A large segment of the food and beverage warehousing industry involves the cold storage of perishable goods—from milk and ice cream to meat and poultry. However, cold storage facilities are expensive to operate, considering energy costs for refrigeration, lighting and the material handling equipment used within the facility. Furthermore, there is an increased need for refrigeration capacity to offset heat loads generated by this equipment.

At a time when warehouses are looking to run as lean (and sometimes green) as possible, this energy usage adds up to substantial operational costs. On top of that, increasing inventory levels are exerting pressure on cold storage providers to expand their facilities, which is easier said than done due to land availability and escalating real estate prices.

To reduce energy consumption and its associated costs, food and beverage companies should consider implementing warehouse automation technology. Although it may seem like a large undertaking and an upfront capital expense, an automated warehouse offers a return on investment that can’t be beat when compared to the alternative of operating a conventional warehouse. This is due in part to the energy savings it provides through more efficient space utilization, the need for fewer interior lights and the use of storage/retrieval machines (S/RMs) outfitted with regenerative braking. In fact, many automated warehouses experience a 40% reduction in overall energy costs.

With high-density automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), refrigerated and frozen food facilities can store more product in the same, if not smaller, amount of space. In many cases, an AS/RS can minimize the overall building footprint by up to 50%, or enable expanded storage capacity by 30-50% within an existing facility. Naturally, by improving space utilization, there is less area to cool and fewer refrigeration units needed. And, by retrofitting an existing warehouse with an AS/RS, food and beverage companies can eliminate the need for costly new construction and still have space to accommodate growing inventory levels.

In refrigerated and frozen warehouses, the lighting systems are more often than not on 24/7, contributing to the overall electricity expenditure. In an automated warehousing environment, there is little need for lighting, and in fact, an AS/RS can run in a “lights-out” environment, so even greater energy and cost savings arise.

Additional savings are possible by using S/RMs outfitted with regenerative braking. The principles of physics assert that when an object is in motion and comes to a halt, its energy just turns into heat and disappears. S/RMs equipped with regenerative braking allow warehouse operators to store surplus braking energy or transfer it to the power grid for use by other machines operating on the same grid. Rather than let the energy go to waste, regenerative braking converts that energy and makes it reusable.

By investing in automation technology, companies can overcome high-energy consumption costs and reduce the amount of energy needed to operate with maximum efficiency. As an added bonus, warehouses can even minimize their carbon footprint and promote ongoing green initiatives, driving sustainability in both the organization and the environment.