The Best Cold Storage Solutions
As we near the end of fall, some of us may be wishing for cooler temperatures. However, the cold food supply chain has never been hotter! The COVID-19 pandemic has massively impacted the cold food supply chain in just a few months, forcing the redirection of foodservice inventory away from closed restaurants, bars, hotels, and other food and beverage clients, and toward retail stores to satisfy consumer demand. While recent statistics show retail sales of cold foods are still extremely high compared to last year, the panic buying that was fueling demand and emptying store shelves in early March has seemingly leveled off.
Refrigerated storage has become an integral part of the supply chain when it comes to transporting and storing temperature-sensitive products. These specialized storage and logistics solutions are required to preserve the quality of and to extend the shelf life of products such as meat, seafood, fruits, chemicals, and medicines among others while they travel from the manufacturers to the end-users. This highly specialized process requires comprehensive knowledge of the industry, the ability to monitor processes occurring both inside and outside the facility, and constantly staying up-to-date on new and evolving innovative technological solutions available.
Distribution and manufacturing facilities across the nation share many of the same challenges, whether it be space optimization, order fulfillment, or labor management. Operations managers of cold storage facilities find themselves in the unique situation of not only being responsible for maintaining the quality and safety of their sensitive inventory, but also the safety and well-being of their employees working under these special environmental circumstances.
What are the most common problems involved in managing a cold storage warehouse?
Strategic planning and organizational skills are critical for cold storage operations managers to guarantee a seamless process that ensures the quality of their inventory.
1. Provide Employees with Proper Personal Equipment: Employee comfort is often an afterthought in cold storage warehouses. However, employees who feel protected and comfortable will not only perform better but will be more committed to ensuring the safety of the products they are responsible for. Along with the need for comfortable coats, insulated pants, and gloves, having equipment designed to keep employees comfortable can also lessen the strain on a business’s budget.
2. Use Equipment Designed for the Cold: The equipment you normally find in the warehouse should be designed or modified for cold temperatures. For example, it can be difficult to operate a touchscreen when you are wearing gloves. For this reason, cold storage warehouse equipment tends to be designed with buttons that are large enough to be felt through gloves.
The condensation that forms when devices are moved from one temperature zone into another can easily short out electrical equipment like scanners. The cold temperature also significantly degrades battery life. Handheld equipment and electric forklifts need to be sealed against condensation and higher voltage batteries need to be used to extend their use cycle.
Additionally, audio and visual picking systems eliminate the need for staff to manually reference paperwork, thereby freeing up their gloved hands and accelerating picking processes.
Another common incident in cold storage is the collection of moisture on the floors, which makes them slippery. If you use forklift tires that are not designed for cold storage operations, your forklift operators will have a difficult time maneuvering the forklifts. The ideal tires for cold storage are polyurethane tires, which are key to improving traction on slippery floors. They achieve this through micro-grips on their surfaces or different swipe patterns meant to deflect water from the path of the tire.
Cold storage space is more expensive than other types of warehouse space, in large part because of the costs associated with keeping a space at a constant low temperature. In conjunction with efficient, high-density storage, automation can make the most of the cold storage space available. Using robotics and automation can streamline repetitive tasks freeing workers to move to more valuable, safe, and comfortable roles in a facility. Robotic equipment can also detect obstacles during movement through and around exits reducing equipment damage and employee injury. Equipment manufacturers like Hyster and Yale have been focused on improving robotic and operator-focused technology and equipment by combining employee safety and comfort with equipment performance.
3. Accurate temperature and humidity: Not all products that need cold storage are the same. Different products require different temperatures to maintain their safety and quality. Many cold storage facilities have multiple products that need to be stored in these varying temperatures. Because of this, there must be constant monitoring in each area with adjustments being made as soon as necessary modifications are detected. Additionally, seasonal temperature changes can substantially affect the internal facility environment; for instance, moisture buildup from temperature changes when moving products can have disastrous effects on stock.
One solution for excess moisture is insulated curtain walls. These are plastic, modular curtains that can be deployed as needed to separate warehouses into different temperature zones. They are surprisingly effective and are able to create anywhere from 15 degrees F to 40 degrees F of temperature separation depending on the thickness of the insulation.
4. Label quality and product traceability: Barcode quality of labels can be easily damaged from hardening adhesives that can cause label failure, resulting in unidentified products. Therefore, unique, temperature-resistant materials must be implemented. Appropriate rack labeling must be selected to ensure the various warehouse temperature zones are easily identifiable.
Whether it is manufacturing, distributing, or storing meat and seafood, produce, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals or any other temperature-sensitive products, it is critical to identify the challenges of managing a cold storage warehouse and continue to improve upon them. To be successful in this highly competitive and growing sector, no detail can be taken for granted, and every step of the supply chain process must be constantly monitored. The failure to do so could literally mean life or death for consumers.