NewCold has opened the first phase of what will become the largest cold storage site in North America and one of the largest and most advanced in the world.

Climbing over 140 feet, phase one of the Lebanon, Indiana, facility features a capacity of 100,700 industrial pallet positions. 

A second phase, expected to be operational by summer, will double capacity to over 200,000 pallets and bring the total capital investment in the facility to over $300 million.

The highly automated facility, whose first phase has been operational for several months, uses automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and includes proprietary technology with four new patents. Nine double-stacked cranes move pallets throughout the building. Layer picking and palletizing are automated.

“The automation that we’ve deployed here is very accurate, because we’ve eliminated a lot of the human element. Order selection, as an example, in a conventional warehouse is a very labor-driven operation. Our solution when it comes to less-than-pallet quantities has a high degree of automation and a high-degree of accuracy. It’s also not labor-dependent and allows us to scale and react to the changing demand and volume needs of a customer in a rapid fashion,” said Mike Shawgo, executive vice president of Operations, North America at NewCold

The case-picking area, where pallets are built manually, and the loading and unloading of trucks are the few areas where human labor is used. 

Once fully finished, the entire site will run with roughly 250 employees. 

“The vast majority of the product goes through automation. The primary labor utilization is more in the operating, planning and maintenance side of the building,” Shawgo said. “Even though we use a lot fewer people, the people that we utilize are much more important to the end result and are much more involved in delivering and executing against that result.” 

Truck drivers arrive through automated gates with license plate recognition and “fast-pass” capabilities and drivers are directed based on data including arrival times and product, Shawgo said.

The BRC-certified facility also features a less-than-pallet assembly area that is nearly entirely automated.

Conagra Brands is the anchor tenant and FGF Brands, a Canadian baked goods company with two bakeries in Indiana, also stores product there. Shawgo said he expects pallet space in the second phase to be sold out soon. 

Originally announced in March 2020, days before the U.S. shutdown due to COVID-19, the project “underlined the importance of building resilience into the supply chain of leading food companies in the U.S.,” said Jonas Swarttouw, executive vice president, and chair of NewCold in North America. “That we are here today is a testament to the significant contribution and collaboration of many partners and stakeholders in the Indiana state government, Boone County, and the city of Lebanon.” 

The Indiana project marks the third NewCold site in the U.S. It joins over a dozen other NewCold warehouses on three continents, housing over 1.2 million pallet positions.

Capable of running 24 hours a day, NewCold aims to make its warehouses increasingly grid-independent, using their own power generated from a variety of sources, including renewables. The company says its warehouses are about 50% more energy efficient than traditional warehouses.