PFS: Small steps and a sense of fearlessness

Modern has maintained a heavy focus on the new processes, technology and automation that’s necessary to improve item-level picking and handling on the way to meeting today’s ever-finicky e-commerce service demands.

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Modern has maintained a heavy focus on the new processes, technology and automation that’s necessary to improve item-level picking and handling on the way to meeting today’s ever-finicky e-commerce service demands. And while I certainly don’t have to defend that editorial position, since it’s touching so many of our readers on myriad levels, we simply can’t overlook the warehouse and distribution center operations that are taking innovative steps to automate the efficient and effective movement of pallets from Point A to Point B inside facilities.

This month, executive editor Bob Trebilcock kicks off the first of two System Reports that will put the spotlight on unique, automated pallet systems that have become mission critical to their organizations and act as the foundation of future automated designs.

Trebilcock takes us inside Preferred Freezer Services’ (PFS) 380,000-square-foot freezer warehouse that stands 120 feet tall with 120,000 pallet positions in Richland, Wash.—a facility that stores and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of French fries per year.

“John Galiher, PFS’ founder, is a thought leader when it comes to automation, so I’ve been following this facility since they broke ground,” says Trebilcock. “Not only was I interested to learn what automation would be applied, but I wanted to dig into the steps PFS took to get there and land a sense for where Galiher thinks automation is headed in this market.”

Now the most automated warehouse in PFS’ stable, Trebilcock gives us a look into its fundamental elements, including the three freezers serviced by AS/RS cranes that use carts to deliver pallets into storage in -20ºF temperatures; an overhead monorail with 36 carriers on a 2,200 foot loop; the 18 pallet conveyor lines that service the freezer; and the 36 docks doors, including four receiving docks that can automatically unload a 53-foot trailer in minutes.

And while that symphony of automation welcomes between 120 and 150 trucks a day, ships out more than 120 trucks and 12 rail cars a day, and moves 700 pallets per hour, it certainly didn’t come together over night.

Richland is the sixth automated facility PFS has built, with each constructed on the trial and error from the previous. “And in that simple fact,” says Trebilcock, “is perhaps where we can gain the most inspiration from this story.”

Indeed, Galiher and the PFS team embraced automation early and spent time understanding where they could realize the most benefit for their customers—and the result is a launching pad for their next design.

This story, like any other evolutionary tale, is the culmination of small steps and vigorous experimentation—all executed with a sense of “fearlessness” that’s often difficult to muster when automation investment dollars are on line.

“If you’re getting started, automate a portion, not the entire facility, and get a small win first to get a feel for what needs to be done,” says Trebilcock. “If you launch these ‘sprints’ then you can deliver quick and tangible outcomes without too much risk or stress on the overall operation. PFS has done this for more than 10 years, and the results speak for themselves.”

About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

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