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Mikel Fernández de Castillo, head of Iberia sales at Swisslog (Kuka Group), summed it up masterfully during his speech at one of the Hispack sessions: “Logistics is facing complex challenges in three areas: the environment, labour relations and the market. If we add the fact that it has to be carried out at a controlled temperature, the scenario becomes truly difficult”.

With regard to the environment, the rise in energy and surface costs for warehouses is forcing us to find increasingly efficient solutions. As for the labour issues, the strict regulations aimed at reducing workloads and the extreme conditions to which the temperature-controlled warehouse teams are subjected are leaving user companies with one way out, namely automation. Moreover, the market is continuing to grow in certain segments, becoming more and more demanding in terms of delivery times and placing increasing value on ​the range of references and personalised packaging.

“Compared to a traditional warehouse, an automated one can reduce surface area by 30%, lining and covering by 30%, volume by 25%, personnel by 400% and energy by 40%”. In Ultracongelados Virto’s case, the reasons for choosing this kind of solution were extremely compelling.

Warehouse for deep-frozen food

The Virto Group produces and deep-freezes a wide range of vegetables, legumes, mixes, rices, pastas, cereals and vegetable-based ready meals. It has more than 45,000 hectares of crops and 100 industrial processing lines producing 5 million bags a day, of more than 4,000 different references.

With such a large volume of production, Ultracongelados Virto turned to Swisslog from the Kuka Group for the design of a new fully automated warehouse in Funes, Navarre (Spain) for its deep-frozen products, a temperature-controlled warehouse with room for 48,000 industrial pallets and 56,000 European ones capable of managing 350 pallets per hour, in other words, between 50 and 70 million kilos of deep-frozen products.

The basis for the system is PowerStore, technology jointly designed by Virto and Swisslog with 31 shuttles that move around the different levels and aisles of the warehouse, 9 lifts located at the front and rear of the chamber and two inverted monorail loops for the inputs and the outputs from the system. As this is a highly frozen environment, the entire system bases its capacity for movement on condensers, given that working with batteries is impossible at these temperatures. The result is a shipment facility for 204 pallets, as well as the conveyors that connect the different functional areas of the system (inputs, outputs, production, etc.). This is all managed by SynQ, Swisslog’s warehouse management software that’s tasked with managing the flow of goods and optimising the storage processes.

The advantage of the proposal is the optimisation of costs so as to overcome the three challenges mentioned at the beginning of this article, as a similar non-automated warehouse would require 5 or 7 times more surface area. “In the case of Virto, the optimisation of the space has enabled us to locate it next to the production lines, as a result of which transfer to a distribution centre isn’t necessary either,” explained Fernández de Castillo.


Cold chain logistics

Daniel Blanco, head of Operations at Correos Frío, acknowledges that, just as progress has been made with warehouses, there’s still a long way to go in terms of transport technology in the field of the passive cold chain: “The new regulations highlight the lack of technological implementation in the distribution of the product. In the case of the cold chain it’s an even more critical issue, so there’s a really big business opportunity”, he reflected during another one of the sessions devoted to temperature-controlled logistics chaired by José Carlos Ramos from the World Logistics Innovation Center Barcelona, in which Daniel Castillo, regional sales director at Va-Q-Tec, and Ivan Roa, director of the master’s degree in Logistics and International Trade at the Abat Oliva CEU University, also took part.

According to Blanco, the key to proper cold chain logistics is “maintaining a highly transparent relationship with the customer”, which poses the challenge of training the companies and professionals who work with them. “We offer continuous monitoring metrics for the goods to anticipate potential interruptions in the cold chain due to problems stemming from transport (strikes, congestion, etc.). We inform the customer before the problem occurs and jointly decide what we should do”.

He acknowledges that implementing a digitally controlled cold chain entails an added cost, but there’s no other option to ensure 100% effective temperature-controlled logistics. “If we invest in the production line and the warehouse, why not also invest in shipments?”, he reflects logically.

Va-Q-Tec technology is an example of how a minimal investment can make a difference in the passive cold chain. The company, a pioneer in the industry, develops solutions based on vacuum insulation panels (VIP) that save energy and space and at the same time prove environment-friendly. Its solutions include high-performance thermal packaging and air cargo containers. Obviously, these are available at a higher price than conventional insulation, but the investment pays off, given the reduction in the number of incidents throughout the cold chain.

Thanks to the vacuum insulation panels and their Phase Change Materials, Va-Q-Tec crates and containers can maintain stable temperatures ranging from -70°C to +25°C over several days. This makes them ideal for transporting temperature-sensitive goods such as blood plasma, medical samples, basic protein components, vaccines, etc.

Constanza Saavedra, Hispack collaborator