In cold storage logistics, protecting margins is a matter of eliminating waste. Automated storage and material handling technology helps every link in the chain maximize efficiency, maintain product integrity, and reliably meet demand.

How Integrated Automation Protects the Cold Supply Chain

Manufacturers, warehouses, and distributors have long dealt with labor shortages, space and time constraints, and fulfillment pressure. For cold chain businesses and refrigerated storage facilities, these challenges are heightened. Maintaining chilled to frozen temperatures is energy-intensive, expensive, and difficult for workers.

Consuming $30 billion in utilities annually, the cold chain has the highest energy demand per cubic foot of any industrial category. Labor shortages are a top problem, with 52% of businesses reporting that hiring and retaining workers is “very challenging” or “extremely challenging.”2 There is also more risk for material waste and product loss due to temperature interruptions.

Automated storage and transport solutions empower the cold chain sector to:

  • Protect the workforce. Systems function in the cold and heat, freeing workers from frigid, uncomfortable, or hazardous working conditions.
  • Slash manual labor needs. Automating low-value tasks like storage retrieval and material transport keeps labor costs low and frees up human workers to perform more valuable tasks.
  • Maximize space. High-density storage solutions are associated with space savings up to 85%, better accommodating growth and SKU proliferation within an existing footprint.
  • Save energy. Automation saves energy by reducing the need to defrost, limiting access to refrigerated areas, and maximizing temperature-controlled storage space.
  • Speed up throughput. Automated systems transport materials more quickly than people can, with greater precision. They also support cost-effective lights-out operations and dark store fulfillment to keep up with demand, 24/7.
  • Increase fulfillment accuracy. Fewer opportunities for human error allow automated workflows to achieve nearly 100% fulfillment accuracy.

Is it Necessary to Automate Now?

Many supply chain businesses were planning to expand automation before the pandemic. In 2019, an industry survey indicated that 32% of supply chain professionals were already using automation or robotics, with an additional 39% expecting to adopt the technology within five years. Cost and ROI calculations were their biggest barriers.

Since then, COVID-19 disruption cemented the business case for automation. The pandemic revealed supply chain weaknesses, increased fulfillment demand, and made pre-existing labor shortages even worse. 80% of cold chain businesses indicated a 1-5% increase in operating costs in 2020. With already thin margins, 99% of cold chain businesses plan to maintain or increase automation investments as a direct response to the pandemic.

While every business is different, it is clear that integrated automation is the wave of the future. As cold chain automation becomes the norm, businesses that fail to keep up will struggle to compete.

Which Cold Chain Automation Technologies Offer the Best ROI?

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are among the best options for cold chain manufacturers, warehouses, and distributors who are ready to optimize or expand. These are highly configurable technologies that are proven to pay for themselves time and time again. They are also future friendly and flexible, integrating with existing automation systems and expanding to grow as business evolves.

AS/RS Solutions

AS/RS are ideal for facilities that manage high volumes of direct-to-consumer shipments or large quantities of cold goods. Single-deep and double-deep options can fulfill nearly any storage or buffering application.

  • Muratec Unit Load AS/RS systems maximize use of cubic space, with configurations and rack-supported heights from 19 ft (6 m) to 98 ft (30 m). Load capacity up to 3,300 lbs. Fewer personnel are needed to retrieve and store loads, and the increased safety promotes employee retention.

  • Muratec Mini Load AS/RS systems are comparatively small and fast, making them ideal for frozen foods, groceries, retail, and other cold storage needs for loads under 220 lbs. These systems accommodate multiple-handling of up to four units and can provide both high storage capacity and high throughput.

  • Muratec Uni-SHUTTLE HP AS/RS technology has market-leading throughput speed, traveling at 21 ft/sec and the capability of handling 2,400 moves per hour (total in and out combined). Shuttle vehicles travel independently on each level, improving system efficiency and maintainability.

AGV and Goods-to-Person (G2P) Picking Solutions

Automated vehicles control the movement of materials between processes or in and out of storage with cold chain-ready material transport systems.

Muratec Premex SLX AGVs with SLAM navigation are pragmatic transport solutions for handling pallet loads in narrow aisles within cold chain facilities. They are capable of achieving speeds up to 295 ft/min (90 m/min) with 360-turning, 2,200 lbs (1000kg) capacity, and maximum lifting height of 13 ft (4 m).

Muratec AGVE A Series AGVs are ideal for large, heavy loads, high racking, and very narrow aisles in food distribution, warehousing, and micro-fulfillment centers. They reach maximum speeds of 300-400 ft/min, capacity up to 11,000 lbs (5000 kg), and maximum lifting height of 34 ft (10.5 m), with bi-directional motion, with cameras and safety scanners on front, sides, and back. Standard lift-roller deck and narrow aisle configurations available.

For maximum benefit, AS/RS and AGV solutions can be integrated with automated picking. These solutions help warehouses and distribution centers prevent the loss of time and resources and minimize employee safety issues.

Learn More from Murata Machinery USA, Inc.

Murata Machinery USA offers one of the most comprehensive portfolios of tested cold chain storage and transport solutions on the market. We also assist in determining system ROI, maximizing systems within existing footprints, and ensuring a safe environment for your workforce.

Our cold chain solutions can be customized to support all temperature ranges and conditions across the entire supply chain, from pre-production to distribution, for greenfield and brownfield sites. To learn more, download the cold chain automation guide or contact us today.