Depending on where you live, the winter months can be brutal. The days are cold and grey. Biting winds cause exposed skin to go numb. Frigid temperatures play havoc with car and battery performance. It can be unbearable to be outside for more than a few minutes. But, for cold storage warehouses, this might be referred to as “a typical Monday.”
The harsh operating conditions of cold storage applications, combined with the constant pressures of high energy costs and keeping pace with growing consumer expectations, can put significant strain on your lift truck fleet. Here are some tips designed to help ensure safe, productive and efficient lift truck operation in a cold storage environment.
1. Prioritize productivity
To combat the high energy costs associated with cold storage applications, it is important to prioritize productivity as a means to maintain or increase throughput and get the most for your money. An optimal combination of rack layouts, pallet sizes and lift trucks can provide maximum utilization of available storage space. Lift truck durability and reliability are key to keeping utilization high. By implementing a fleet management system, you can collect and analyze important data to see where your lift trucks are being used and how many hours each truck operates. You can also identify productive operators and where you have the most need for additional assets.
2. Choose the right lift truck for the job
When it comes to cold storage applications, not all lift trucks are created equal. Lift trucks that can withstand the harsh environment of cold storage require enhancements that factor these conditions into the end product. Consider options that help reduce operator effort and fatigue, such as power steering for rider pallet trucks. Evaluate reliability and durability of lift trucks to help decrease the possibility of downtime. Equally critical is having the right maintenance and service program to help ensure uptime. Pay special attention to batteries and chargers, which can be negatively impacted by cold environments. Most importantly, confirm the trucks you are using or purchasing have freezer conditioning packages.
3. Keep your operators warm and comfortable
Despite advances in automation and technology, warehouses are still dependent on people, and those qualified people are becoming harder to find and retain; especially for cold storage. It is vital to have lift trucks designed to make it easier for operators to work comfortably and continually throughout their entire shift. For example, heated cold store cabins featuring ergonomic seating, minimize exposure and keep operators comfortable. If the cabin interior is not heated, it should at least provide enough room for operators to be bundled up, and the controls should be designed for use by operators wearing thick gloves.
4. Be vigilant about safety
A strong safety culture is vital to creating and maintaining a safe working environment, especially in cold storage applications. It’s not just about the quality of the training, but also the accessibility of the training. Anti-slip technology integrated into the truck can also improve safety and extend tire life by reducing tire spin during acceleration, plugging and braking. This can be particularly valuable in cold environments where floors are often wet or icy. Some cabins are also designed to help ensure visibility, which is important in cold storage applications where protective outerwear and the environment can make it more challenging for pedestrians and other operators to see or hear as well.
5. Don’t let your data get cold
There is a wealth of data to be gathered from your fleet. To realize tangible benefits, you need to do something with that data. Don’t let it sit there and get cold and stale. Identify and prioritize the type of data you will gather and establish a plan and processes to share relevant, timely information with the right departments and individuals at the right time. Make sure the data is presented in a manner that makes it easy to understand and used to create real, meaningful operational impacts and behavioral changes.
Cold storage facility operations often present unique challenges for moving product through the supply chain. These basic tips can help keep your lift truck fleet top of mind when looking for improvement opportunities.