Investing in Automation as Frozen Food Retail Heats Up
By: Grant Beringer, Contributor
Frozen food has become much more popular at home with market growth being accelerated by online shopping and home delivery services. Consumers are preferring frozen food as a better solution for convenience, value and long-term preservation of foods retaining wholesome vitamins and antioxidants. The improving quality of frozen food, the popularity of ready meals and a growing range of vegetarian and vegan options are also helping to drive up demand.
Producers and retailers whose operations have been able to respond most effectively to rising and fluctuating demand are best placed to capitalize on the market trends of demand for smaller packs, larger overall order sizes, a broader product range and increasing home delivery. Warehouses and distribution centers need to adapt with automated storage and retrieval systems that can accommodate these changes while also fulfilling more orders faster than ever before.
Utilizing Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Today’s robotic and data-driven automation systems, such as automated storage and retrieval systems, can address the challenges and even be used to extend the life and productivity of older warehouses. The technologies available today can be configured to adapt to existing building limitations and deliver increased storage capacity and higher throughput.
They feature modular designs that experienced integrators can leverage to deploy automation in phases that enable continued service to customers through established manual processes while the automation is being deployed.
When it comes to automated storage and retrieval systems, there are a variety of options available. The following are the most common and proven options.
- Stacker crane systems are a cost-effective and reliable approach to enabling high-bay warehouse designs. They enable vertical storage up to 45 meters and allow aisle widths to be reduced by eliminating the need for forklifts. Certain high bay warehouse pallet stacker cranes have up to 20% lower energy consumption and perform well in temperatures as low as -30°C.
- Pallet shuttles in deep-freeze and chilled temperature warehouses can store pallet loads in the highest density configurations at heights up to 45 meters. High density in deep freeze applications is key to ensuring low energy consumption due to cubic meter savings. Pallet shuttle systems employ carriers on each storage level in place of stacker cranes in aisles to enable storage 20+ pallets deep and can be ideal for automating brownfield frozen food storage facilities as the technology can be installed in existing buildings.
- Shuttle systems for storage of small loads are designed applications where high throughput and excellent availability are essential, such as with retail and e-commerce applications for returns handling, replenishment or buffer for order consolidation. The shuttles offer double to quadruple deep storage of totes, trays and cartons and are suitable for deep-freeze environments.
These automated storage and retrieval systems can help make temperature-controlled warehouses more efficient, flexible and responsive to changing consumers demands. With the retail and distribution sectors feeling the effects of today’s labor shortages as fiercely as any, especially in unpopular freezing cold environments, logistics automation can help companies grow their business and achieve more with their existing workforce.
Rethinking Warehouse Automation
With a variety of viable options available, and with frozen food demand peaking, there’s never been a better time to consider the business case for investing in enhanced warehouse automation.
For a number of years, there has been a stigma hanging over warehouse automation. The common belief held by many was that if you bring automation into your warehouse, you are replacing human workers.
While there are those exceptions, for most companies, this is simply not the case. The goals are often to enhance the productivity of human workers, create innovative environments that attract skilled labor, and improve workplace safety and ergonomics for employees.
There needs to be a shift in how we as an industry approach and view warehouse automation and human workers. It does not have to be an “either-or” approach. Installing automation doesn’t have to automatically mean replacing workers. In fact, it can be a powerful tool in attracting and retaining the skilled labor many companies need. It can also be an invaluable asset to help companies keep supply chains moving as they struggle to find the workers they need in a tight labor market.
Jobs in the warehouse can be grueling work; and many in the workforce are deciding it’s not a job they want or need. So even when there are people looking for jobs, companies offering warehouse positions are finding it hard to attract them. Automation solutions can help create a more inviting, comfortable and innovative environment for warehouse workers.
As companies continue to deal with labor shortages and workers’ reassessment of warehouse jobs, automated storage and retrieval systems can be a powerful tool in overcoming both obstacles. These systems provide a means for many of these companies to maintain productivity and efficiency levels while dealing with a reduced labor force. A number of companies can also use the advanced technology as a way to attract potential employees who are looking for opportunities to work with technology and want to be a part of a modern, enhanced work experience. WMHS
Grant Beringer is Vice President of Integrated Systems, Swisslog Americas. Swisslog delivers data-driven & robotic solutions for logistics automation alongside reliable, modular service concepts. Collaborating with forward-thinking companies, the company is committed to setting new standards in warehouse automation to provide future-proof products and solutions (www.swisslog.com).
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