Frozen-food distribution is one of the most demanding applications for automated material handling equipment. Subzero temperatures, often down to -22 °F, are necessary to preserve product integrity. However, they also take an extreme toll on equipment and workers.
Mechanical breakdowns, especially when coupled with reduced employee productivity, can halt the entire distribution process, resulting in product damage and financial losses.
One European frozen-food distributor was able to maintain the necessary climate control, reduce employee exposure to subzero temperatures and automate its processes at the same time.
Migros Verteilbetrieb Neuendorf AG (MVN) distributes frozen-food items for Migros, Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain. Each day, MVN supplies more than 400 of the 600 Migros stores with approximately 1,000 pallets of frozen product, sorted by store.
Integral to the process is a tilt-tray sorter from Beumer, a material handling equipment supplier based in Beckum, Germany. The sorter features temperature-resistant metal parts and insulated electrical wiring to protect it from the cold conditions. Additionally, Beumer optimized the viscosity of the sorter’s lubricants to allow them to function in extreme temperatures.
All incoming orders from stores are grouped into batches and processed concurrently through the tilt-tray sorter. Order pickers use mobile terminals connected to an order information system to batch pick the orders and place them on a pick-up conveyor.
Ten induction lines transport items to the sorter, allowing 3,500 sorting units per batch to be moved per hour. The 433-foot tilt-tray sorter distributes 7,500 trade units per hour at 5.2 feet per second.
Product damage is controlled by precise movements of each tray on the sorter. As a tray moves sideways, its pivot point is slightly lowered in a vertical track. This moves the actual center of tray rotation to the side opposite the discharge chute, allowing the weight of the product to support the tilting process. That way, each item is discharged through a precise, gentle process.
A conveyor with an integrated turntable is positioned at each of the 27 target points. This allows for short-term stacking of product, without the use of accumulation pressure. Shipping documentation is printed on site and attached to the pallets, which are then conveyed to a dispatching area.
MVN was able to reduce the amount of time its order pickers spend in the extreme conditions of the frozen-food warehouse. Workers only need to access each item’s position in storage once for batch processing. In addition, the automated sortation system simplified workflow and improved ergonomics, which ultimately reduced labor costs.
Orders can now be handled quickly in a concurrent and paperless process, without the need for additional labeling on the goods. Consignment of the items to their destination stores is handled automatically by the tilt-tray sorter in one process step.