Warehouse automation in refrigerated logistics

The corona pandemic in 2020 resulted in a disproportionally high growth in refrigerated logistics. People cooked at home more often and bought more frozen ingredients such as vegetables or fish. At the same time, demand for convenience grew.

Many companies are currently making investments in refrigerated logistics. Interest rates are low and whether COVID cases go up or down, people will always need to eat and drink. This makes the industry very stable and capable of withstanding external influences.

Long-term investments in new, automated warehouse structures are worthwhile. Two trends are currently shaping the face of grocery retail: centralisation and insourcing. The COOP project in Schafisheim is a good reflection of the former.

The Swiss company has centralised its freezer logistics - and merged three regional distribution centres into one. Moreover, this facility is also the regional warehouse for fresh goods for Northeast Switzerland. As a result, this building includes multiple temperature zones in its 240,000 square metres of total space.

Looking at the total cost of ownership Warehouse automation is particularly valuable in freezer logistics. Stringent requirements exist in food retailing.

The pick quality must be perfect, the deliveries must arrive on time and the refrigeration chain must be unbroken. Companies must be able to prove this without any gaps and at the touch of a button. Being less dependent on the labour market also provides additional peace of mind to many of those responsible for logistics.

Finding employees to staff freezer warehouses is nearly impossible in Western Europe. Working conditions are tough in the ice-cold temperatures. Employee turnover is high, despite the substantial wage premiums paid in many countries.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find, train and retain employees. Another complication is the amount of prescribed breaks, which means the workers are in the facility for a relatively short time compared to warehouses operated at room temperature. This is absolutely necessary for the work to be feasible and bearable over the long term.

However, it makes the business case for a manually operated refrigerated warehouse significantly weaker than the case for a non-refrigerated warehouse.