Like much of the warehouse and logistics industries, the cold storage aspect of it is growing rapidly as well in almost every major KPI. Driven by the continued growth of the frozen food industry, cold storage has been evolving and adopting many of the same technologies and process innovations as standard warehouses and is expected to grow about 3.4% in 2019. However, the fact that the room is required to be cold, means that there are a long list of other process adaptations, equipment, uniforms and other accessories that are required to run a cold storage facility and make it function for the purpose it was designed for.
Today we’ll review some of the basic features of a cold storage warehouse that set it apart from a more typical one.
Just How Cold is “Cold”?
There are four basic temperature ranges and some specific needs that are implied when a facility is labeled as “cold”.
- High-temperature warehouses (+/- 5o Celsius) – is the oxymoronic term for a typical refrigerated warehouse used to store fresh produce like vegetables, fruit and flowers.
- Medium temperature warehouses (-10 to -18o Celsius) – appropriate for cold storage of meats and seafood.
- Low temperature freezer warehouses (-23 to -28o Celsius) – is the preferred environment for ice cream
- Ultra-low temperature freezer warehouses (<-30o Celsius) – recommended for industrial storage, blood banks and other medical supplies that require a deep freeze.
Obviously, a warehouse designed to store vegetables will not require as many unique adaptations as one storing blood or other ultra-low temp goods. Without cataloging everything by temperature range, let’s review a few of the main adaptations that apply to some or all of the above warehouses.
What’s The Difference?
Here are just a few of the differences you’ll see in cold storage facilities:
- Pallets – while not unique to cold storage, plastic pallets are generally the norm in cold storage because they don’t have the potential contamination issues that wood pallets have (necessitated by the predominance of food and medical commodities) and are easier to keep clean.
- Space Configuration – a cold storage facility can not have racks set up the same way as a standard warehouse. Racks must be set up to maintain proper air circulation which is the key to ensuring a consistent temperature throughout the facility.
- Labels – if you’re not aware of it yet, cold temperatures are a whole new world for labeling. For both your racking and your product, you’ll need completely different labels than what you would normally use. Temperature affects the performance of the substrate, adhesive and ink, and those that work in cold temperatures are very different. In fact, you need to understand if your application requires you to apply them in cold temperatures, or just store them there, because even this difference will change your label requirements.
- Protective wear - it’s not uncommon for many warehouse jobs to require the use of gloves or goggles, but in a cold facility goggles can’t frost up and gloves need to be both sufficiently warm AND able to manipulate a touchscreen or a small keyboard.
- Devices – how does a “rugged” device do in cold storage? Well, not every rugged device is going to be designed for cold temperatures. And even some that are may not be fully functional in the lower temperatures. There are literally dozens of features that need to considered for extreme cold with electronic devices, not all of them are intuitive.
- Screens that frost up
- Batteries that can’t charge and general degradation of the battery itself.
- Features that stop functioning in cold (not only consumer-grade devices but even some commercial devices not explicitly designed for the purpose)
- Larger keypads for use with bulkier gloves
- Frost obscuring optical ports on scanners
- Condensation from moving in and out of different temperature zones
- Wireless LAN – Believe it or not, even your wireless signals can be negatively impacted by extreme cold. Radio waves have reduced range in colder air, and are also prone to having dead zones where insulated walls come into play.
Getting it Right
The complexity of a modern warehouse with the unique requirements for wireless networks (different than a typical office LAN), variety of devices and the ballet of movement taking place over the course of a day where different processes take the spotlight at different times of day is already challenging enough without adding “extreme cold” into the mix.
Getting a cold facility done right starts at the design phase. Like any other facility, good partnerships matter to not only make it run smoothly, but to ensure the facility is built to provide the highest rate of success on a daily operational basis. With every aspect of the facility requiring a customize, more rugged version of more typical requirements, getting the design and equipment specs right is critical. Specialists with cold storage expertise are one of the partnerships you’ll want to have to optimize your cold storage facility.