The Voice of Reason: Hands Free in Cold Storage

Australian 3PLs and the food retail businesses they supply are all too aware of the need to ensure in-store stock levels are maintained. However, it is not uncommon to come across an empty shelf or freezer in a supermarket. At times, this can be linked to unsupplied stock due to warehouse discrepancies and challenges presented while delivering goods through the cold supply chain.

Perishable food products must be transported and stored at chilled temperatures to ensure they meet government food standards. Within medical environments, chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs must be stored and transported within specific temperature settings to maintain quality. Therefore an unbroken cold chain, meaning an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities maintained at a given temperature range, is of paramount importance to many industries across Australia.

Importantly, and what some Australian 3PLs and the retailers they work with are still not fully appreciating, is that just as coats, hats and gloves are essential for workers to function in cold storage areas; it is vital that the technology being used in these challenging materials handling environments is fit for purpose and supports workers throughout the order fulfilment process.

Standard retail-grade devices don’t perform at adequate levels when confronted with cold storage situations. LCD screens can freeze up, barcode readers will not function if frost or condensation covers their optical ports, and mobile computing batteries won’t release energy when temperatures drop below certain levels. These challenges contribute to situations whereby distribution centre (DC) pickers may resort to manual data entry – which severely reduces productivity and increases error rates – just to ensure that product tracking is occurring.

The cold, hard facts

Operating in cold storage environments requires technologies that offer workers the freedom of movement needed to complete their tasks efficiently in challenging situations. Voice picking technology is ideally suited to cold storage settings because it offers a hands-free, eyes-free, rugged design for increased productivity in cold operating environments.

Many warehouses have learnt the hard way that using paper-based picking and some hand-held computer or scanning technologies can lead to inefficiencies and inaccuracies in the cold chain picking process. This is due to the specific challenges faced in common product sorting and picking tasks due to both low temperatures and the protective clothing workers are required to wear in such settings.

When using paper-based systems in a cold storage setting, workers often find that even straightforward activities like writing on a piece of paper is very awkward and slow, if not nearly impossible, given they are often required to wear bulky gloves and clothing to protect themselves from the cold conditions. This means that pickers either have to remove their gloves when writing on order forms or try to complete vital product delivery forms without a proper grip on a pen, which can lead to incomprehensible writing and result in goods being shipped to the wrong customers.

With Voice technology, workers have both hands free to make the picks. Since they are not looking down with Voice, they can also continue to move while receiving instructions. They do not have to stop their walking or driving to read from paper or a screen improving their operational efficiency.

While there are a number of handheld scanner and mobile devices designed to withstand cold temperature operating environments, these are not without their operational challenges for warehouse workers. Keying vital product and delivery information into a mobile computer wearing gloves, even if they are larger keyed devices, is an enormous challenge – along with the fact that the worker constantly has to shift their line of vision between the mobile device in their hand and the product they are looking for.

The Voice terminal is typically worn comfortably under an operator’s coat. The Voice system also has noise-cancelling features that filter out high levels of noise from the fans and compressors blowing in cold temperature buildings. As a result, workers are comfortable and extremely productive.

A cool change

Pickers are usually not solely confined to cold environments and their job often requires them to roam in and out of refrigerated environments. This worker, if equipped with a mobile computer, would need a specialised solution (i.e. a mobile computer equipped with big buttons for use with gloves) which could potentially make things difficult back on the warehouse floor. And the dramatic swings in temperatures these workers experience as they move from the warehouse to the cold storage environment can lead to standard retail grade scanners and mobile devices seizing up. 

Alternatively, a Voice solution which is specifically built to operate in cold storage environments can be used across all warehouse functions by simply capturing lot or serial information, therefore eliminating the need to have separate solutions for different areas of the warehouse. Additionally, Voice systems overcome the need for specialty attributes, such as larger buttons, on hand-held computers. 

In a difficult working environment, it is essential that cold storage operators have the best tools for the job. Voice solutions improve worker productivity in cold storage environments – improving traceability, enhancing order accuracy and speeding up shipping times – while also being adaptable and applicable to other warehouse situations. 

DB Schenker opens Brisbane cold storage facility

Logistics service provider, DB Schenker is gearing up to expand its share of Queensland’s $88 billion import and export markets with the opening of a new freight forwarding facility to handle dry and perishable freight.

The new Eagle Farm facility at Trade Coast Central, 9 km from Brisbane’s International Airport, will enable the company to complement its existing dry freight handling capabilities with the inclusion of 1,100 sqm of cool rooms.

The addition of the cool rooms will enable the company to handle the import and export of healthcare and perishables products including meat, seafood, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, confectionery and pharmaceutical and medical supplies.

Schenker Australia CEO, Ron Koehler, said the facility represents a $10 million investment over the next ten years and comprises a 2,500 sqm warehouse and 800 sqm office with integrated cold chain facilities including anteroom, ambient temperature room, chiller and freezer.

“In the past year there was around $4.5 billion of beef, other meat, wheat and vegetables exported out of Queensland alone,” Koehler said.

“We are now in a position to be able to better serve this sector, as well as other commodities that are imported and exported out of South East Queensland by both air and ocean.

“At any given time this facility is able to hold 850 Australian Standard Pallets of stock in our ambient temperature room and 120 Australian Standard Pallets of stock in our chiller/freezer rooms, all of which are fitted with state of the art temperature monitoring.

“The facility has gained AQIS export accreditation for meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, plants and fruit and vegetables and is also well equipped for healthcare products.

“Our state of the art Eagle Farm facility is also well positioned to cater for normal retrieval and handling activities for import and export air and ocean freight.“

Koehler said the new facility was central to the growth strategy of the company, which last year concluded in celebrating 50 years in Australia, and enabled it to meet the logistics demands resulting from an expected increase in the State’s import and export of perishables and healthcare.

The facility is the second facility that the German head-quartered company opened in Queensland this year. In August it opened a warehouse facility at the Redbank Motorway Estate in Ipswich.

The Eagle Farm facility is strategically located, with it being adjacent to the airport and within close proximity to the cargo terminals as well as the main north-south arterial connecting Northern Rivers, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Burnet.

Koehler said the facility incorporated the most recent energy saving technologies and had been purpose built for the next ten years allowing DB Schenker to change its operations in line with changing market requirements. 

“One of the most important aspects is the 54 kilowatt roof mounted solar energy system that provides up to 30 per cent of the building’s electricity requirements. This solar energy system can be doubled as required as business in Queensland grows,” he said.

“The new Eagle Farm Trade Coast facility incorporates the most up-to-date thinking from around the vast DB Schenker world. “

Key features include:

  • Insulated warehouse prepared for Healthcare/Perishables
  • Uprated 54 kW solar energy system capable of expansion to 100 kW
  • Integrated building management system controlling all functions including on site generator for consistent electricity supply to cool rooms
  • Latest in environmental engineering incorporated into building design including upgraded air conditioning, double glazed windows, LED lighting throughout, recycled water used where applicable.

Pre-Christmas forklift fatality draws $175,000 fine

A County Court judge has convicted and fined a Laverton North cold storage company 
$175,000 after a worker died after being struck and killed by a forklift. 
A.B. Oxford Pty Cold Storage Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to workplace health and safety charges before Judge Michael Bourke.
WorkSafe’s investigation of the incident found the company did not have any adequate traffic management system in place when 38-year-old Stephen Peluso of Elwood was hit by a forklift and died on 13 April 2005.
Sentencing the company, Judge Bourke said there was:
  • a pressing back-log of material at the company’s warehouse that had to be moved or stored,
  • pedestrian walkways were crossed by forklifts and
  • as pallets of stock were stacked two high, visibility for forklift drivers was hindered.
He said the forklift driver bore no responsibility for the fatality and that the company’s managers should have known and identified risks which had existed, on and off, for some time.
Forklifts have been involved in the deaths of 56 people in Victoria since 1985. Of these 30 were pedestrians who were struck by a forklift (15) or a falling load (15). 
WorkSafe’s executive director John Merritt said with warehouses and businesses facing their busiest time of the year it was essential they had and enforced high standards of traffic management.
“There will be a lot of pressure to get stock in to and out of warehouses, shops and shopping centres in the next few weeks, that’s why having good traffic management which separates pedestrians and forklifts saves lives.
“A reflective vest is little protection against a forklift if the business does not have safe systems in place and if it does not ensure drivers are properly trained and licensed and using a seatbelt.
“At this time of year, many people in these environments are young and / or inexperienced.
They’re at risk if they’re not properly inducted and know the rules about working in areas with forklifts or being able to take shortcuts.
“Having safe forklift management practices reduces risks and ensures everyone will make it to Christmas and beyond.
“Six people have died at work as a result of crushing injuries this year. Although they have been in different working environments, most have involved machines.
“In the cases of so-called ‘near misses’ people should use it as a serious warning not just say ‘That was close.’
“It is not good enough to say ‘we’ve always done it this way and never had any problems’, you must understand the potential for injury or death and do something about it,” Mr Merritt said. 

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