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In twenty-first century, along with the tremendous development of the Information Technology (IT), we are witnessing a speedy development of the Logistics and Supply Chain sector. It goes without saying that ‘cold storages’ form an integral part of this sector. For a common person the word ‘cold storage’ creates an impression of a warehouse, which is kept cold through refrigeration. As per Merriam-Webstar’s definition, “(A cold storage) is a storage (as of food) in a cold place for preservation.” The Free Dictionary also echoes almost the same thing, it says, “(A cold storage) is the storage of things in an artificially cooled place for preservation.”

However, literally speaking, today a ‘cold storage’s’ definition extends far beyond these technically, because a lot of other aspects such as effective space utilisation, energy conservation, ergonomics, proper refrigeration/ventilation, human safety & comfort, loss prevention, green design and so on… are to be considered during a cold storage design. Modern industries’ demands are varied, and obviously depending on the need, a ‘cold storage’s’ design has to include the ways to address the specific needs. Especially, in today’s situation sensitive products often not only just need cooling, those need cooling within a particular temperature range.

The purpose of this article is to look into the different aspects that are taken into consideration to design, construct and operate a ‘cold storage’ efficiently in a truly productive and automated way. The observation is completely from the journalistic angle with respect to some recent projects, developments and software application, thus it may not include the debatable technical ins and outs. It is just to bring out the aspects that are being considered while conceiving, planning and executing such an ultra-modern project.

A hi-tech cold storage warehouse

Imperial has recently allotted a R160 million (Approx.: US$ 115,682,000) contract to Resolve Capacity (one of its group companies) to design and project manage the development of a state-of-the-art, 25,500 m2 cold storage warehouse in Linbro Park, Johannesburg. While talking about the utility of the project, Arno Haigh, Director, Resolve Capacity, says, “The facility will meet the company’s need for additional storage space. Its development comes on the heels of Imperial’s recently concluded contract with McCain, which will see the group distributing some 190,000 tons of frozen vegetables annually, as well as providing world-class warehousing for the frozen foods leader.”

He adds further, “Resolve Capacity has been contracted to design and manage this challenging retrofit to a brand new building, to change its usage from ambient to freezer facilities at typical -20° Celsius. To meet the needs of Imperial Cold Logistics and McCain, we will deliver a customised cold storage facility with six high density storage areas, two standard racking chambers ranging from -20° to -30° Celsius, and receiving and despatch areas at either +2° or -8° Celsius.”

According to him, “Excellent space utilisation and high pallet density will be achieved through the use of mobile and static racking systems.” He also notes that the optimisation of space is crucial due to the high cost of refrigerated storage, and says this facility will achieve 2.2 pallets per m².

Highlighting the commercial and managerial aspects of the project, Haigh informs, “Resolve Capacity will manage tender evaluation and awarding, and thereafter, design and implement coordination between the construction team and developer. This integration is critical due to the bespoke nature of the facilities.” So, it’s not only the technical aspects, the managerial tasks also present challenges that need to be sorted out with appropriate pre- or continued planning.

As procurement and installation, managing the fit out of the facility, site services, flow and reticulation, and co-ordinating the insulation, refrigeration and fire prevention systems, will also be undertaken by Resolve Capacity, they need to pre-conceive the possible glitches and plan the workflow with anticipatory precautions.

In addition to the challenges associated with repurposing an ambient new warehouse to a customised freezer storage warehouse, Resolve Capacity will be working against the clock on this project. “We are working with some very aggressive project timelines, while co-ordinating and integrating multiple contractor programmes and ensuring the facility’s quality compliance with world-class cold storage standards,” he reveals.

Sustainability is a key element of this project and Resolve Capacity’s facility design incorporates green building initiatives that include water harvesting from condensation, rain water harvesting and a water treatment plant. “In addition, the warehouse features a low cost and highly efficient ammonia refrigeration plant, which capitalises on ammonia’s benefits as a natural, green refrigerant gas,” Haigh points out. Low energy, high efficiency light fittings and occupation activated lighting also form part of the facility’s green design.

Other significant features of the warehouse are its hi-tech security systems and innovative fire protection system. “Maximum storage flexibility for various pallet sizes has been achieved by utilising gas type fire protection versus a dry pipe sprinkler,” Haigh elaborates, and notes this will be the second largest facility in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) protected by a non-lethal fire extinguishing gas.

Benefits of software deployment in a cold storage

Dubai-based real estate developer, Union Properties (UPP), has recently upgraded and expanded its warehouse management system of the ‘cold-storage’ facility with a capacity of 2,500 pallet spaces and double-deep racking system. Union Properties provides a fully comprehensive service of its own facilities including the operation of ‘cold-storage,’ the facility offers 7,000 metric tons of refrigerated space and a further area of 15,000 square metres of dry warehousing units that can accommodate any consignment large or small.

UPP has implemented the Warehouse Management System LFS in the ‘cold-storage’ operations; the LFS has been designed by warehouse experts Ehrhardt + Partner Solutions (EPS) that provides customised solutions to warehousing needs.

While commenting on the benefits of the Warehouse Management System (WMS), Ahmed Al Marri, General Manager, UPP says, “We are planning to appoint a contractor to convert the existing warehouse to accommodate another 1,800 pallet spaces. The introduction of LFS system that has been recently added in the ‘cold storage’ was really essential to improve the existing technology from manual to system-driven, and it will definitely facilitate the process related to ‘cold storage’ services.”

Union Properties decided to invest in third party logistics business where they store the goods for multiple customers. With LFS implemented in the cold-store facility, it is perfect solution to improve the operation of storage with continuous movement of pallets from inbound to outbound and the logistics services are fully controlled. Sandro Wienke, Cold-Store Manager of Cold-Store says, “As a result of the LFS implementation, most of the warehouse movements are quicker and we have achieved good tracking of goods and accurate inventory control. We are confident to further expand our business portfolio through flexible and future-oriented logistics solutions.”

Technology for active fire prevention

The Belgium bakery group “La Lorraine serves the whole of Europe with its deep-frozen bakery products. The company is characterised by constant growth – and has built two new high-bay warehouses in Europe within two years. In August 2013 the high-bay cold storage in the Czech town of Kladno has been launched. The active fire prevention system OxyReduct (Wagner Group) protects both the premises against failures or damage caused by fire.

The basic idea behind the innovative fire prevention concept OxyReduct: Action rather than reaction which means preventing a fire before it even starts instead of fire extinguishing. Failures can have catastrophic effects on the supply chain, especially in the field of logistics where every second counts. This can have a massive impact on the entire company as well as on its trade partners. Even small fires could contaminate goods with smoke or particles of soot, rendering them unsellable. This can result in supply shortfalls, loss of customers and can also damage the company’s reputation substantially.

OxyReduct is based on a simple principle: a fire always needs sufficient fuel, (heat) energy and oxygen. If the ambient oxygen concentration is being reduced, a fire cannot propagate as the fire will lack the air it needs. It will choke instantly. OxyReduct generates the nitrogen needed to reduce the oxygen level directly from the ambient air. The generated nitrogen will be led into the area to be protected – and will reduce the oxygen to the predefined level. In this fire retardant atmosphere stored goods and logistic processes are well and reliably protected against fire.
The system is suitable for use in food storages and deep-freezer areas, where water-based systems due to extremely low temperatures, and the risk of contaminating the goods are being stretched to their limits.

Conclusion

Each of the above references, highlight several important aspects that need to be considered during planning of a cold storage facility. Space optimisation is a top priority in today’s cold storage planning, especially in cities where realty price is sky high. Mere best design is not enough, at every stage of construction right co-ordination with various teams involved is very important.

Today’s busy cold storage facilities should have provision to maintain temperature ranges although they may subject to frequent open/close because of continuous inward/outward movement of the goods. Manual handling is no longer possible in modern cold storages, wherein deployment of IT and automation technologies are imperative. For loss prevention, there are different technologies that need to be adopted. As far as a chance of fire accident is concerned, prevention is always better than extinguishing it when broken out, so on site provision is always welcome.