Automation Designed For The Cold
You know how your car engine complains when winter temperatures dip below freezing, but imagine the complaints from material handling equipment in temperatures that could be as low as —30 degrees Fahrenheit. Swisslog knows well some of the challenges that occur to equipment having to work in these harsh environments in refrigerated and especially frozen food warehouses.
The Newport News, VA-based company designs and manufactures specially engineered equipment to handle these very cold environments within its Vectura ASRS line. “All of our equipment engineered to work in these cold environments have special characteristics built in to make them operate optimally,” says Brad Moore, vice president of sales. The machines are designed based on a variety of weight capacities and activity rates. They are designed to accommodate a range of heights from 20 feet to 140 feet.
Swisslog’s automated storage and retrieval equipment includes ProMove conveyor systems, Vectura stacker cranes and CaddyPick pick carts. ProMove conveyor solutions bring pallets from a receiving dock into a cold or frozen warehouse, then delivers them to the Vectura stacker cranes that puts the pallets into the racking system. The Vectura cranes are pallet-handling cranes that put product into and out of a warehouse automatically. CaddyPick provides transportation of the pallets for an order picker who picks orders or cases onto a pallet. CaddyPick can follow the picker or vice versa.
The steel used for the bodies of this cold-operating equipment is a special recipe used in bridge construction. “It is a fine-grain steel that is not susceptible to becoming brittle in these harsh temperatures,” Moore explains. “These machines are at times in constant motion with many wear surfaces exposed, which normal steel could not withstand because it would become brittle and crack.”
Another vital challenge is the lubricants used in these systems. “Lubrication used in ambient normal temperature environments would become too viscose and thick for operation in a cold environment,” reports Moore. “So we initially test these machines in an ambient environment before we drop the temperature and then we change the oils, greases and other lubricants to make sure they won’t become a solid at very low temperatures.”
Photo-electronics must be accounted for as well. For instance, Swisslog designed these systems so the photo-electric sensors that see the pallets don’t frost over. “These sensors are feeding the computer information with respect to what is going on so, in some instances, we have to heat the lenses so the computer always has a good view of the pallet,” notes Moore.
Finally, wiring and electrical cables can be affected negatively in these harsh environments. “The insulation, copper and insulated wires have to be able to flex in these temperatures or they can become brittle and crack,” Moore says. In the final analysis, these specially engineered machines deliver a high degree of reliability in very cold environments.
Swisslog’s customers are major food and beverage retailers and grocers. “Just in the last few years, we provided over 400 different units of this type in North America to handle food logistics in refrigerated and cold warehouses,” says Moore. —A.T.