| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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Storage facilities are pivotal in cold chains, just as they are in standard supply chains. While the objectives remain consistent for both cold chains and standard supply chains, the procedures in cold storage facilities are more intricate due to the elevated operational costs from energy use and product degradation in less-than-ideal conditions. Lately, there's been a surge in interest in the cold food supply chain to minimize food wastage throughout the chain. As a result, the adept handling of cold storage facilities is crucial. The design and operational prerequisites in a cold storage facility might diverge from those in a conventional non-refrigerated facility. In this document, we endeavour to present a synopsis of cold chain procedures, primarily concentrating on cold storage facility operations. We share some data from a cold chain, design, and tech necessities for cold storage facilities, and also the operations tailored to those facility characteristics. It's evident that the design aspects of cold storage are distinct.
A cold storage facility or or cold chain warehouse is a dedicated storage space with temperature-regulated settings, chiefly designed to house temperature-sensitive items: frequently perishables like fresh vegetables, frozen items, medicinal products, and more, preserving their condition and prolonging their usability.
Cold chain warehouses are categorized into two based on their sustained temperatures: chilled and frozen.
Chilled storage facilities, often referred to as chill stores, generally keep temperatures from 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and ward off cold loss. They're predominantly used for housing fresh vegetables, dairy items, and other perishables that necessitate a cool yet not frozen setting.
Conversely, frozen storage facilities function at below-zero temperatures, usually ranging from -18 to -25 degrees Celsius, and they house frozen items like meats, seafood, and frozen treats, which need to be preserved at chilly temperatures to inhibit bacterial proliferation and uphold product quality.
Contrary to popular belief, storage doesn't commence when the temperature-sensitive item departs the manufacturer's location. It begins right at the cooling facility. Insulated containers, cooling agents, vaccines, and medical coolers are essential for efficient storage.
Some items require the perfect temperature to maintain their excellence. Hence, accurate temperature regulation is vital to ensure these products remain of high quality. Suitable packaging aids in retaining product quality and energy-efficient storage. Diverse packaging methods encompass gel bottles, gel packs, envelopes, insulated containers, pallet systems, cold chain packages, and cooling bricks to avert harm during transit and retain the items' coolness.
Temperature-sensitive goods are transported globally in various manners. These goods are moved by road, train, air, or sea. A range of specialized vehicles, like reef containers and refrigerated vans or trucks, ensures the cargo remains cool.
Based on the product category, cold chain product providers need to monitor specific shipment data like humidity metrics, environmental factors, temperature spectrum, etc. Armed with this data, providers can review their supply chain procedures for any actions causing product inefficiency. Data recording is a method businesses employ to ensure that cold chain supply management runs smoothly (learn more about cold chain tracking). This tech aids in the stringent supervision of temperature-sensitive goods. Moreover, it assists in identifying and rectifying any quality concerns promptly.
For international cold chain supply, customs documentation is crucial to guarantee swift product delivery. If customs documentation isn't processed accurately, it can lead to prolonged delays, incurring unnecessary costs and compromising product quality and delivery timelines.
The concluding step in the cold chain procedure is product delivery. Upon the product's arrival at the destination, it's delivered according to the consumer's chosen method.
Cold storage isn't a recent concept. We've been preserving food in cold settings long before the advent of refrigerators and freezers, recognizing that chilling produce extends its lifespan and ensures its quality (and safety).
However, today, we've moved beyond using Victorian ice chambers and pantries for chilling. Industrial-scale cold storage is now an advanced, tech-driven process, often highly automated. It's necessary. In 2018, the worldwide frozen food market stood at 260.8 billion U.S. dollars. This figure is projected to rise by 40% by 2026, reaching an estimated value of 366.3 billion dollars.
And this is solely for frozen food. When you add chilled food, pharmaceuticals, and other items requiring cold or chilled storage, you grasp the vast magnitude of the cold/frozen supply chain, where storage is a fundamental component.
Two primary components constitute a cold storage facility: the facility itself and the internal equipment, like the shelving. There's a third alternative, which merges both – shelf-supported structures, where the shelves form an integral part of the facility's framework. All are essential in maintaining a consistent temperature in the centre.
Each serves a unique purpose. A cold storage facility's objective is to keep the produce (usually food) at the ideal temperature, preventing spoilage and prolonging its shelf life.
In contrast, a freezer facility must ensure the product remains at a steady temperature to prevent any potential harm or changes to its composition.
The decision between cold storage and freezer warehousing will depend on the nature of the products being stored. Given the government's pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 across all sectors, this poses a specific challenge for today's cold storage facilities.
Storing products in a cold storage facility presents several challenges that need addressing:
A cold storage facility, or freezer facility, upholds particular temperatures using an intricate cooling system. This system mainly comprises the following elements:
These elements function in unison to sustain the required chilly temperatures in a cold storage facility, guaranteeing the safety and integrity of the stored temperature-sensitive items.
Many of these challenges can be surmounted by judiciously choosing equipment - like shelves and conveyors – optimizing space utilization, and ensuring efficient operations. Automation and semi-automation also cut down on labour expenses.
Popular cold storage solutions encompass mobile pallet shelving, which optimizes floor space by having a single operational aisle. This can conserve 40% of floor space compared to traditional pallet shelving and augment overall storage capacity by 80%. Another alternative is drive-in shelving, suitable for storing vast quantities, further optimizing space use by up to 90%. It's perfect for cold and chilled storage items.
A significant emphasis on sustainability has led to increased investments in AGV-operated vehicles in cold storage settings to maximize efficiency. Implementing a pallet shuttle system reduces manpower and the need for forklifts, making it ideal for storage with fewer SKU levels, requiring an efficient yet compact storage system.
For cold storage facilities with high product turnover, pallet flow solutions provide quick access, utilizing up to 60% less flow space.
Learn more about cold chain solutions.
Beyond the facility and the necessary equipment, there are other factors to consider. For instance, entry and exit points where goods are received and dispatched must be cooled appropriately. A secure airlock system, where two doors aren't opened simultaneously, is common, helping to prevent cold loss or buildup of condensation or ice.
Proper ventilation is crucial to maintain a uniform temperature throughout, again preventing ice or condensation.
Storage facilities are crucial in cold chains, just as they are in standard supply chains. While their objectives are consistent for both types of chains, cold storage facility operations are more intricate due to the elevated costs from energy use and product degradation in less-than-ideal conditions. There's been a recent surge in interest in the cold food supply chain to minimize wastage. Therefore, adept handling of cold storage facilities is pivotal. The design and operational prerequisites in a cold storage facility might diverge from those in a conventional non-refrigerated facility.
Dive deeper into one of our core topics: Cold Chain Monitoring