The biggest challenge in a cold storage warehouse is obviously the cold. It affects employees and the scanners and computers they use, increases wear and tear on equipment, and may cause machinery to require more frequent maintenance. Yet, cold temperatures must be maintained at all times in a cold storage warehouse in order to ensure that temperature-sensitive products inside remain safe to use. Products may include food or lifesaving pharmaceuticals that either become unsafe to consume or lose their effectiveness when they spend time at warmer temperatures. Lives may literally depend on maintaining products at a certain temperature, no matter how difficult it is or how hard on employees and equipment. The cold storage warehouse best practices below are general rules of thumb that can help you keep temperatures low, employees healthy, equipment functioning, and products safe for use.
1. Control Heat Exchange
The first cold storage warehouse best practice is also the most fundamental. Temperatures must be controlled in each portion of the warehouse and must remain within their set ranges. For example, refrigerated products must remain refrigerated and frozen products must remain frozen. The flow of energy in the form of heat should be carefully controlled to prevent its movement from high-temperature areas to lower-temperature zones. In homes and offices, we do this with walls, doors, and insulation, but these methods are not always possible in a cold storage warehouse where new customers are constantly coming on board, new products are entering storage, and the warehouse may need to be routinely reconfigured. Despite this flux, though, vegetables still need to be stored at 55 degrees F, dairy products at 34 degrees F, and ice cream at -10 degrees F.
The solution is insulated curtain walls. These are plastic modular curtains—a bit like shower curtains on the scale of a warehouse—that can be deployed and redeployed as needed to separate warehouses into different temperature zones. They are surprisingly effective and able to create anywhere from 15 degrees F to 40 degrees F of temperature separation depending on the thickness of their insulation.
2. Provide Employees With the Proper Personal Equipment
Employee comfort is often an afterthought in cold storage warehouses. However, providing employees with comfortable coats, insulated pants, gloves, and other equipment they need to stay warm is a cold storage warehouse best practice that can have broad effects. It can help ensure temperatures stay consistent and can improve efficiency throughout the cold storage warehouse.
Make sure that employees in cold storage warehouses can always find the appropriate gear for a cold storage zone.
Employees that are cold have a tendency to linger on the threshold of a warmer climate zone before entering a colder one. This can affect the efficiency of the pick and other operations. Or, if employees are prone to holding doors open to keep themselves a little bit warmer, temperature protocols may be violated. The best practice is to make sure that employees in cold storage warehouses can always find the appropriate gear for a cold storage zone.
3. Use Equipment Designed for the Cold
The equipment you normally find in the warehouse should be designed or modified for the cold. It can be hard to operate a touchscreen, for example, when you are wearing heavy 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 also significantly degrades battery life. Handheld equipment and electric forklifts will need to be sealed against condensation and higher voltage batteries need to be used to extend their use cycle.
4. Employ Automation Wherever Possible
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 deep lane storage systems, automation can make the most of the cold storage space available by improving cube utilization. Equipping high-density pallet racking systems with pallet shuttles and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) increases throughput and makes optimal use of vertical space.
Implementing automation can also help keep energy costs down by eliminating the possibility of human error.
Automation can also reduce the need for human labor, and these reduced labor costs can add up to substantial savings. The use of automated palletizers and depalletizers along with Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for shuttling products through the warehouse make it possible for cold storage areas of the warehouse to operate with very few employees. This has many advantages beyond just cost savings.
Humans are prone to errors. They leave doors open and forget to record information. Aside from enabling higher product storage density, implementing automation can also help keep energy costs down by eliminating the possibility of human error. Autonomous machinery doesn’t hesitate or need to change into different gear when moving from cold to colder zones. It will also unfailingly log its actions with a centralized system. An automated system can reduce cooling costs for a cold storage warehouse and help to ensure that all records are up to date.
5. Maintain Accurate, Up-to-Date Records
The products kept in a cold storage warehouse are universally sensitive to temperature changes. For this reason, one of the most important cold storage warehouse best practices isn’t just keeping the products cold, it’s keeping an accurate record of the fact that they were kept cold. Technology makes this easier. Temperature sensors can automatically track temperature, trigger alarms, and note potential lapses. The use of databases allows this collected data to be associated with products at the load unit level through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking without the need to scan every carton and SKU. Once cartons and pallet numbers are associated in the database, it means that only the pallet needs to be scanned.
These technologies allow very accurate records to be kept and made transparent so that anyone in the supply chain can access them. Maintaining accurate temperature records for all products in a warehouse is a cold storage warehouse best practice with implications for public health. It can also affect a manufacturer or logistics provider’s financial future, as recalls can be quite costly. Taking advantage of available technology to ensure records are accurate and transparent may be the most important practice for any cold storage warehouse.
Optimizing Cold Storage Warehouse Best Practices
Best practices are small improvements in procedure and equipment that can add up to big savings and greater profits down the line. Enacting a cold chain best practice likely won’t yield instant dividends, but when a small improvement is diligently implemented, it can pay off in a big way, given enough time. And there is one relatively simple change that can enhance the benefits of multiple cold storage warehouse best practices at a time: making the change to a better shipping platform.
Plastic shipping pallets can also be equipped with RFID tracking to make record-keeping and tracking easier.
Plastic pallets already have an edge over wood pallets when it comes to cold storage. Their structural integrity isn’t dramatically affected by sudden shifts in temperature as they move from one zone to another. They are non-absorbent, so condensation from temperature changes won’t encourage mold, mildew, and bacterial growth. Moreover, their uniform weight, consistent dimensions, durability, and reliability make them friendlier to automation than wood pallets. Plastic shipping pallets can also be equipped with RFID tracking to make record-keeping and tracking easier. Given the sensitivity of products in cold storage, the accurate record-keeping enabled by RFID chips is a great advantage. Replacing an inventory of wood shipping pallets with plastic ones can be a challenge, but renting from a pallet pool makes switching to plastic easy. Pooled plastic pallets improve the effectiveness of cold storage warehouse best practices while saving on pallet management costs.
The iGPS pallet pooling program rents lightweight, trackable GMA-spec plastic pallets that are friendly to automation and can help your cold storage warehouse run more smoothly. To make the switch, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.