Automating the repetitive labor processes in the warehouse can relieve bottlenecks that occur when those areas fail to keep up with the efficiency gains at other parts of the line. It also lowers labor costs, offering substantial long term savings that many companies need to stay competitive in today’s market.
With the costs for robotics, automated guided vehicles (AGV’s) and other high tech advances that can fully automate a warehouse still large enough of an expense that it limits access for some buyers, food and beverage companies can nonetheless realize improved efficiencies by utilizing other automation tools, including automated sorters, conveyors, palletizers and automated storage and retrieval racking systems (AS/RS).
In particular, today’s “omni-channel” trend in product fulfillment is generating interest and growth in AS/RS, since food and beverage companies are going from full pallet picking of large orders to small, frequent daily orders in many cases, and an automated system complete with warehouse control software offers them the ability to meet these changing requirements.
“Gone are the days of one SKU and one pallet deliveries to a retail store or even a distribution center,” said Sean O’ Farrell, Market Development Director at Dematic Corp. “Automated storage and retrieval systems can be used as a buffer to consolidate cases, totes, or orders before releasing it to a manual or automated palletizing system, and they can also allow you to better utilize your transportation because you shorten the length of time needed to load and unload trailers at the docks.”
For some companies, an upgrade to a flow storage system and pallet racking is the proper fit for their high volume, space efficient needs. These systems minimize overhandling and product damage, eliminate labor and fork truck operation and emissions, and can also help to reduce aisle space and allow more product to be stored than traditional selective pallet racking. Instead of floor stacking two to three pallets high, automated systems allow companies to optimize inventory management and securely store product higher and deeper to maximize the storage density of the warehouse.
Since the majority of frozen food and cold storage operations conduct warehousing activities in sub-zero temperatures, they often fall victim to high personnel turnover due to the chilly temperatures. Performing these manual operations also can pose operational and logistical challenges like increased product, facility and equipment damage and errors in order fulfillment, all of which are easily eliminated with an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS).
Nowadays, high-density AS/RS systems allow cooler and freezer facilities to store unit loads two to 18 pallets deep, while reducing the 12-foot-wide aisles of a typical cold storage facility.AS/RS’s can quickly decrease the operational and logistical challenges many face in these cold storage warehouse environments, because a well-designed system integrates the reserve storage and re-supply of product to some type of order selection process, whether automated, semi-automated, or manual.
But efficiencies through innovations can also come from the latest in energy efficient dock shelters, high speed doors and high volume, low speed (HVLS) fans.
Since the primary challenge for dry, refrigerated and frozen food distributors is controlling the environment and traffic, the fast opening and closing speeds of today’s high speed dock doors minimize the air exchange between areas. Less air infiltration leads to lower heating and cooling costs and less product loss, which directly impacts the bottom line. Most high speed doors also offer low profiles to save valuable freezer or cooler space, and are built to be self-repairing and engineered to withstand the impact of a forklift for increased safety.
Design it and business will come
When it comes to trends and innovations in facility design, it’s almost always based on the goal of making the warehouse more modern, more high tech with plenty of safety, security and “green” features, as well as pressure and temperature control upgrades. Meanwhile, if equipment upgrades and facility upgrades come due at the same time and future growth is on the horizon, many companies are choosing to make the large investment and redesign or rebuild to get their combination of cold storage or warehousing on the cutting edge.