How Automation Can Fight the Clock on Shelf Life

Cimcorp in the News: In this issue of Food Quality & Safety, Cimcorp’s Derek Rickard explains how automation can help warehouses keep up with the need for speed in food distribution.

One of the most important aspects of the food supply chain is maximizing shelf life. Companies need to get products to stores quickly to widen the purchasing window and ensure product freshness for consumers. From the moment a product is harvested or produced, the clock is ticking. In some cases, products may spend the majority of their life cycle in transit from supplier to retailer. For instance, Florida oranges may be shipped hundreds of miles across several states. Pineapples may come from as far as Mexico, Honduras, or Guatemala.

To adjust for transportation time, companies adopt specialized packaging and temperature control to increase product longevity and preserve goods’ appearance and freshness. While these techniques can help prolong shelf life, efficient product handling in distribution can save time as well. This is where automation can be a great benefit. Automated order picking systems can streamline and accelerate fulfillment so organizations can keep up with the need for speed in food distribution.

A New Breed of Automation

The distribution center is where companies experience some of their greatest pain points, particularly when they rely solely on manual order fulfillment. Employees have to scramble up and down long stretches of aisles, pick orders, and bend to lift heavy crates or boxes. Order picking is a strenuous and injury-prone job, highly dependent on the physical endurance and speed of each individual. These risks have made careers in materials handling less appealing to job seekers, resulting in rampant labor shortages seen nationwide.

Despite interest in automation as a solution to these challenges, many facilities have resisted investing because previous systems ran storage and order picking as separate functions, which can be too slow for the timely demands of food logistics. But today, there is a new breed of robotic systems that integrate picking and handling into a single solution.

These systems can handle all operations in any order simultaneously, streamlining product handling and saving time. Products can be picked immediately. Distribution centers that implement
these integrated solutions are often up to six times more efficient than their manual counterparts. Automation speed means facilities can prepare orders closer to the time of a truck’s anticipated
arrival for more on-time deliveries and a faster time to market.

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