The New Breed of Automated Warehousing

With a significant rise in the consumption of frozen foods and retailers demanding a day one for day two service, there has been an increase in the development of new automated warehousing systems, designed to help warehouses run faster and more efficiently in order to keep supermarket shelves stocked and customers satisfied.

Over the last decade, the supply chain has seen a new breed of automated frozen food warehouses, such as those operated by Partner Logistics. The advanced automated warehousing systems which control operations in these facilities allow them to operate more cost-effectively on a 24/7 basis, whilst also delivering quality, performance and energy efficiency.

Through employing a fully automated system and using high density pallet racking, a new breed of super-sized warehouses with at least five times the capacity of the largest conventional cold warehouses are delivering impressive efficiency and performance.

In order to operate these large scale warehouses, Partner Logistics invest heavily in the latest automation technology and use automated loading bays, robotic pallet stackers and sophisticated inventory management software. This level of automation means that they can deliver industry-leading quality and performance metrics for variables such as order picking, load performance and order fulfilment. For example, order picking runs at above 99% across all six sites.

One of the benefits of using automated systems in deep freeze warehouses is the improvement in accuracy for customers, whilst not compromising on quality. Product, pallet type, pallet weight and other parameters are all measured as goods are automatically scanned on entry and given a unique identifier to enable end-to-end tracking of every item and pallet. The result is that the final destination always receives the right amount of the right product, and in excellent condition.

Traceability is also critical within the supply chain and a high level of inventory automation provides reliable traceability on an individual case level basis. This information is invaluable in recall situations as well as helping to maintain the highest food safety standards. Not only is this essential in the day-to-day operation of a cold store warehouse but even more critical as part of a contingency plan to ensure products are withdrawn from the supply chain for whatever reason.

The horsemeat scandal in 2013 is a prime example to show that it is more important than ever for every aspect of the supply chain to demonstrate complete traceability of stock and provide accurate and fast response times for product withdrawal in order to give manufacturers, retailers and consumers peace of mind. The automated movement of goods and intelligent warehouse management software allows any pallet to be quickly and easily located and withdrawn.

Advance warehouse management software also provides staff with reports on the efficiency of every aspect of the overall system allowing them to see where adjustments can be made to further increase efficiency and performance. The software is even programmed so that during periods of reduced activity, the robotically controlled stacker cranes used in the high bay can carry out housekeeping tasks to automatically consolidate stock to ensure the warehouse is always operating at peak performance.

Automation also helps to increase the reliability of the internal stock movement processes, enhancing quality and performance through reduced manual handling. The workforce employed by Partner Logistics is considerably less compared to even much smaller conventional warehouses leading to significantly reduced operating costs whilst also improving quality due to minimised levels of manual handling.

However, it is also important not to overlook the importance of some human input. As with most sectors that work with technology, it is important to still have a ‘brain behind the machine’ and it is virtually impossible to run a cold store without some form of manual input.

Automation makes up about 80% of the warehouse operation. The other 20% is often focused on the intake of pallets to ensure the process starts smoothly. The experienced Partner Logistics staff are also heavily involved in order picking and each warehouse has a manual picking area where staff can offer value added services such as wrapping and labelling, stickering and restacking.

The majority of cold stores are still manual but Partner Logistics have combined the knowledge and experience of their fully trained staff with the latest in automation technology to provide the very best service for their customers.

For further information on our automated warehousing systems or to discuss your business requirements please contact us.