Automated trailer loading, unloading system helps move billions of pounds annually
Preferred Freezer Services (PFS) is one of the largest public refrigerated warehousing companies in the world, operating nearly 40 facilities nationwide with a combined capacity of more than 300 million cubic feet. When designing a new, 24/7 cold warehouse, the company was planning to receive 1.3 billion pounds of goods annually from one customer’s three facilities. After installing an automatic truck loading and unloading system, the company saved time and labor by loading 50,000-pound loads in minutes.
The one customer accounted for about 65% of the facility’s annual throughput of 2 billion pounds, so managers recognized the need for dedicated shuttle activity between the warehouse and the customer’s three production plants.
The new automated truck loading system centers on a chain conveyor system (Ancra Systems), which stages enough product to fill a 53-foot trailer. There are four lanes in the PFS facility and two in each of the customer’s plants. PFS trailers are equipped with a corresponding conveyor system that interfaces with the conveyor platforms at the docks.
An umbilical cord at each dock door plugs into a control box on each trailer, and the driver initializes the loading and unloading process. The one-person job cut the headcount in half as compared to conventional facilities. The conveyors exchange the full payload in three minutes. From parking the truck to driving away, the entire process takes 10 to 15 minutes.
“The results have been exceptional. There is a definite cost-per-unit advantage on the trucking and logistics side, so we see it as a competitive advantage,” says Burnie Taylor, general manager of PFS. “It also preserves the integrity of the cold chain while minimizing exposure of people to cold and to moving equipment. There is no human intervention from the customer’s palletizer to our outbound dock, since pallets go from the truck to the chain conveyance to the next automation component for putaway into the freezer.”
Justin Kukal, PFS automation manager, adds that the company did more than just improve efficiency of loading and unloading. “You eliminate six to nine touches, so there are that many fewer chances for damage or loss or errors,” Kukal says. “The system is directly connected to the WMS, so we see everything from when we pick up at the customer’s plant to when we ship out. It’s flawlessly integrated. We haven’t had a single issue. Mechanically, it’s the same thing. We have received excellent support, and if there was anything we didn’t understand, it was quickly resolved.”
Taylor says they are considering an expansion to the facility that would add 33% more storage capacity and 40% to 50% more throughput, and which would include two more automated loading/unloading systems and another four trailers.