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Cold Food Storage: Leveraging 5 Key Automation Technologies

Robert Humphry | 25 August 2021

Real estate is a hot item right now. Coupled with changing consumer grocery and ecommerce buying habits and frozen goods growth, cold storage is in demand.

Whether a metropolitan location, to satisfy microfulfillment and hyperlocal needs, or as a regional distribution center, commercial real estate availability has dropped according to Real Capital Analytics. Cold storage industry growth, however, is projected at 4.5% by 2023. This means storage providers are faced with the challenge of optimizing facilities while handling increased inventory volumes and speed.

How can cold chain supply professionals effectively prepare for this expected growth? By eliminating inefficiencies and leveraging the right material handling automation.

Automation is needed to help drive efficiencies in this inherently inefficient supply chain. Automation reduces expenses and costs for labor, increases storage density, and creates ergonomic and socially distanced workstations. The big question is, where do you start and what options exist? Below is quick rundown of the top technologies for cold storage automation.

Cold Storage Product Handling & Automation Technologies

From ASRS (automated storage and retrieval systems) technologies that have been adapted for cold environments to robotic palletizing that assists with the increasingly common, mixed SKU pallets; automation technology has and continues to evolve. Here are some of the most common cold storage, food and beverage warehouse automation options that can be utilized standalone or integrated for a more fully automated operation.

Unit Load Cranes

Cost-effectively engineered to handle unitized loads in and out of high-density storage. There are a variety of horizontal and vertical speed options, and lightweight cranes mean acceleration is variable as well. These allow for load stability and low noise levels while maintaining the fastest possible operational speeds.

Pallet shuttles

These use a cart system to transport pallets quickly through deep-lane storage rack. Some options include lift capabilities to move pallets vertically. In freezer areas where temperatures are in the negative, this is an ideal solution to maintain worker comfort and provide greater configurability than traditional forklifts.

Mini Load Cranes

Designed to store and retrieve small items in less space and time, they include lightweight alloys that increase speed and offer lower costs associated with installation, operation and maintenance. Much like unit-load cranes, they offer ergonomic workstations, variable speeds and acceleration, as well as added load stability and low sound levels.

Automated forklifts (AGFs)

A massive facility overhaul comes with large costs that some operators might not be able to budget. An automated forklift on the other hand can be a great improvement for these operations without requiring massive overhaul or investment.

Robotic picking and palletizing

Full layer picking is another strategy that has made its way into cold storage environments. Robots can strategically pick one or more layers off a pallet to build what is often referred to as a “rainbow pallet” or “mixed SKU” pallet based on the customer’s order. This is an increasingly common request among companies that have a wider variety of SKUs to fill customer orders. Robots are flexible and can make cold storage warehouses more adaptable to market changes.

Unlocking Business Opportunities

As the technology used within these cold and extreme environments becomes more capable, better connected, and better controlled, it will unlock new business opportunities. With the surge of ecommerce and changing consumer buying habits, especially cold chain, innovation around hyperlocal fulfillment with dark stores and microfulfillment approaches are spurring the need to evaluate nearby warehousing solutions.

Using technology, automated systems, intelligent software, strategic network design and a widespread, diverse network tactics our Bastian Solutions experts can help cold chain professionals manage their operations.

Access market trends and considerations, key criteria for cold storage automation and more in our latest, free downloadable Cold Storage Automation whitepaper or talk to an engineer today.

Author: Robert Humphry, PE

Robert is a Senior Solutions Account Executive based out of Indianapolis. He joined Bastian Solutions in 2014 after receiving a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Missouri. He is responsible for pursuing clients for industrial automation & supply chain execution software solutions. Robert and his wife Abigail are busy raising two young engineers.

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