Cold Storage Solutions
Cold storage protects businesses from an unpredictable supply chain by allowing them to maintain a steady stock of in-demand products like food and pharmaceuticals. But warehousing perishable inventory isn’t as simple as storing it in a refrigerated room.
When designing and building a cold storage facility, you need to consider:
- The most efficient way to store and move product
- Whether your equipment, including automation and material handling solutions, can withstand extreme temperatures
- Risks extreme cold poses to both inventory and workers
The Unique Needs of Storing Cold Inventory
Every storage operation is concerned with optimized space, efficient workflow, and fast and easy picking. A cold storage facility is no different.
But when your inventory is frozen or refrigerated, it has additional requirements. Most products in the cold chain are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, which has strict guidelines for product handling.
The FDA requires temperature-sensitive inventory like meat and vaccines to be kept within a very narrow temperature range at every step of the supply chain. Any deviation from that range, at any stage of the chain, can create life-threatening risks for consumers.
Preserving the safety and quality of your cold inventory means providing adequate airflow and a constant temperature. To maintain that temperature without sending utility bills through the roof, you’ll also want to consider the energy efficiency of your building’s cold storage enclosure, or envelope.
Ideal Cold Storage Layout
When a material handling expert designs the layout of a cold storage facility, they first look at the factors they would consider in any warehouse:
- Available horizontal and vertical footprint
- Size and type of inventory
- Building infrastructure (electrical capacity, HVAC, etc.)
- Inventory control system (FIFO, LIFO, etc.)
With that foundation settled, a design consultant then turns their attention to the unique needs of a cold storage layout.
When your inventory isn’t temperature sensitive, you want to store it in the most compact space you can to optimize your square footage.
A cold storage layout, however, needs to allow for free air movement. Airflow can be affected by the height and width of the aisles, the permeability of rack and shelving materials, and even by the amount of inventory in stock.
To maintain a uniform temperature, refrigerated air has to circulate freely throughout the room. If the inventory is too close together or the air can’t permeate the racks, you’ll end up with warm spots the refrigerated air can’t reach.
You could turn down the thermostat, but that raises your energy costs – and may result in the opposite problem, with some inventory getting colder than its ideal range.
Fan systems can circulate air through the room, but again, running fans takes energy. Plus, higher airspeeds can affect the room’s humidity, putting perishable products at risk.
In the long run, the safest and most cost-effective thing you can do is have your cold storage layout designed by a knowledgeable engineer who understands how to keep your inventory cold and your energy costs low.
Choosing Cold Storage Equipment
The equipment in a cold storage facility should be specially designed to withstand long exposure to frigid temperatures. Choose the wrong equipment – from racking to forklifts to automation solutions – and you’re likely to face frequent breakdowns and costly downtime.
Cold Storage Racking and Shelving
Every storage facility needs racks that optimize space and keep stock organized.
Cold room racking needs to go a step further. It has to allow airflow around the inventory and stay strong in the cold.
Standard roll-formed steel racks are a poor choice in a cold room. When kept below freezing, roll-formed steel quickly weakens.
As a rule of thumb, look for structural steel racks that use a boltless design and can be combined in a variety of ways for custom layouts.
Racking commonly found in cold storage areas includes:
Cold Storage Machinery
Frequent temperature changes will shorten the life of your equipment, so it’s best if your cold storage area has its own dedicated machinery.
If possible, keep cold storage vehicles cold, even during battery charging and maintenance.
When a cold vehicle enters a warm warehouse, the sudden temperature change causes immediate condensation. If you have to take machinery out of the cold room for any reason, give it several hours to dry out before putting it back in cold storage.
If you send the machine back to cold storage too soon, the condensation will freeze, and the ice crystals can damage delicate components.
When fitting out your cold storage area, make sure any forklifts or other vehicles are equipped to handle the freezing temperatures. This might mean investing in specialized equipment or it could mean rigging standard equipment with heating coils and specialized lubricants.
Cold Storage Automation Solutions
Automated material handling is underutilized in cold storage areas. Many companies opt for manual processes in an effort to save money, as they recoup the cost of insulating and refrigerating their cold storage.
This is understandable, and there are excellent nonautomated ways to efficiently store cold products.
However, it can be short-sighted. Warehouse automation takes an upfront investment, but offers a greater ROI in the long run.
Automation Protects Cold Inventory
Warehouse automation protects product quality by enforcing supply chain traceability and preventing human error like picking items from different lots.
The FDA issues more than 400 food recalls a year. In the event of a recall, supply chain traceability is vital.
From the moment they’re packaged, perishable products are on a ticking clock. Fast throughput is key to getting items off the shelf and into the market before they expire, and warehouse automation can dramatically improve throughput speed.
Automation Protects Cold Storage Workers
Working in a cold storage room is more than uncomfortable. It can create real health and safety risks for workers, including:
- Slip hazards on icy floors
- Chemical leaks from batteries and refrigeration panels
- Hypothermia and frostbite
- The risk of becoming trapped in a dangerously cold area
Extreme cold also makes it difficult to concentrate, which increases the risk of human error.
With the proper low-temperature rigging, these machines can operate safely and efficiently in areas that would put human workers at risk.
Invest in Cold Storage Solutions for the Long Run
Cold storage is one place where it simply doesn’t pay to cut corners. Efforts to save up front on layout or equipment will typically cost more in the long run when inventory spoils or equipment breaks.
Our material handling experts understand exactly what a cold storage room needs to operate successfully and deliver ROI.
Contact ISS Material Handling for a Free Consultation
Do you think a cold storage racking system could benefit your operations? Contact us and we can merge our experience and expertise to come up with a solution together. Tell us about your potential project and submit the form below or give us a call at 833-754-2164.