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SPECIAL EDITION: AUTOMATION

Automated food warehouse cuts energy by 80%

By Jenni Spinner+

09-Apr-2014
Last updated on 09-Apr-2014 at 09:51 GMT

Tetra Pak-focused food and beverage firm Californial Natural Products is opening an automated warehouse designed by Power Automation Systems.
Tetra Pak-focused food and beverage firm Californial Natural Products is opening an automated warehouse designed by Power Automation Systems.

A producer specializing in Tetra Pak aseptic-packaged foods and beverages has opened its doors on an automated facility designed to boost efficiency and cut energy usage.

California Natural Products (CNP)—a producer specializing in private-label soups, wines, and nutritional non-dairy beverages—has opened the doors on an 18,000-square-foot automated facility.

The PowerStor warehouse automation system, designed by Power Automation Systems (PAS), reportedly has helped the manufacturer increase overall efficiency, reduce energy use by 80%, and improve its spatial footprint by 90%.

Pat Mitchell, CNP president and founder, told FoodProductionDaily the change to automated from a manual system has helped the company minimize environmental impact and conserve natural resources.

With more and more companies placing a higher value on sustainability, CNP’s ability to deliver both high quality and volume makes the switch to sustainable packaging an easy decision,” he said.

PAS is Mitchell’s brainchild; believing there was a better warehouse method than the conventional storage and retrieval systems, he founded PAS in 2001 and built a prototype PowerStor. Since then, PAS has installed PowerStor systems around the globe (include a 72,000-pallet warehouse for Sutter Home Winery), and CNP is now putting a PowerStor system in place at its California facility.

The PowerStor-equipped warehouse—just across the road from CNP’s manufacturing and packaging plant—has an enclosed bridge that loops products loaded onto pallets from manufacturing to the warehouse using a high-speed pallet delivery system controlled via the PASWare software. The staging carts travel up to 600 feet per minute and reportedly increase cost efficiency, boost use of space, optimize inventory control lift safety and avoid human error.

FoodProductionDaily spoke with leaders at both CNP and PAS to learn about how the automated warehouse has boosted the producer’s efficiency and poised it for growth.

Clark Driftmier, VP, retail brands, CNP

FPD: Tell me about your range of products and packaging.
Driftmier: CNP currently makes over 400 different finished products across a range of categories, all in Tetra Pak cartons. We also make more than 100 different ingredient products including rice syrups and rice proteins.

FNP: How has CNP grown in recent years?
Driftmier: CNP has grown significantly in both breadth and depth of our product lines and in the number of clients whom we serve. We currently have the only food system in North America with the Tetra Pak TGA Gemina 1.5-Lpackaging, and of course our new warehouse represents another step forward in our continuous history of innovation.

FNP: How is the PowerStor system helping you manage that growth?
Driftmier: The PAS warehouse system is the most advanced warehouse currently operating in the natural foods industry in the world. However, this system does more than allow us to move, store and retrieve pallets more efficiently than any other warehouse in the industry; it also frees up significantly space in our plant near our pasteurizers (space formerly used for storage) and repurposes that space for significant expansion of our processing and packaging throughput.

We currently are undergoing a significant expansion of our pasteurizing systems, and we are installing additional packaging and filling systems, much of it in the space formerly occupied by stored pallets. When complete, this expansion will greatly increase our ability to serve customers with additional capacity, most modern systems and highest speed and throughput.

FNP: What do you like about the automated warehouse system?
Driftmier: The automated storage and retrieval system built by PAS is extremely efficient for CNP. We love the benefits it delivers: reduced product damage, better energy efficiency, more storage density.

FNP: Were there any challenges in implementing the system?
Driftmier: There are always challenges in implementing a system; one of ours was we had to deliver the product from production to the new 90-foot-tall rack-supported storage system which was located across a street. We had many challenges to address related to this, but with the talented people from PAS and their partners, we were able to overcome them all.

FNP: The system apparently was built to accommodate future growth—how does that work?
Driftmier: Leaders and operators of food manufacturing facilities need to be continually upgrading and enhancing their capabilities to stay “on trend” with a rapidly evolving industry, which itself needs to continually adapt to the evolution of consumer trends. The warehouse and the resulting enhancements to our manufacturing profile allow us to position CNP for future growth; These enhancements also allow us to address the rapidly evolving conditions in the industry and with consumers.

Nothing in society is static, and the concept of “status quo” actually doesn’t exist. In the most brutally honest terms, the reality of food and culture is “adapt or die;” CNP has thrived for 35 years by our continual questioning of status quo and our willingness to adapt and change.

The changes that you see currently at our company – the warehouse, the systems, the most modern packaging, the fastest machines, the focus on innovation – are the steps we take to set up CNP for future success.

Cory Hypes, executive VP, PAS

FPD: What technologies does PAS provide, and what markets do you serve?
Hypes: The core of our service is comprised of automated pallet handling vehicles (we refer to them as “carts” but they are more like robotic vehicles). In addition, we integrate our PASWare software and other mechanical components.

Our customers are companies which have grown out of their existing warehouse and want to reduce operating costs and streamline their warehouse operations. While the food and beverage market is our largest, we have customers in the pharmaceutical and the third-party logistics markets; like any growing business, we are evaluating other markets as well.   

FPD: Tell us about PowerStor—the equipment involved, what applications it’s used for, and the benefits of using it.
Hypes: PowerStor is composed of four major components: our Vertical Lift Device (VLD), which delivers the product to the appropriate level; our robotic vehicles (carts), which transport the pallets to and from the storage location; PASWare, our software system which controls all the automation and inventory; and finally the storage structure itself.

Our primary focus from an application perspective is on manufacturing-based companies with warehouses attached to production. We find that the benefits of using our system (to increase storage capacity, to reduce operational costs, to improve inventory accuracy, and to reduce energy consumption) are very well aligned to these customers’ goals.

In addition we have several companies interested in our technology from the wholesale and retail sector.

FPD: The system you created for CNP accounts for anticipated future growth— tell us how the system makes that possible?
Hypes: CNP is experiencing very rapid growth as we build new businesses in all of our core businesses: contract manufacturing, private Label, ingredients and branded products. As a 35-year veteran of the natural products industry, CNP is well positioned for growth due to the company’s excellent products, experienced team and broad range of products.

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