Key Features of the Cold Store
In July this year, John Maguire, Sales and Marketing Director of Narrow Aisle Flexi, the manufacturer of narrow aisle forklifts, observed that cold stores could eventually be required to adopt the same efficient order picking techniques as chilled foods warehouses.
In the same month, the UK’s largest frozen food logistics facility was opened in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. The store’s vital statistics are impressive; with space for 77,000 pallets it operates at temperatures of -27 degrees centigrade, while its floorplan comes in at 175 meters x 88 meters and is 36 meters high.
Ray Perry is Managing Director of Partner Logistics which operates the facility. He emphasizes some of the store’s key features: “The density of storage inside the building is probably higher than you’ll see anywhere else in the country and that’s achieved by drive-in racking. That’s important for making use of your building but it’s also important in terms of the economies for the energy usage.”
So cost per pallet needs to be kept to a minimum, according to Perry.
Maguire also recognized the need for long-term storage systems in many frozen facilities, such as drive-in pallet racking –used at the Wisbech site – powered mobile racking, double deep racking and block stacking.
Perry reveals that there are some rather unusual features to the Partner Logistics’ facility though, including its in-house warehouse management system. Fully owned by the company, this interfaces with the facility’s stock control system – “what is key is that the two of them talk without human intervention,” adds Perry.
While there has been growth in the frozen food market, Perry is seeing some rather different trends in the cold storage sector that have emerged in the last 18 months. He has observed that a lot of companies are in fact reducing their storage capacity, partly driven by economics. “It’s good practice for any company to hold the least amount of stock to service their customers,” he maintains.
Despite this emerging trend in some areas of warehousing, throughput is holding up, which could have implications for the warehousing industry in the future. Perry believes it could impact upon what customers look for in their warehousing partner.
Low energy usage is becoming a necessary response to environmental concerns from both customers and consumers. Cold stores may have to be accountable for their energy output in the not too distant future to help drive down costs too.
Perry has noticed that the larger retailers are keen to demonstrate that they are reducing food miles. “That may mean that more locally produced food has to be stored temporarily and chilling food is a good mechanism for that,” he explains. “I think we’re going to see a big uplift in the chilled area. Frozen is a specific facility that we offer but we’re looking to the future for a lot more chilled work.”
Maguire made similar observations about the state of the frozen food storage industry earlier this year when he commented that cold stores will need to acquire the storage and picking methods of the chilled and dry grocery products sector.
Product checks are a vital part of the process that allows goods into the cold store at Wisbech. Perry believes this is another key feature of the UK’s largest cold store. “During that inspection the product is checked for its physical characteristics and we also read the label on the pallet,” he explains. “If the pallet has made it through and is in our store, we know everything about it and it is in the condition that is required by our customer.”
Speaking to Perry, it is clear that much of what happens in the frozen store itself is controlled through automation. In fact, only one person is required for every 2,000 pallets that are stored. People are required mainly for the management of the facility itself and the systems within it. In addition, staff ensure equipment is maintained, are responsible for case picking and loading pallets onto vehicles.
The most recent frozen food facilities then are highly automated sites, with high density storage areas. Perry indicates that there are opportunities for growth still as he intends for the Wisbech site to expand further. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the cold and frozen storage industry responds to consumers’ and retailers’ demands for frozen and chilled food.
Biden establishes Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force
The US government is to establish a new body with the express purpose of addressing imbalances and other supply chain concerns highlighted in a review of the sector, ordered by President Joe Biden shortly after his inauguration.
The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will “focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident,” the White House said. The division will be headed up by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture, and will focus on housing construction, transportation, agriculture and food, and semiconductors - a drastic shortage of which has hit some of the US economy’s biggest industries in consumer technology and vehicle manufacturing.
“The Task Force will bring the full capacity of the federal government to address near-term supply/demand mismatches. It will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions - large and small, public or private - that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints,” the White House said.
In late February, President Biden ordered a 100 day review of the supply chain across the key areas of medicine, raw materials and agriculture, the findings of which were released this week. While the COVID-19 health crisis had a deleterious effect on the nation’s supply chain, the published assessment of findings says the root cause runs much deeper. The review concludes that “decades of underinvestment”, alongside public policy choices that favour quarterly results and short-term solutions, have left the system “fragile”.
In response, the administration aims to address four key issues head on, strengthening its position in health and medicine, sustainable and alternative energy, critical mineral mining and processing, and computer chips.
Support domestic production of critical medicines
- A syndicate of public and private entities will jointly work towards manufacturing and onshoring of essential medical suppliers, beginning with a list of 50-100 “critical drugs” defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The consortium will be led by the Department of Health and Human Services, which will commit an initial $60m towards the development of a “novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API”.
- The aim is to increase domestic production and reduce the reliance upon global supply chains, particularly with regards to medications in short supply.
Secure an end-to-end domestic supply chain for advanced batteries
- The Department of Energy will publish a ‘National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries’, beginning a 10 year plan to "develop a domestic lithium battery supply chain that combats the climate crisis by creating good-paying clean energy jobs across America”.
- The effort will leverage billions in funding “to finance key strategic areas of development and fill deficits in the domestic supply chain capacity”.
Invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals
- An interdepartmental group will be established by the Department of Interior to identify sites where critical minerals can be produced and processed within US borders. It will collaborate with businesses, states, tribal nations and stockholders to “expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States”.
- The group will also identify where regulations may need to be updated to ensure new mining and processing “meets strong standards”.
Partner with industry, allies, and partners to address semiconductor shortages
- The Department of Commerce will increase its partnership with industry to support further investment in R&D and production of semiconductor chips. The White House says its aim will be to “facilitate information flow between semiconductor producers and suppliers and end-users”, improving transparency and data sharing.
- Enhanced relationships with foreign allies, including Japan and South Korea will also be strengthened with the express proposed of increasing chip output, promoting further investment in the sector and “to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations”.