A Step-By-Step Guide To Automating Your Cold Chain Operations

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

In an insightful webinar by Swisslog, with guest speaker from the Warehouse & Transport Association of Australia, innovative options for manufacturers on different levels of their automation journey were explored. 

In the recent past, the topic of empty supermarket shelves made headlines all around the world. Consumers, panicked about the access to food in the middle of a lockdown, stripped the shelves of popular consumable items to stockpile at home. 

The reality, however, was nothing to worry about. In an insightful webinar by Swisslog, guest speaker Marianne Kintzel from Refrigerated Warehouse & Transport Association of Australia, states: “The truth is that there has always been plenty of food to go around, and in fact an oversupply in some cases as restaurants had been forced to close. The challenge was getting highly perishable goods to the retailers. In fact, the cold chain logistics sector specifically is worth more than US$7 trillion worldwide, and there’s plenty of goods to meet the needs of the consumer.”

The panel-format webinar highlighted the need for agility in operations and a higher degree of adaptability to ensure the supply chain runs smoothly to combat future challenges.

Sky Lee, Technical Sales Consultant at Swisslog, takes us through a deep dive on a few automation solutions that can decrease F&B manufacturers’ response times when met with surging consumer demand.  There are different levels of automation solutions at manufacturers’ fingertips, based on their specific needs. Some factors to consider are: overall budget, throughput, stock keeping unit (SKU) range, footprint, full pallet or mixed case-picking. 


Basic Automation

Basic automation comes highly recommended for manufacturers with existing manual storage facilities with a high percentage of full pallet dispatch. This is the first step for manufacturers embark on their progressive move towards full-scale automation in the long run. 

For example, if a manufacturer was to place automated pallet storage and selective racking side by side, they will instantly notice that the aisle width is much narrower with automated storage, thus saving floor space. With an automated storage solution, they can also make use of the height to increase storage density. In the best-case scenario, the automated pallet storage system can be up to four times the height of the conventional pick area. Starting small with basic automation, manufacturers can further integrate automation in their operations with Swisslog’s enhanced and full-scale automation. 

One noteworthy automated warehouse solution in this category is the Vectura Stacker Crane for efficient storage and pallet retrieval. Operating at heights up to 50 meters and optimally in a range of temperatures—from -30 deg C up to 50 deg C—the Vectura crane is designed perfectly for high bay warehouses with limited space. 


Enhanced Automation

Levelling up, some manufacturers might want to consider an enhanced automation concept with integrated picking solutions. This is especially important when the manufacturer has expanded their operations to include a higher throughput. This is a scenario where automated picking is required with a seamless automated process. 

There are two main benefits to consider: 

  1. For smaller footprint, manufacturers should consider an ASRS & Integrated Picking solution for their operations. This ensures that technology is able to take over more tasks from workers to increase throughput in goods-to-person (GTP) picking.
  2. For the automated handling of SKU pallets, manufacturers should also consider Auto Pallet Storage and Retrieval & Goods-to-Person Picking solution for their operations.  This eliminates idle time workers need to set aside to search for items to fulfil an order. 

Since picking and palletising makes up to 60 percent* of warehouse operational costs, new technologies like ASRScan help reduce manpower costs in the long run. 


Full-Scale Automation

A fully automated storage and case picking module would be ideal for “humanless” handling of  case picking that is scalable from low to high throughput requirement, which involves no staff working in sub-zero temperatures.  Swisslog is  able to incorporate a high-density storage solution with the Vectura ASRS or PowerStore Shuttle System, as part of the full-scale automation.  

The Automated Case Picking Module (ACPM) is capable of handling high throughput, and high numbers of SKUs and orders. For ambient environments, ACPM has helped to improved efficiency and accuracy in picking. In cold chain application, it ensures that frozen products do not remain outside its deep freeze zone beyond the required time through its intelligent Warehouse Management System (WMS). 

In full scale automation, there are five key processes that can be automated: 

  1. High density storage with Vectura ASRS or PowerStore Shuttle System 
  2. CycloneCarrier case buffer system
  3. Picking & Sequencing with conveyor system
  4. ACPaQ automated mixed case palletising with Robot (for ambient & chilled warehouse zones).
  5. SynQ Intelligent Warehouse Management System 

Real-Life Application: Jurong Cold Store Case Study

With more than 20 years of expertise in frozen products and cold chain logistics, Jurong Cold Store (JCS) is well-known as “the freshness keeper” in Singapore. While striving to maintain the ultimate quality and safety for frozen consumables, JCS ran into its main challenge of labour shortages. They reported difficulty in sourcing employees willing to work in a -22°C deep freeze environment. At the same time, JCS also needed more storage within the same footprint. 

The solution that Swisslog provided for them was a 35m tall deep freeze warehouse with double deep ASRS with a pallet capacity of 11,000. In order to increase the productivity, Swisslog also introduced an automated order picking process with goods-to-person picking which is done in a chilled environment (17°C). 

While ASRS is the muscle of the warehouse, Swisslog’s SynQ WMS is the brain that delivers warehouse efficiency. As directed by Swisslog’s SynQ WMS, the frozen products pallets are retrieved by Vectura from the ASRS freezer warehouse and conveyed to the 17°C GTP picking station. The picker who is working in 17°C, would pick the products from these pallets to 4 orders. After picking is completed, the orders pallets are shrink-wrapped, scanned and conveyed back to the ASRS freezer warehouse for staging, until the time for loading for delivery. There are four GTP picking stations. By automating the order picking processes, JCS is keeping employees out of the deep freeze environment, while boosting efficiency, speed and accuracy.


*References available upon request


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