What’s so challenging about cold food storage? It’s just a big cold warehouse, right?
Navigating the cold supply chain and logistics sector of the food industry is no easy feat. We all enjoy the literal fruits of the labor, but do we ever stop to think about the processes, the planning, and the people that enable an efficient farm to fork journey?
Americold provides value-added, temperature-controlled warehousing and logistics that are safe, reliable, and cost effective. Our role in the cold chain is critical but there are many considerations to ensure our facilities provide the services our customers need.
When planning for a new facility, we start by asking the question, “What do our customers need to accomplish?” Americold’s cold storage warehouses are designed based on customer requirements. Sometimes this is one customer; other times it’s several. Market demands may also drive new facility development, addressing an area’s unmet needs. Regardless of the driver, the most effective way to dig in is through data and discussion.
If the facility is designed for a specific customer, Americold sits down with that customer to fully understand their needs. The first detail discussed is volume and throughput. How many pallets or cases will come into and move out of the facility? How many inventory turns will there be? Digging deeper, we also talk about product packaging, box dimensions, and services that might be needed, like case picking, kitting, and repacking. We ask questions like: What are the dimensions and weight of the cases? How many cases per pallet layer, and how many layers per pallet? This information, along with the feedback on value-added services determines how the cold storage building’s footprint can be laid out, and what type of storage media is required to accommodate the business.
Initial discussions also include temperature. At what temperature will the product enter the facility and at what temperature should the product leave the facility? Some products may require blast freezing or water tempering—which mean additional space or refrigeration may be required in the facility. Lastly, the team looks at methods for inbound and outbound transportation, including truck, rail, and port. Considering all these elements helps determine the facility’s profile and design characteristics.
With these inputs, Americold draws a material flow chart - a visual representation that drives the discussion on technology integration. The first decision is whether to implement automation (and to what degree), a fundamental decision that shapes many facility features. Among them, the refrigeration approach. More robots and machines generate more heat, and that heat must be removed from a temperature-controlled environment. Understanding how and where the operation will utilize cold storage automation enables Americold to identify the most effective cooling approach.
In addition to refrigeration, automation affects other building criteria such as dock depth, pallet induction and retrieval layouts, dock door configuration, and storage racking. Automated storage and retrieval systems may enable vertical racking—130 foot or higher—that extends far beyond traditional forklift height. That height enables a smaller cold storage warehouse footprint and reduced energy usage.
Automation can increase efficiencies, but it can also be very specific to handling business requirements. A supply chain network with a variety of facilities provides for broad appeal to smaller or unique business needs and ensures flexibility and room for growth.
And speaking of growth, two additional variables that affect Americold’s ground-up building approach are customers’ estimated year-over-year growth and length of commitment. If the customer’s investment is long term, Americold can focus on incorporating more custom features. If growth is expected or fluctuations can be pinpointed, the facility can be built to accommodate such variables.
Lastly, whether it’s for a market build or specific customer, Americold’s built in flexibility ensures our facilities handle change with little disruption. On top of traditional supply chain challenges, food producers face the pressures of delivering perishable goods. If one process goes awry or if the storage temperature is off even a little bit, entire inventories could be compromised. As a trusted partner, Americold vows to maintain the integrity of the cold food supply chain with an approach that ensures safety, protects your brand, and fits your custom needs.
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