Americold, an Atlanta-based temperature-controlled warehousing and transportation company, was well aware that much of the racking in one of its Wisconsin facilities was outdated, but shutting down operations at the busy warehouse for a rack replacement project was not an option. To accomplish the retrofit while maintaining existing operations, it tapped one of its long-time partners, Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based rack manufacturer Steel King Industries, to get the job done. The result: increased storage space and load capacity along with a significant expansion in pallet positions.
Like many cold storage operations, the Wisconsin facility uses drive-in racking, a cost-effective, high-density storage system that allows direct forklift access. (With drive-in racking, pallets rest on horizontal rails at either side of the lane; forklift operators drive into the system to load and unload pallets.) Drive-in racking had worked well because it offered a balance between providing storage density and allowing selectivity, but the racks were now outdated and had sustained substantial wear.
Although the upgrade was badly needed, it was evident to all concerned that the retrofit would present logistical challenges. “Rack replacement in an existing facility requires a lot of coordination, and there are operational issues around having to continue to operate the business,” noted Phil Beaulieu, director of engineering for Americold, in a release. “Steel King was willing to work with us to design around the racking that we wanted to keep and to develop a rigorous retrofit schedule that enabled a rolling install.”
The working environment also posed a challenge for the rack design crew, project manager, and installers. The site survey and rack build required many long hours with staff bundled up in freezer suits and heavy gloves, measuring and documenting building structures and obstacles in temperatures of minus 10 degrees.
“We didn’t have the luxury of designing a facility from our desks,” said Beth Randrup, Steel King’s project manager, in the release. “With an older building, the original architectural drawings are not always 100% accurate, and field measurements are essential.”
In addition, working space was at a premium. Installers had to find sufficient room for their tools and equipment, materials to be banded for removal, and materials to be staged for installation, without interfering with operational traffic.
Throughout the process, Steel King worked closely with Americold’s engineering department and facility manager to schedule demolition, deliveries, and installation to meet their schedule with minimal disruption. For instance, during the rolling installation, the rack demolition crews kept one sector ahead of the installation crews. As one area was completed, it would be filled with the product from the next area to be demolished. This kept the number of out-of-commission storage bays to an absolute minimum.
In addition to its focus on keeping the facility fully operational during the installation, Americold was also mindful of selecting the right equipment to minimize future maintenance issues and replacement costs. Cooling a space the size of a warehouse comes at a premium. The denser the storage, the easier it is to cool, so narrow aisles are called for in a facility of this type. Durability is a concern as well: Given the dimly lit workspace and the speed at which lift truck drivers operate, forklift impact on the racks is inevitable.
To mitigate these issues, the Steel King engineers incorporated a number of protective features into their design. They included:
An added benefit to the rack redesign was increased storage space over the dock doors. “Optimization of usable space is key,” said Randrup of the new design. “By reconfiguring the design of this storage space and re-engineering the ceiling-supported system, we were able to increase both the amount of storage space and load capacity.”
Leaders at Americold’s Wisconsin freezer facility approached the renovation project with the goal of updating their rack system without interrupting workflow. In addition, they sought a rack partner who could provide long-term value. They found that Steel King’s design, advanced engineering, and precision manufacturing not only improved the rack system’s durability, but also allowed them to significantly increase the number of pallet positions.
“They are one of our preferred vendors because of the quality of their product and attention to detail. I have worked with them for 25 years and consider them my go-to racking company,” said Beaulieu in the release.