Burgeoning e-commerce, pre-ordered weekly shopping, a huge variety of international products – the food retail industry is undergoing major and rapid change. And the swift and sweeping shift to online purchasing is creating challenges for the cold chain. Above all, refrigerated goods need to be handled with care in warehouses. And as is so often the case, automated processes provide the solution.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the imposition of worldwide lockdowns caused overnight havoc in the food industry. How can we cope quickly and efficiently with all the new orders? How can we keep the products fresh? And how do we manage the many differing requirements of these diverse goods? Even before the virus crisis, storage at chilly temperatures represented a complex intralogistics challenge – so how do you best manage warehouse zones of varying temperatures?
High speed at low temperatures
Food products have very specific and differing needs in terms of environment, temperature, and more. This applies in particular to the protein sector (chilled and frozen goods, such as fish, poultry and other meats). The corresponding intralogistics need to be tailored to each item – and, ideally, supported by automated processes. Because automated put-away and retrieval not only spares employees the shivers, it also saves energy: doors are opened less frequently, which avoids letting out the costly cold. As food SKUs have use-by dates that generally require a first in, first out (FIFO) strategy, automation also has the advantage of improved order fulfillment accuracy. Moreover, pallets can typically be put away at a speed that avoids disrupting the air circulation required in low-temperature storage zones, protecting the frozen goods.
One possible answer to these needs is available from automation specialist and experienced cold-chain expert Dematic.
“The mounting requirements faced by the protein industry mean that manufacturers can no longer rely on manual processes,” explains Jessica Heinz, Head of Marketing and Business Development, Dematic Central Europe. “Our solution supports the end-to-end automation of all order fulfillment processes, in conjunction with a significant increase in speed, storage density, freshness, precision and availability.”
The Dematic solutions are customizable, and often have a multi-shuttle system at their core. This is capable of fully automatically putting away, buffering, sorting and preparing products for picking and consolidation for outbound shipments. And the multi-shuttle system has a stand-out feature of huge benefit to refrigerated storage: in contrast to much other warehouse equipment, it emits no heat. In combination with storage and retrieval machines, robots and AGVs, it is also possible to automate palletization and conveyance. The systems are designed and built to withstand the cold, from slightly chilled to completely frozen. In fact, they are able to fulfill orders around the clock down to minus 25 degrees centigrade. They therefore make a key contribution to maintaining today’s cold chains, and will continue to do so moving forward.