Compared to classic logistics with normal temperatures, cold chain logistics are challenging, expensive and complex at the same time. It is one of the most difficult types of logistics in the supply chain industry. The rapidly increasing demand for frozen foods and the requirement of maintaining an uninterrupted cold chain make logistics considerably more complicated. This makes processing orders quickly and efficiently crucial. Consequently, demand for innovative logistics solutions to speed up the handling and processing of orders is growing.
Low temperatures – a challenge for humans and technology
Working in subzero temperatures means extreme physical strain on warehouse employees. Not only due to the cold and the huge air conditioners that circulate cold air, but also owing to the very noisy environment. Because of these extreme working conditions, the turnover of employees in cold storage is particularly high. One of the most common comments of warehouse workers in cold storage is that bulky gloves and protective clothing severely restrict their movement. Warehouse workers report that they constantly have to take off their gloves to carry out their tasks. Whether it is entering information using a scanner or writing it on a pick list, gloves make simple tasks difficult. As a result, pickers have to resort to entering data manually, which greatly reduces productivity and significantly increases errors.
But warm clothing, caps and gloves are not the only things that are essential for employees working in cold storage. The technology used in these demanding environments is also crucial to success. Given the harsh environment, it is fundamental that it suits the purpose. Not only does the hardware have to remain functional for a long time in the cold, it also has to meet the needs of the warehouse workers. But normal equipment cannot be used properly in cold storage. Labels might not stick, causing them to peel off the boxes. Pens used for writing down the weights of goods are more likely to fail at -30° Celsius. The batteries of mobile computers stop working when the temperature drops below a certain level. Cold air, frost, and condensation – all these elements pose threats to mobile devices. Insulation, which is supposed to keep refrigerators and freezers cool, also causes problems with wireless connections.
The big picture
Above all, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. Food safety must be taken just as seriously by operational logistics companies as it is by agricultural and manufacturing companies. In the future, both parties’ responsibilities will increase even more, for example, the extensive legal deadline requirements for the traceability of food and feed. However, logistics is already heavily involved here, since it has to meet customers’ expectation of faster delivery, etc. Traceability places a heavy burden on logistics services, making transparency along the entire supply chain indispensable.
This provides challenges and opportunities, such as preparing processes flexibly and efficiently for the future. Intelligent software solutions that link IT networks play a significant role. In addition, suite providers have an advantage in providing comprehensive planning and control functions and optimization options with end-to-end solutions.
In this situation, the WMS (warehouse management system) is the decisive operational component. Being the IT core of the warehouse, it ensures that logistics processes in cold storage are transparent and optimally designed, so that actions are efficient, and peripherals can be integrated.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) – robots and humans, hand in hand
One example is the use of AMRs. Recently, AMR developments have uncovered new applications that might enable the use of this technology for goods-to-person processes even in areas with temperatures as cold as -25°C.
Autonomous robots are not widespread in cold storage yet, because the focus of the industry has largely been on ambient operations with excellent results.
However, this does not mean they are unsuited for this environment. We are waiting for innovative companies to think outside the box and thereby taking the first step. Due to further developments in these technologies, coupled with the growing challenges in logistics, it is only a matter of time before AMR conquers cold chain logistics.
Voice technology is well-established and has been used extensively in cold storage. With its hands-free/eyes-free approach, it gives employees maximum freedom of movement, leading to higher satisfaction. The warehouse worker is given clear instructions by voice through a wireless headset, and each step of the process is confirmed verbally. This enables employees to focus on their tasks and thus reduces picking errors by up to 80%. Voice devices are designed to operate at subzero temperatures and easily withstand temperatures as low as -30°C. The headsets and their terminals are sealed against moisture, and batteries last for a full shift – even in extreme temperatures. These are major benefits of these solutions.
By using voice in the warehouse, productivity can increase up to 30%. However, voice not only addresses the special requirements of individual industries, but also the growing challenges of labor shortages. Companies can still grow without hiring more employees by using voice solutions, as they are very flexible and scalable.
Growth through challenges
There is no doubt that the future of cold chain logistics depends on meeting its greatest challenges. It will do so with technologies that ensure traceability. And it must do this while complying with regulations and meeting growing customer expectations. But, as always, it all starts with a single challenge that one or more teams rise to every day. Investing in employee safety and happiness is the best way to future-proof logistics.
At Körber, Anton du Preez oversees sales and marketing efforts to help customers reduce their supply chain complexity through voice, vision, and mobility solutions. He also builds strategic partnerships within these spaces to push what’s possible and create a more dynamic, integrated future for supply chain logistics. Anton brings over 10 years of leadership in sales and business development to Körber from Voiteq, a voice-based business which is now under the Körber brand.