Warehouse managers everywhere are under pressure. Even cold storage operations are feeling the heat. Managers are being challenged to fit more SKUs into existing space, turn their inventory faster and squeeze more productivity out of their existing assets. All the while, warehouse operations must be prepared for potential business disruptions caused by both internal and external forces and deal with changing consumer expectations for more variety and immediate availability in their grocery options.
How can managers of refrigerated and frozen food warehouses keep up with day-to-day business, address these growing challenges and avoid being left out in the cold? One solution is to use new forklift technology that helps deal with common issues, such as increasing energy costs and harsh operating conditions, that are encountered in low-temperature warehouse environments,
Here are four suggestions for increasing productivity in cold storage environments:
1. Find Opportunities to Increase Storage and Transport Density
Moving as much product as possible as quickly as possible often requires that space is utilized as efficiently as possible. In many cases, it may be more efficient to retrieve product stored in higher locations than having to travel further to retrieve product in expanded areas of the warehouse. Increasing storage height is also typically less costly than expanding footprint and the increased density of product within the existing warehouse space eliminates airspace that cause cooling inefficiencies.
While expanding storage vertically comes with many benefits, it does require warehouse equipment that is capable of handling typical loads at the increased height. Additionally, when trading vertical travel for horizontal travel, performance and safety considerations such as travel speed and visibility still must be considered. It is important to look for equipment that is designed to handle high capacity loads at height. Additional features that optimize lift and lower speeds and safety options, such as cameras that enable operators to view loads at height, can also help boost productivity.
Many of today’s forklifts are designed to perform these tasks without outriggers that require wider aisles that allow for two-way travel. Some equipment may even allow for narrowing the aisle width while handling the extra height, which could provide enough gains to add an additional aisle of racking to the warehouse.
2. Improve Battery Performance
Lead acid batteries are a critical component of a forklift fleet that can serve as a source of productivity or frustration depending on how they are managed. When well-managed, batteries can improve an operation’s productivity through extended run times and longer lifecycles. Certain forklift features can contribute to this success. For instance, some forklifts feature regenerative lowering technology, which recaptures energy when the mast is lowered and delivers it back to the battery. Other forklifts may feature larger battery boxes that can accommodate batteries with increased capacity.
Battery chargers also feature software-driven onboard intelligence that monitors performance and battery conditions. When used in conjunction with a battery monitoring module, the charger can read battery temperature and voltage and provide precise control over the charge profile to ensure the battery is charged optimally.
3. Capitalize on Connected Technologies
New technology is evolving the role of the forklift from just a machine that moves product to a mobile information technology hub. This enables managers to identify improvement opportunities rooted in actual data.
The first step in the process is utilizing a fleet and operator management system to capture and gain visibility into a wide range of operational data, including impact history, battery usage, OSHA compliance, and service needs. Managers can use this data not only to understand their overall fleet utilization but also to compare utilization and productivity among individual forklifts and operators throughout the fleet. This information is critical in determining where improvement opportunities exist and what level of resources are needed for efficient performance.
4. Consider Operator Comfort and Safety to be Paramount
Outside of occasional breaks and battery changes, operators spend the biggest portion of their shift on a forklift. They interact with it hundreds, if not thousands, of times each shift and the nature of those interactions has a tremendous effect on warehouse productivity and safety. The forklift should be designed to make these interactions as efficient as possible. This is especially true in refrigerated and frozen food warehouses, where temperatures as low as -20°F can limit the amount of time operators can work in the environment. Features such as power steering can help operators maneuver more efficiently in the cold and ultimately reduce soreness and fatigue accumulated during the shift.
Another option that can help operators to work comfortably and productively throughout their shift is a cold store cabin. When designed ergonomically around the operator, these cabins not only maintain warmth in the cabin but also promote operator comfort. Cabins with designs that are optimized for visibility can also boost productivity in cold storage environments, where pedestrians and operators may not see or hear as well. In many cases, the addition of a cabin helps provide important operator confidence that contributes to improved performance.
Any warehouse manager pressured to increase productivity and find ways to do more with less would do well to consider the opportunities available within the forklift fleet. A combination of informed decisions can help increase storage and transport density, improve battery performance and leverage connected technologies to optimize fleet utilization. And additional focus on operator comfort and safety can also inspire a new level of confidence in operators. With the full support of the team and the right tools, a manager who previously was feeling the heat to improve might actually approach the task with a very “chill” attitude.