Food manufacturers and retailers have been using automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) in frozen and refrigerated environments for a number of years now to speed-up storage and retrieval times, as well as limit the amount of time that employees have to spend in hostile environments.
As labor and medical costs grow more expensive, an increasing number of food companies have been exploring different methods for storing and retrieving product intemperature-controlled facilities that are more suited to their style of production, their customer base, or the pace at which their businesses operate.
Here's a look at some of those companies.
German-based SSI Schafer is a total solutions provider and components manufacturer of high quality product handling systems for the food distribution industry. In cooperation with a Belgian planning agency, Schafer prepared an overall logistics concept for the construction of an 11 aisle high bay warehouse, some 120 feet high, for the international dairy company Campina, a dairy cooperative that maintains a high volume output.
"Dealing with volume is a big issue in a dairy plant where you have this type of throughput. Handling it with automation is a big challenge," says Rob Schmit, vice president/managing director of the automation and systems division at SSI Schafer. "Therefore, we needed to select a way to handle all those pallets in parallel."
In addition to the volume issue, Campina was confronted with the challenge of adding to an existing environment-the production facilities already in the building.
"Trying to find out how to integrate the logistics of the manufacturing line into a single point of entry to the warehouse is a very big challenge," Schmidt says. "And because of all of the issues that are involved, selecting the right technologies became key to the project's success."
The logistical choreography goes like this: full pallets of dairy product continuously come out of the filling machines, which are located next door to the high bay storage facility. These are spirited away from the production lines via an electro trolley system, to a storage system of 11 cranes with telescoping forks that allow for double-deep storage. All of the cranes are working simultaneously, putting away as well as selecting pallets. Schmidt says that each of the 11 cranes handles about 31 pallets in-and-out each hour-a total of 350 pallets.
"That's equivalent to 10 trucks per hour that we can load and unload."
Inside the partly temperature-controlled high bay warehouse, there are over 25,000 storage locations in the high bay for two different pallet standards, as well as three different height classes.
Outgoing pallets of goods are picked by the cranes and conveyed by an overhead electric conveyor to gravity lanes, which deliver the pallets to within 10 feet of the shipping doors. Loading is done by small forklift truck.
FKI Logistex/Innovative Cold Storage Enterprises Inc.
"Innovative Cold Storage came to us about two years ago. They were looking to compare us with the traditional turret truck solution for a new building they were constructing in San Diego," explains Percy May, director of crane sales for FKI Logistex, Northamptonshire, UK, a global provider of automated material handling solutions.
Innovative is a public freezer warehouse. According to May, that means their customer base-which maintains varying pallet sizes and load heights-changes a lot, so they need to keep their site as flexible as possible. This means incorporating manual operations into the storing and retrieving operations. In addition, today's freezer warehouses are being built higher, up to 50 feet or more in height, to save on a warehouse's physical footprint as well as its carbon footprint-compact, taller buildings are easier to insulate.
"However, the higher you go in a system, the lighter the load becomes that you can store with that machine," says May. "That's no good to a public warehousing company. They've got to be able to store the same style of pallet in any position in the racks. They have to have maximum flexibility."