Tag Archives: shipping

Derek Rickard, Cimcorp Automation Ltd.
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Up to Speed: How Automated Order Picking Protects Product Freshness

By Derek Rickard
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Derek Rickard, Cimcorp Automation Ltd.

Today’s food producers and retailers are in a constant race against time. This race starts within the four walls of the distribution center, where products must move from receiving, through storage and dispatch—with high speed and accuracy. While the goal (or finish line) is to get these products to stores as fast as possible and meet consumer expectations, speed of delivery also plays a vital role in ensuring the quality of foods—particularly easily perishable ones like fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, certain dairy products and baked goods.

Namely, efficient product flow means companies can meet shorter lead times and thereby deliver fresher, safer food—with longer shelf lives—to market. It’s a seemingly easy concept, yet many organizations continue to stumble as a result of ongoing operational challenges that slow distribution down, especially in facilities that continue to utilize manual order picking.

Major challenges include:

  • Continued reliance on physical labor with fulfillment speed highly dependent on the endurance of individual employees.
  • SKU proliferation due to product diversification, where facilities must now store and manage more products than ever before in a seemingly shrinking amount of space.
  • Seasonal spikes in business that require order picking staff to work harder and often longer hours to keep up with the influx of orders.

For organizations struggling to address these challenges and meet the need for speed in distribution, now is an opportune time to look at automation. There are now robotic order picking systems that can store, retrieve and move products effortlessly through a facility, ensuring rapid handling and very short lead times.

By choosing to automate, food producers and retailers can realize numerous benefits, including the following.

1. Accelerated Order Fulfillment

Naturally a robotic system can assemble orders and prepare them for outbound shipping far faster than humanly possible. Thus, an automated distribution center is often up to six times more efficient than a manual one. Notably, there are systems now that integrate order picking and product handling in a single solution, rather than separate functions (as traditionally done but which is too slow for fresh food distribution).

Such a system can perform both buffer storage and order picking in one simultaneous operation for significant time savings. Facilities can thereby prepare orders closer to the time of a truck’s arrival, instead of hours in advance. Foods then spend less time in transport and can maintain their quality and consistency. This also helps to reduce chances of spoilage, which in turn cuts back on waste and the supply chain’s impact on the environment.

2. Improved Ergonomics and Workplace Safety

In distribution centers that rely solely on manual order picking, employees have to run up and down long stretches of aisles and lift heavy crates or boxes. In addition to being inefficient, such manual operations make order picking a strenuous and injury-prone job. The risks for injury have only helped further the labor shortage problem seen nationwide, as job seekers show declining interest in material handling careers.

But when automated systems take over the majority of order picking processes, there is less human involvement—which can help fill in any gaps left by labor shortages. Order fulfillment speed also becomes less dependent on the physical capabilities of employees. Existing staff can then be elevated into new roles in managing and overseeing automated systems. These are safer and far more enriching positions that can draw a whole new pool of technical talent.

3. Better Space Utilization

As mentioned, there is a growing trend towards product diversification, where companies are now offering more options to consumers, such as additional sizes, flavors and health-conscious choices. As a result, the number of SKUs in most distribution centers is exploding. Some facilities once designed to house a few hundred SKUs are now dealing with thousands, leaving little room to spare.

Those challenged by SKU proliferation can consider an overhead robotic system that uses high-density, floor-based storage, where goods are stacked on the warehouse floor. This eliminates the need for racking or traveling around aisles. Plus, it reduces the number of movements required to pick an order. Facilities can store more products within their existing space, offsetting the costs of possible new construction. An overhead robotic system can also clear all products from the warehouse floor for easy, hygienic cleaning.

4. Flexibility to Keep Up During Seasonal Peaks

In all consumer goods industries, there are times of the year when demand spikes and orders come pouring in. For the food industry, companies tend to see spikes during the holiday season and in the summer months—times when people commonly host get-togethers.

Seasonal peaks can take a heavy toll on manual warehouse operations. Some try to hire temporary employees to get by, but that comes with challenges in providing proper training in a short span of time. But automated systems—particularly those with a modular design—are flexible and scalable, enabling facilities to adjust their number of robots to meet fluctuations in order volume—during seasonal highs and lows.

A notable example of a food company that is successfully leveraging automation is grocery leader Kroger. Namely, Kroger wanted to develop a state-of-the-art, automated plant and distribution center to achieve many of the benefits discussed above, including ensuring product quality and reducing employee risks of injury.

Built in Denver, Colorado, Kroger’s “Mountain View Foods” facility processes fresh conventional and organic milk, and packages aseptically processed milk, creams and juices. Within Mountain View Foods, Kroger has installed an end-to-end automated system that can store up to 36,000 crates and pick 32,000 crates per day. Cases are picked according to specified sequences on one end of the facility and then palletized for truck loading at the other, with significant storage buffering in between.

Cimcorp, Kroger, Automation
Having installed an end-to-end automated system, Kroger benefits from orders picked with 100-percent accuracy, at faster speeds, which results in shorter lead times and optimal product freshness for shoppers. Image courtesy of Cimcorp.

A warehouse control system (WCS) controls all robotic movements and serves as the brains behind the automation. The software also collects data on each processed order, giving Kroger traceable information to meet food safety requirements. Kroger benefits from orders picked with 100-percent accuracy, at faster speeds, which results in shorter lead times and optimal product freshness for shoppers.

Kroger’s story demonstrates the power of automation in enabling more streamlined order fulfillment. Those that choose to automate can overcome the many challenges that inhibit efficient product flow and thereby bolster their supply chain velocity. Simply put, faster fulfillment means fresher products in stores. And, fresher products are safer products for consumers to enjoy.

Marc Pegulu, Semtech
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Increasing Food Safety and Spoilage Prevention in the IoT Era

By Marc Pégulu
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Marc Pegulu, Semtech

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it is estimated that nearly one third of the food produced (about 1.3 billion tons) globally is not consumed. To help tackle this billion-dollar problem, an innovative solution is being deployed to detect one of the key factors driving food waste: Spoilage due to fluctuations in temperature.

To get to the dinner table, food must travel great lengths to preserve that farm fresh quality. Refrigerated shipping units and storage facilities are essential to reducing bacteria growth and by using an automated smart-refrigeration solution, a food-safe environment can be maintained throughout the journey with little supervision. Traditional food temperature monitoring is reliant on staff to periodically check temperature levels and make adjustments as necessary. This process is not scalable, meaning that with a larger facility or an increased number of food displays, it becomes increasingly labor intensive and inefficient. If employees are preoccupied, periodic check-ins may be delayed or missed entirely, leading to gaps where temperature fluctuations are not addressed, opening the door for increased bacteria growth and food waste.

LoRa fights food waste
LoRa devices and LoRaWAN protocol are being integrated into smart refrigeration solutions to fight food waste. Image courtesy of Semtech.

To solve this issue, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can be deployed in shipping vehicles, displays, refrigerators, and storerooms to provide accurate and consistent monitoring of temperature data. When a temperature fluctuation occurs, the sensors will send a signal to a low power, wide area network (LPWAN) gateway application. The information is then relayed to a network server, where it is routed to application servers or Cloud IoT services. The data is then processed and sent to the end user through a desktop or smartphone application. What’s more, in the event of a power outage, these long range, low power wireless enabled IoT devices are battery powered and consume minimal energy, allowing for consistent off-grid temperature tracking.

These connected devices can be found globally in a variety of use cases ranging from quick service restaurants to full service grocery stores, with an end goal of ensuring appropriate temperature levels for food. To support connectivity for these devices, an open network protocol is used to ensure the devices can be scalable and globally deployed. Two recent use cases where the long range, low power wireless devices and LoRaWAN protocol were used to actively monitor temperature fluctuations are Axino Solutions (Axino) and ComplianceMate.

Axino recently integrated LoRa devices and LoRaWAN protocol into its line of smart refrigeration solutions with the goal of combatting food waste. The solution combines sensor technology with automated data communication providing a substantial increase in measurement quantity and quality. Additionally, stores found a significant reduction in metering and operating costs after sensor deployment. This smart refrigeration solution has been globally deployed and is currently used by Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain, Migos. Axino’s sensors can be quickly installed, utilizing a magnet to attach to a refrigerator’s infrastructure. The sensors monitor temperature in real time, are accurate to one degree Celsius and can be pre-programmed to adjust refrigerator temperatures to ensure that food is stored in a safe environment. By having access to real time data and automatic temperature adjustment, supermarkets were able to eliminate human error, prolong shelf life and pass energy savings off to the customers.

The challenge for any wirelessly connected device is the presence of physical barriers that will block signals. Steel doors, concrete and insulation are some of the key considerations when developing a smart solution, especially in restaurants using large freezers. ComplianceMate partnered with Laird Connectivity and found that devices on a LoRaWAN-based network produces a more reliable signal than its Bluetooth counterpart. This IoT solution has been deployed in some of your favorite restaurant chains such as Shake Shack, Five Guys, Hard Rock Café, City Barbeque, and Hattie B’s and has already proved to be a huge asset. For instance, a sensor deployment saved $35,000 to $50,000 worth of inventory in a Hattie B’s location when downtown Nashville experienced a sudden power outage in 2018. The LoRa-based alert system immediately notified store management, allowing them to act quickly and prevent food spoilage.

Reducing global food spoilage is a monumental task. From farms to grocery stores and restaurants, technology must play a critical role, ensuring food remains at a safe temperature, preventing unnecessary spoilage. In the era of connectivity, businesses will turn to LoRa-based IoT deployments for its flexibility, durability and ability to provide real-time information to employees and decision makers to not only maintain strict industry standards in food safety, but to also pass savings on to their valued customers.

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Risk in Our Supply Chain: Where Do We Start?

By Traci Slowinski
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FSMA has arrived with the launch of the first two preventive control rules – Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human and Animal Food (or cGMP and HARPC, for short). With these new FSMA rules, the food and beverage industry will now be held accountable for being more proactive versus reactive, and will be responsible for identifying and managing risk throughout their supply chain. Of course, this emphasis on risk can also be seen in other sectors of the industry (i.e., GFSI and ISO), and risk has become the focal point for a number of compliance initiatives.

Supply chain challenges in food safety
Supply chain challenges in food safety (Click to enlarge)

These days a number of supply chain challenges are driving risk. Continued global expansion of the industry is resulting in more import and export activities. We are seeing consumer food trends shift toward riskier food/preparation options. Regulatory agencies continue to work on improving their food safety requirements. And the growing population is putting more demands on our current resources. All of these factors equates to great risk within all stages of the supply chain.

Therefore, it will be important that you understand what risk management entails and have the right tools to identify, assess and control the risks that you find throughout your supply chain.

So where do we start looking for risk? Here are a few examples of where your risk assessments should be performed:

External Partners. You need to build strategic relationships with your external partners (suppliers, contract manufacturers/co-packers, service providers, carriers, etc.) across the supply chain. Building trust through good communication and collaboration is essential to ensure that you can rely on your partners to do the right thing for both parties.

RiskAssessmentSupplyChainRaw Materials. Many hazards can be introduced into a facility through raw materials—whether we are talking about raw ingredients, packaging materials, chemicals, or other components used to produce your product. Some hazards to assess include pathogens, allergens, chemical residues, pests and foreign material.

Storage and Handling. When looking at risk during storage and handling, it is important to address several hazards including allergen control, temperature control, foreign material control, proper segregation and product flow.

Processing. A number of areas in processing can introduce hazards and therefore should be included in your risk assessment. These include improper sanitation, cross contamination/contact potential, foreign material contamination, critical control point deviations, pre-requisite program failures and mislabeling.

Shipping and Transport. Lastly, you must safeguard your shipping and transportation procedures in order to account for any potential risk once the product has left your facility. Areas to consider during your risk assessment include temperature control, condition and sanitation of truck and storage units, loading/unloading practices, security/tampering potential, accident/emergency recovery, and traceability.

For more information on risk management within the food and beverage supply chain, register to attend the free webinar “Supply Chain Management: Does What I Eat Put Me at Risk” on October 28, 2015. Speakers will discuss risk throughout the supply chain, focusing on supplier management and some of the new FSMA requirements. They will provide an overview of risk management and some of the tools that can be used to identify and assess risk. In addition, they will discuss how technology can help companies meet FSMA requirements.