For food processors, combining high throughput with inventory and fulfillment accuracy is tougher at -10° F than in a chilled or ambient temperature warehouse above 32° F.
Compared to non-deep-freeze facilities, most manually-operated sub-zero warehouses have a higher incidence of wrong item fulfillment and poor product rotation. This increases their returns, shipping costs and labor. Deep-freeze warehouses also have heightened facility, equipment and product damage, primarily caused by manually-operated forklifts hitting racks, doors, walls and product cases. These incidents outnumber those in warehouses where temperatures are above 32° F. Personnel turnover in sub-zero warehouses is also higher than in non-deep-freeze facilities. The extreme temperatures create difficult working conditions for personnel, heightened safety issues, and staff recruitment and retention problems.
Today’s deep-freeze warehouses require increased flexibility to quickly and accurately adjust to market conditions, such as increases in SKU range and shortened lead times. They need systems that will respond to retailers’ needs and get products out of the deep-freeze warehouse to retail outlets quickly and with minimal order errors.
On top of those requirements, frozen food producers and distributors also need to track and identify where each product lot originated, where pallets came from, where they were stored, what the temperature was in storage, and other critical data to keep track of their perishable inventory and ensure its integrity. Manual handling leaves open the possibility of human error in recording and providing this data quickly, with reliable and verifiable documentation.
Automation of deep-freeze warehousing can help managers meet these challenges, particularly when high-bay, high-density storage utilizing automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are employed.
“Automation, such as ASRS, in high-bay deep freeze warehouses reduces the cost of operation and gives an economic advantage in the marketplace,” says Ned Gregory, president, Suncup Juice, Division of Gregory Packaging, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of frozen juice products. “By bringing the frozen product to the worker, it significantly reduces travel time by workers, wrong picks and product and facility damage, which is prevalent in contemporary deep-freeze warehouses using forklift trucks.”
The latest generation of ASRS allow deep-freeze warehouses to maintain precision product identification and rotation, provide rapid throughput at near 100 percent accuracy levels, and are more energy efficient than traditional automated systems.