Deep freeze logistics in best form


Stöcklin Logistik automates Germany's largest "deep freeze"

What is to date the largest fully automated operating deep-freeze warehouse in Germany has been installed at the premises of KLM Logistik Rheine. The focal points of the installation are a high-bay warehouse with 68,400 pallet spaces under extremely cold conditions and a packing center. Thanks to this extension, storage capacities have been increased by something like 300% at the Rheine location. The delivery quality has once again been significantly improved and the daily handling performance has increased by around 5,000 pallets.

The client, the NewCold Corporate Group, has invested a total of 40 million Euros in the installation, which operates 3 shifts 360 days round the clock. Due to the adverse weather conditions in the winter of 2012/2013, the construction work had to be interrupted on several occasions. Nevertheless, Germany's largest "deep-freeze” for storage of frozen food and ice-cream was successfully built in a record-breaking 14 months and went into operation the end of May 2013. A 38 m high landmark, which is visible for miles around and into which trucks dock in every few minutes, was erected. Behind all this, there is a highly sophisticated logistics system, which runs even under realistic arctic-type environmental temperatures of -23°C at the highest levels of output.

New platform with total of 90,000 storage locations

When frozen food and ice-cream arrive at the chilled distribution depots of the food trade and then finally on the plates of consumers, they have quite a history of movements behind them. Responsibility for this lies not only with the producers themselves, but also with logistic services companies such as KLM Logistik. Since start-up of the the new “deep freeze”, developed and constructed in a cooperative effort headed by NewCold, the NewCold affiliate, KLM Logistik in Rheine Germany operates the largest and highest performance platform for handling frozen food and ice-cream. If one includes the already existing pallet spaces, there is now a capacity for a total of 90,000 pallet spaces. "This figure corresponds to a total volume of some 2,800 complete truckloads", explains Georg Grewe, Managing Director of KLM Logistik. If you calculate that one arrives at a length of almost 50 km.

At the forefront, in relation to the planning and design are aspects such as capacity and performance increases as well as improved energy efficiency. All of these have been achieved by means of highly extensive automation of the processes. Covering a surface area of 14,000 m², the complex includes office and engineering areas, refrigerated ramps, a fully automated, 38 m high high-bay warehouse (HRL), processing areas for goods inward and outward and a partially automated packing center.

High demands for availability, output and energy efficiency

"Our task was then to produce a system that was outstanding in terms of availability and performance", reports Patrick de Breet, NewCold's responsible Project Manager. "But sustainability was also an important aspect, since deep-freeze logistics is, by its nature, exceptionally energy intensive." Particular attention had to be given to the building physics and cooling technology, as well as to the intra-logistic system components.

Following a call for tender, Stöcklin Logistik AG then concentrated its efforts on an overall concept, which required completely meeting the mandatory specifications. The supply and performance included eleven fully-automated stacker cranes, the complete material handling technology as well as, amongst other things, a portal robot, a labeler and a stretcher. "On the one hand, we were convinced by the power and energy values, particularly those of Stöcklin's stacker cranes", continues de Breet. "But also the experience that we have been able to accumulate over many years with the company positively influenced our decision."

Automated processes start in stock receiving

Two of the continuously chilled ramps on which the trucks dock in are equipped with automatic unloading systems from Asbreuk Service B.V., Oldenzaal, by means of which the delivery trucks can be unloaded within only 2 minutes instead of the normal 30 minutes. This reduces waiting times and lowers CO2 emissions. The driver brings his truck to a halt in front of the docking station and starts the unloading process manually from the control stand. The quick-opening gate then opens, the conveyor folds down and automatically takes over the loading.

The related material handling technology is equipped with integrated scanner stations. The bar codes that have been applied to the pallets are identified, inspected and communicated to the warehouse management system (LVS) via these inspection points prior to going into the high-bay warehouse (HRL). The upstream material handling technology which connects the high-bay warehouse (HRL) via a buffer also with the packing center and the finished goods lines to the dispatch, is composed of roller and chain conveyors, turntables and transfer areas. At a conveying height of 1,200 mm, both Chep, Euro 1 and Euro 2 pallets up to a total weight of 1,200 kg can be transported.

In in this area and in the high-bay warehouse (HRL), constant temperatures of -23°C are maintained. "With this, we are in excess of the minimum requirement of -18°C and at the same time still below the possible -28°C", says Georg Grewe, KLM's Managing Director. "In this way, we are keeping energy costs within limits and still have some 'Leeway' upwards. "This means that the technology also has to be capable of withstanding such icy cold. "All standard components of Stöcklin have to be adapted for use in deep-freeze warehouses with temperatures down to -30°C", emphasizes Thierry Briswalter, Stöcklin's responsible Project Manager. "This affects not just the mechanics but also the electronic components as well as cables, oils and grease."

Ice-cold and developed in rapid cycle

Installed on a surface area of approximately 8,500 m², the deep-freeze high-bay warehouse (TK-HRL) is fitted with 68,400 pallet spaces in eight aisles. These are operated respectively by a 36 m high stacker crane (RBG) from the MASTer product series. The single mast stacker cranes (RBG) accelerate at 0.45 m/s2 and reach travel speeds of up to 4.0 m/s. 54 individual cycles are achieved per unit and hour.

This performance is supported by channel vehicles. The satellite system is driven by the respective stacker crane (RBG) in front of a channel of the rack and travels from there horizontally inwards in order either to store a pallet or to retrieve it as per the FiFo principle. "Our machines are high performers but also extremely energy efficient, by for example the energy which is produced during the braking action of the machine being fed back again via the link coupling into the other drive systems", adds Briswalter.

To reduce the fire hazard the deep freeze high bay storage facility (TK-HRL) is fully inertized, meaning, the oxygen content is reduced from 21 to 16% so that no explosive atmospheres can develop. The separation between the high-bay warehouse (HRL) and the pre-storage area has been created by means of an airlock.

Rapid supply of the mixing area

The packing process is a specialty of KLM Logistik. The so-called "Mixing" process covers the collection of multipacks in collapsible boxes and tins in accordance with specific requirements of the retail chains or retailers. These tasks are undertaken in the adjacent partially-automated packing center.

After being handed over, the pallets arrive in the specially configured mixing buffer which is arranged based upon a capacity of 434 pallet places. These are also supplied and disposed of with a stacker crane (RBG) MASTer 12 L equipped with a channel vehicle. There are four workstations built into the material handling technology that is connected to this. Two of these operate automatically and the other two are manually operated.

The packing is separated from the mixing buffer by means of an air conditioning lock, in which the temperatures are maintained at a comparatively mild +5 °C. "Thanks to the partial automation, a rapid throughput of a maximum of 20 minutes is ensured, so that the sensitive goods cannot be damaged and the closed cooling chain is thoroughly safeguarded", says Thierry Briswalter, Stöcklin's responsible Project Manager.

Solutions for a multiplicity of tasks

With respect to the partially automated packing system, the full pallets are taken over by a traveling trolley, brought to the picking station and there are passed onto non drive roller conveyors. By means of the use of gravitational force, the full pallets roll finally to the discharge position. It is technically possible that a second pallet can be delivered to the same place and a separation process creates adequate space.

After the removal of the required cartons, customer-specific containers are located on the picking tables. The work areas are created taking the ergonomic viewpoints into account. The working height can be variably adjusted and a maximum permissible weight has been defined for the containers for convenient handling.

The ready packed cartons run through the labeler that is equipped with an integral printer and are then further conveyed to the storage line-up station. This cell comprises a robot which is equipped with a Venetian blind gripper for gentle handling and is supplied via two line-up stations with different layers of cartons. There are two pallet spaces available on which the robot can accordingly dispose the layers. In order to be able to position the different layer patterns centrally on the load carriers, the material handling technology is equipped with three stop positions. Which layer pattern is active, or rather which stop position must be driven to with the empty pallet will be specified by the material flow computer.

As soon as a pallet is completely formed, it is conveyed on to the stretching installation. The latter receives via the material flow computer (MFR) the tasks for the stretching program and automatically reads these in. After checking by the photoelectric barriers, the stretching process starts and the pallet is processed in a fully automated manner at its overall height with foil. The packing process is quantified by workstation at up to 800 cartons per hour. Palletization enables the handling of up to 1,600 cartons per hour. The ready packed pallet is finally labeled by fully automated means and conveyed into the warehouse.

Targets achieved, market position extended

The pallet receipt into the warehouse area is correspondingly high. Here both the customer-specific and the homogeneous pallets are provided from the high-bay warehouse (HRL) on 66 accumulation roller conveyors via retrieval tracks erected on two levels. The conveyed pallets are transferred via the retrieval tables of the high-bay warehouse (HRL) onto the material handling technology and channeled to the upstream buffer warehouse. There the load carriers are received by two further, 12 m high MASTer stacker cranes (RBG) and put into intermediate storage according to requirements. With travel speeds of up to 3.0 m/s and acceleration figures of 0.8 m/s2, the unit also generates tempo and in this respect achieves 124 individual cycles per hour. They are then removed by stacker and delivered to the trucks, which have docked in at one of 11 loading stations. "In peak periods currently an average of 4.500 pallets leaves the plant day for day“, says Patrick de Breet of NewCold. A proud performance which can completely meet requirements based upon an extremely high demand for ice-cream during the summer months.

Overall the persons responsible for the project appear to be happy and even a little proud of their achievement. "We have clearly once again improved the service and delivery quality for our customers“, says Georg Grewe, Logistics Manager of KLM. The decision to work together with Stöcklin Logistik has been an important factor. "From our point of view, it was a follow-up order for the Swiss company", says Patrick de Breet. "We have previously already had good experience both with the technology as well as with the performance readiness and capability of the employees. All of this has now been repeated and our confidence has been confirmed."

Competitive advantages are opening up for KLM Logistik thanks to increased capacities, accelerated processes and customer-related services. In addition, a more rapid and at the same time secure development is possible. But one thing is also not unimportant: "Sustainability was for us a quite important subject naturally also in view of the increasing energy prices. Compared to conventional refrigerated warehouses, we have implemented this very efficiently, because the stored pallets are consuming some 50% less energy", says Grewe. If you calculate this, it means that the annual CO2 emissions are being reduced by approximately 4,000 tons.