Eurofrigo automates deep-freeze to increase throughput for Unilever

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Eurofrigo has streamlined its ice cream distribution for Unilever after installing a deep-freeze automated system from Swisslog at its facility in Parma, Italy.

Eurofrigo specialises in the storage and handling of frozen products. Its objective when building the new 215,000 sq ft, minus 28°C distribution centre was to streamline distribution costs while maintaining a high level of accuracy and throughput for its main client, Unilever.

The company also planned to increase its intermodal transport capability from southern Italy to northern Europe to consolidate and expand its European network.

In order to optimise costs, Eurofrigo wanted a highly automated system that could provide consistent process controls.

The company enlisted Swisslog’s Italian project management team. Central to the distribution centre is a completely automated high bay warehouse equipped with 20,500 pallet locations and split into two buildings allowing the option of different temperature settings for the storage of frozen and ambient products in the same facility.

The high bay system has been designed to maximise warehouse volume and energy efficiency by using vertical stacking and minimising aisle cubic footage.

The need for forklift trucks has also been eliminated so aisle have also been made significantly narrower

Additionally, Eurofrigo has integrated nine Swisslog Vectura ASRS cranes to provide a flexible and modular design with a multi load pallet handling capability.

When a pallet is on the load-handling device it is carried off the ASRS machine into the rack. It is possible for the ASRS to go two pallets deep using the deep lane storage function.

After pallets are retrieved from the racking, the ASRS places them on a conveyor system where they exit the deep freeze through insulated, air locked pallet doors bound for picking or shipping.

The doors are only large enough to allow a pallet to pass, and only open when product needs to go in and out, which reduces excess air exchange in and out of the high bay, making it more energy efficient.

Infrared is used to communicate between ASRS units and the conveyors, instructing where to place incoming pallets and where to retrieve pallets for shipping.

Products enter the high bay warehouse through a monorail loop system maintained at minus 28°C for input into the high bay warehouse. Most palletised product exits the warehouse into an automated shipping buffer. The monorail can handle 320 pallets per hour.

The majority of palletised product exits the high bay warehouse into a dual-level automated shipping buffer area that is also maintained at minus 28°C.  From the shipping buffer’s 510 pallet locations, product is manually pulled or staged for shipping.

Product can also be sent from the high bay warehouse to a manual warehouse located within the distribution centre for slow movers in picking, and for additional storage of 16,000 pallets. 

Both warehouses are fully integrated with the WMS for RF picking activities.

Swisslog also installed ProMove, its modular conveyor system, which adapts to specialised product handling needs throughout the distribution centre.

All products are tracked by monitoring batch numbers, production dates and weight as they move through the facility.

Data loggers and barcode labels monitor the temperature history of incoming trucks, the warehouse and products being shipped.

The new system has improved accuracy and speed in order fulfilment, streamlined operating costs, created a more compact footprint and meant Eurofrigo has become less dependent on labour.

“The high bay warehouse is much more efficient with regards to a traditional deep freeze warehouse, due to a higher density of storage and controlled pallet in feed and out feed,” says Paolo Ferrara, project manager at Eurofrigo. “We achieved substantial energy savings.”

The distribution centre has an output capacity of 1,540 pallets per shift, the facility has also been future-proofed for further enlargements and is located for both rail and road distribution across Europe.

Catone Castrese, operative director of The Catone Group, parent company of Eurofrigo, says: “Based on our experience in the logistics business, we know that to be flexible and efficient we must have good operative strategies and to support good strategies it is essential to utilise clever process and plant automation technology which Swisslog has designed into our new DC.”

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