in the facility.
The current pace of life has additionally boosted the cold-storage industry. According to MarketsandMarkets , the frozen food industry was scheduled to grow by 5.14% yearly over the coming 3 years and reach a global turnover of over $283 billion in 2023. Many firms have decided to adopt automated solutions in light of the difficulty of working in settings of -22 °F.
Suffice to say, cold storage racking is a job made for robots, and this article tells you exactly how with the help of examples and cases. In this comprehensive article, we look at the ins and outs of cold storage warehouses, view their design, and see how they have adapted to new logistics challenges.
What Is A Cold Storage Warehouse?
A cold storage warehouse is an installation that is committed to the procurement, storage, preparation, and shipment of products at a considerably low temperature.
It is a type of building that comprises handling equipment, storage systems, and several other elements that form part of its operations, like clean rooms, conveyors, interlocked doors (safe and secure airlock systems), etc.
A cold storage warehouse can be classified by structure (rack-supported or not) or storage system (manual or automatic). Still, the most obvious differences lie in the temperature setting of the installation:
- Refrigerated: warehouses have a controlled temperature of between 32-50°F. They are mainly used in the pharmaceutical, food (cold meat, dairy, etc.), and hospital sectors.
- Frozen: cold rooms that maintain a controlled temperature of between -22°F to 32°F. They are mainly prevalent in the frozen food industry.
When it comes to cold storage warehouses, you must remember you do not just need continuous temperature control during storage, but also in order preparation and dispatch and goods receipts; this drastically raises the consumption of energy in the installation, escalating the cost of each logistics process.
In addition, there is the additional complexity of manual operations, where the safety of operators can be in jeopardy at -22°F by continuous exposure to the cold for extended periods. Moreover, as these installations typically store pharmaceutical, perishable, and/or food items, they usually have a system that warrants the goods’ traceability in real-time.
Design of a Cold Storage Warehouse
The primary feature of cold storage facilities is controlled temperature settings to extend the goods’ life cycle. For that reason, the supply chain needs to contain mechanisms for maintaining this cold temperature in all work areas.
For instance, a cold storage warehouse that is equipped with cutting-edge technology is of little use if the loading docks are not facilitated with temperature control systems. A cold storage facility’s design must be based on the specifics of the business, which include the following:
- Shipping capacity and goods receipt
- Number of orders to dispatch
- Type of goods stored
- Overall warehouse layout
- Level of automation in the facility
- Storage systems implemented
- Temporary buffers and docking areas
- Types of unit loads
Every cold storage facility must entail storage systems, either automatic or manual, that are adapted to low-temperature settings. Along with the racks, the installation’s structure must be prepped to retain the cold temperature inside the different rooms.
This is why many companies opt for rack-supported buildings, where the racks are composed of the warehouse’s actual structure, maximizing storage capacity. These facilities must also have cold storage doors ideal for the operating temperature of the installation.
Several times, these doors constitute part of a secure airlock system. This comprises a chamber with 2 high-speed doors that are never open at the same time, preventing quick changes in temperature inside.
A temperature-controlled warehouse also calls for a space or plenum in the upper area of the building, evaporators, airflow tubes, and an elevated aisle for easy maintenance of these structures.
The handling equipment can also be automated or manual. In addition, if a company uses forklifts, they should be electric. This is because they work in a closed facility.
Purpose of Automated Cold Storage Warehouses
The purpose of automated cold storage facilities is to enhance the safety of the goods and workers and streamline the processes. To automate warehouses, you must install automatic handling equipment like stacker cranes (automated storage and retrieval systems) for pallets or for boxes (mini-load).
These storage systems are typically served by conveyors, which speeds up the flow of goods and do away with the need for workers to move stock in harsh environmental situations. Similarly, Pallet Shuttle can be implemented with a stacker crane to condense the goods’ storage further.
However, deploying the pallet shuttle with forklifts in rooms with lower order volumes is recommended. Automating cold storage warehouses with Pallet Shuttle is the best solution for maintaining efficiency and productivity. Now that you know about the different options available for storing goods, it is time to understand how picking can be automated.
Tools like robotic arms are best suited for not exposing workers to the cold while ensuring optimum throughout in order preparation.
These mechanical elements cannot work efficiently and safely without a pallet checkpoint to ensure that each package that makes its way into the facility meets the specified requirements. It is tasked with checking the load’s weight, the pallet’s condition, and the stretch wrapping, among many other characteristics.
Robots Help Meet Cold Storage Needs
Cold storage warehouses play an essential role in keeping things such as blood, medicines, and perishable food items at the right temperature before passing on to their final destinations. Still, this industry is faced with many challenges. Below are four examples that explain how applying robotics in strategic ways could help companies conquer them.
4 Ways How Cold Storage Racking is a Job for Robots
Even though challenges pose hurdles for companies dealing with cold storage, some robots are doing a terrific job overcoming them. They are well equipped to meet customer expectations and internal needs. Here are four examples that explain how cold storage racking is a job made for robots.
Preparing Frozen Foods More Efficiently
When cold storage facilities conduct their operations on a large scale and/or serve a global customer base, it becomes more challenging to prep and distribute the contents as swiftly as the market demands.
Still, Nolan Meats, an Australian brand, has successfully opened the largest meat-chilling distribution center recently.
The automation aspect is a significant factor that enables the brand to keep its beef optimally fresh, enhancing its presentation for global or domestic customers. Thanks to the robotic equipment, Nolan Meats can hard-freeze up to 3,840 cartons of meat in an 18-hour cycle.
This increased consistency and speed enable the brand to fulfill its existing customers' needs and look to the prospect of expanding into newer markets in the future.
Protecting Workers from Chilly Temperatures While Maintaining Output
Research indicates that workers are at risk of safety and health concerns after staying in frozen or refrigerated rooms for at least 8 hours. The extreme temperatures in cold storage warehouses indicate that human operators susceptible to such extreme settings must take all the necessary precautions, such as wearing protective gear and taking necessary breaks in between.
One frozen food and meat producer decided to use robots to maintain a steady workflow and limit the time spent by humans in cold conditions. It uses a palletizing robot with a capacity of 15.
It can work for prolonged periods with minimal or no human oversight. Robots also work within a heated suit kind of enclosure that keeps their parts warm enough for maximum operations.
More Efficient Energy Usage and Savings
Firms that deal in the cold storage sector must determine how to moderate their energy consumption. This is a task made simpler with robotics. For instance, the ASRS saves upwards of 30 to 50% in energy because such technologies store a more significant amount of cold merchandise in smaller spaces.
Another benefit is that facilities using ASRS systems usually have smaller roof areas than the non-automated warehouses. It costs more to keep the warehouses cool than heated, and the greatest loss of energy occurs from the roof. Hence, a smaller roof indicated a reduced loss of energy.
In addition, as robotic equipment minimizes the need for human workers in several cases, energy savings can occur somewhere else, such as bright lights or occurrences of doors opening and as people walk in or out of cold storage rooms.
Furthermore, automation can also alert cold storage warehouse managers to possible problems causing unnecessary energy usage. Then, they can mediate before a utility bill becomes too costly.
Minimizing Product Waste
A lot of food tends to go to waste for various reasons. For instance, if supplies wrongly estimate product demand or there’s a problem in a cold storage warehouse causing the entire building to remain at a high temperature for a prolonged period, that leads to spoilage. Luckily, robots can address cold storage challenges in several ways, including food wastage.
For instance, a study regarding cold storage in India reported that 30 to 40% of agricultural products get spoiled and wasted due to a lack of cold storage facilities. As such, much of the fresh produce in India gets spoiled just because of their insufficient places to store it.
The research about this matter brought to light that solving the issue calls for dealing with it from multiple directions. There isn’t one solution to take care of the problem. However, firms in other world areas have optimized their cold storage spaces by seeking help from robots.
A similar strategy is likely to work in India. In one case, a firm in the U.S. called Matson Fruit constructed a fully automated cold storage warehouse that cost more than traditional warehouses do but must have long-term payoffs. Matson Fruit uses ASRS, allowing 3x more storage density than standard warehouses.
In one instance, a robotic crane lifts pallets 5 racks high and uses more space for pallets than human workers would when working with forklifts. If the cold storage facilities in India did something like this, they could also fit more perishable items in each warehouse and reduce the amount that spoils and goes to waste.
Advantages of Cold Storage Automation
With the adoption of handling equipment and automated storage systems, many companies with cold storage warehouses will benefit from the following advantages:
In freezing environmental conditions, only automation ensures high-frequency inflow and outflow cycles, primarily because the extreme exposure of workers to these harsh temperatures can be harmful to their health.
Faster product picking and more efficient order preparation.
Automated cold storage solutions can significantly enhance picking times by avoiding the need for operators and forklifts to enter the system, mainly when using multiple carriers. You can pre-program the picking orders to bring pallets close to the picking or loading area overnight or during downtimes, ready for quick access.
Moreover, implementing automatic/semi-automatic picking systems such as pick-to-light and voice picking minimizes workers' time in cold rooms. As a result, this optimizes their picking routes and boosts efficiency in order preparations.
Creating a safer working environment.
Automated cold storage warehouses adhere to the fact that both the workers and products are safeguarded, minimizing goods management mistakes and keeping workers safe from exposure to harsh environmental settings.
Any environment that calls for moving equipment and manual labor, such as forklift trucks, to work in the same space presents a risk of damage and injury. The more equipment and workers in the space, the higher the possibility of an incident occurring.
Automated systems somewhat alleviate the risk of manual accidents by eradicating the need for operators and forklift trucks to enter the cold store. With all operations controlled remotely by a committed software system, lifts and carriers work unanimously to prevent blockages, collisions, and bottlenecks.
Automation ensures hygiene in all the logistics processes, a vital factor in the pharmaceutical and food industries.
Logistics cost savings
Indeed, energy is a valuable asset in cold storage. As a result, automated solutions optimize the volume of the facilities by minimizing the consumption of energy per pallet.
Warehouse space optimization/minimize footprint.
Solutions like the Pallet Shuttle can help condense the storage space by getting rid of the aisles in the building. By reducing the aisles needed for operators and forklift trucks, you can substantially increase the number of pallet positions in your cold store.
Alternatively, you can obtain the same storage capacity in an area that is significantly less than a conventional storage solution if you’re looking to construct a new cold storage unit.
Using these plus points, and against a background where customers demand more flexible delivery schedules, automation is vital for maximizing company profits and ramping up the frequency of combined inbound and outbound warehouse cycles.
Efficiency and optimization for cold storage warehouses.
Contemporary lifestyles, with an increasing number of people consuming frozen food, have been generated in cold storage facilities. However, it is essential to remember that cold storage calls for strict monitoring of a product’s safety in all of its processes to ensure traceability in real-time throughout all warehouse operations.
Thus, adding the impact of high logistics costs entailed in cold storage is essential. Consequently, these logistics centers’ owners must take into consideration solutions that ensure the optimization and efficiency of the storage space.
Significantly reduce cold storage warehouse costs.
The operating costs in a warehouse are a significant overhead expense. Still, with the additional energy costs involved in operating a cold store warehouse, the operating costs are substantially greater. Nevertheless, automating your warehouse allows you to minimize your operating costs significantly in several ways.
Like other automated warehouse systems, the system's ability to store and retrieve pallets back and forth from the cold store with the least amount of physical intervention minimizes the requirements for operators and forklifts and the substantial costs.
Still, automated cold stores also allow you to achieve energy savings, particularly when looking at things on a cost per pallet stored. The super high-density nature of the computerized storage system minimizes the amount of air to be cooled in the cold store. Thus this results in climate control costs.
In addition, the automated system allows you to significantly minimize the size of doorways and ultimately the ingress of the heated air outside. As a result, this minimizes the chilling costs. Lastly, you can now design doorways to open less, mainly if you use doors that open and shut automatically when pallets pass through. This again reduces the energy costs.
Improved inventory control
Stock shrinkage and inventory control are a concern for many warehouses. It tends to happen for many reasons, including damage to stock and theft. By restricting access to the stored products, observing all pallet movements, and creating a separate zone to pick/load from the store, systems will significantly minimize the opportunity for workers to steal products.
Moreover, like all stock movements are overseen by carriers on dedicated transport rails and not manually operated forklifts, there is a minimal risk of damage to the stored goods and the racking structure.
Automated racking solutions can provide significant benefits and a high return on investment to cold store operations, and all this can be done effectively using robotics.
By improving accessibility, boosting capacity in the same footprint, enhancing efficiency and significantly cutting down on the operating costs, workers can create a real competitive advantage, which is crucial in today’s marketplace.