Most material handling applications differ little because of the product or setting. Put some pallet rack here, a conveyor there, perhaps a pick module and a few miscellaneous pieces of equipment and you are good to go. Yawn. There is very little out of the ordinary.
However, a few applications require a special approach. Freezer and cold storage applications are one such specialized application. The nature of the products and environment require a decidedly unique approach to material handling, particularly when it comes to maximizing space.
Before considering how to maximize space in cold storage and freezer applications, it is important to discuss the unique aspect and the impact a cold temperature setting has on equipment. The average temperature in these facilities range from just below freezing, all the way down to -20°F.
Roll-formed steel is often not strong enough to withstand the sub-freezing temperatures. It tends to become more brittle, increasing the potential for significant damage if hit by forklifts, causing more repairs or replacement. A better alternative is structural channel racks as these offer greater durability. The racks also require less downtime for maintenance.
The connection between temperature and airflow
Getting the most capacity in cold storage applications is not as simple as using a specific type of rack. It does help, but you also must consider airflow. Most products stored in these conditions are sensitive in nature meaning spoilage is a concern if not stored properly.
A consistent cold temperature is a must, but maintaining the flow of air around the product and throughout the facility also contributes to keeping the products from going bad. A lack of airflow also puts more stress on the cooling system causing it to work harder and cost more. The use of wire shelving helps maintain airflow around products.
The equipment you should consider
Sometimes products shipped on pallets require freezer spaces to prevent the products in boxes or other containers from freezing to each other. Freezer spacers keep layers of products from freezing.
Removing these spacers prior to shipment can be costly and time-consuming if done manually. A pallet retriever allows the load (still on the pallet) to be tipped on its side without requiring the pallet to be unloaded. Doing this process manually not only increases labor costs but also requires more space.
Spoilage is a concern for products stored in cold temperatures, making it important to ensure older products are shipped before newer inventory. This is called first in, first out or FIFO.
Products that require frequent FIFO rotation benefit from pallet flow or gravity racks. These racks load in the rear with orders filled in the front of the rack, ensuring a FIFO rotation. Many use rollers and gravity to help products move from back to front.
Traditional forklifts seldom function well in cold temperature applications. More specialized lift trucks are required. These trucks are smaller in design and are able to handle narrower aisles. This makes narrow aisle or even very narrow aisle racks a viable option for cold storage and freezer facilities.
Narrow aisle or even very narrow aisle racks offer cold temperature applications the ability to maximize space and increase pallet density without the need to expand or move operations. These racks offer many benefits in addition to more floor space. Some of these include a reduced cost per square foot, a reduction in pallet rack damage and even improved productivity by forklift operators.
Narrow aisle racks tend to be taller than traditional racks allowing for more pallet storage. However, this can pose a potential problem in cold temperature facilities to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the facility including bottom levels to the top of the racks.
Conveyor systems connected with rack systems also increase productivity in cold temperature settings. However, you must make sure the conveyor is designed for cold temperatures.
The conveying platform should have resistance to cold temperatures to ensure products move smoothly along. The belt or rollers also must be designed for this application or problems could arise from brittleness causing breakdowns. Lubricants specifically for use in cold temperatures will keep the conveyor moving easily.