Lift Truck Tips: Happy operator, happy operation in cold storage
The challenges of the cold chain are most pronounced in the cold storage warehouse, an expensive and intensive exercise in labor and asset management. Perry Ardito, general manager for Jungheinrich warehouse products group with MCFA, says cold storage managers have become too comfortable with the level of discomfort. He argues that readily available lift truck technologies can increase productivity, decrease costs and keep cold storage lift truck operators comfortable.
Ardito places the most emphasis on keeping the lift truck operator warm. In many freezers, the operator is compelled to leave every 20 minutes to warm up. It’s bad for both job satisfaction and productivity.
“If any other business lost 50% of productivity, they’d be hard-pressed to remain profitable,” says Ardito.
This grind leads to high turnover and a shallow talent pool for lift truck operators, whose desire to get the job done hastily can result in damage to equipment, racks, product and expensive insulation panels.
“Imagine you have to stand up in your office all day, then someone turns down the temperature to freezing,” says Ardito. “It’s probably not a place you’re going to retire from. Labor is expensive, and finding operators who are experienced—or even willing to do the work—can be difficult.”
Some argue automation is the solution, and that the cold chain might be the first materials handling segment to be completely handed over to robots.
“That’s an interesting idea,” says Ardito. “The use of automation has grown, but it will always be evaluated by cost and ROI. Cold storage is expensive enough. How much labor can you remove and still justify that cost?”
A more practical solution, he says, starts with installing a lift truck fleet with heated and seated cabs. The tremendous increase in productivity is sure to maximize ROI, according to Ardito.
In addition, each time a truck leaves the refrigerated space, its electronic components and steel are subject to condensation and gradual corrosion. A lift truck should be robustly designed, says Ardito, with insulated electronics to prevent premature failure. Another approach is to limit the number of times the truck has to leave the freezer.
In cold environments, the average lift truck battery life cycle and rate of charge decline by as much as 20% to 50%. A battery rated for an 8-hour cycle in ambient warehouses might only last 4 to 6 hours.
“Now you need more labor and downtime to swap out batteries, and more actual batteries to keep in rotation,” says Ardito.
Higher voltage batteries improve run-time. If rated for 12 hours in ambient conditions, the battery will still operate for a full shift even with a 25% cycle reduction.
With a heated cab, a comfortable seat, and a lift truck that will run until quitting time, a cold storage lift truck operator might soon pass in and out of the freezer just once per day.
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Cold storage warehouse operation moves millions of pounds of product monthly with reliable lift truck fleet.