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Case Study: Consolidating Frozen Storage to Optimize Growth and Logistics

Drive-in rack system helps Coloma Frozen Foods expand, cut costs and improve safety.

Coloma Frozen Foods needed to consolidate its frozen storage capacity. 

As a food industry provider of quality frozen fruits, vegetables, juices and cherry juice concentrates, the company had previously outsourced or leased its frozen storage to four commercial facilities spread out over a 20-mile radius in southwest Michigan.

“Transferring product between four inter-company locations for production, frozen storage, and repacking was costly and inefficient,” said Brad Wendzel, President of Coloma Frozen Foods. “One of the leased freezer facilities had aged beyond its useful life, and much of the racking was too low, requiring inefficient pallet unstacking and restacking before shipping.”

To optimize its growth and logistics, Coloma Frozen Foods chose to build 90,000 square feet of new freezer space, including 75,000 square feet of racked freezer space in a new centralized campus facility. Looking to maximize frozen storage efficiency and repacking capability, Wendzel turned to Southwest Docking and Handling, a material handling and automated systems distributor, and Steel King Industries, a storage system and pallet rack manufacturer.

The companies suggested a drive-in rack for its cost-effective, high-density storage capacity that requires fewer aisles and provides better cube utilization than selective racking. A drive-in rack enables storing up to 75 percent more pallets than selective racking and is ideal for high-traffic and cooler/freezer installations.

“We expect to save about $150,000 to $200,000 a year in reduced labor, management, transportation, energy, and maintenance costs using the drive-in rack at our campus facility,” said Wendzel. “Our growth potential is substantial, and we expect ROI in under two years.”

With drive-in rack, forklifts drive directly into the rack to allow storage of two or more pallets deep. But because forklifts drive directly into the rack, they tend to take more abuse than other rack structures.

“In freezer applications, the rack is susceptible to forklift impact because reaction time is slower in a cold environment, and peripheral vision can be restricted when operators are bundled up against the cold,” said Wendzel. “So rack durability, longevity, ease-of-use and safety were vital to us.”

Wendzel was concerned that the industry’s typical, light gauge, roll-formed rack he had previously reviewed would be prone to forklift damage and costly replacement.

As a solution, Southwest Docking and Handling recommended, and Coloma Frozen Foods chose, a SK3000® pallet rack, a rugged bolted rack with structural channel columns, made by Steel King. A number of rack features helped the company meet its strength, durability, and maintenance goals.  

Compared to typical racking, the pallet rack constructed of hot-rolled structural channel column with full horizontal and diagonal bracing offers greater frame strength, durability and cross-sectional area. All Grade-5 hardware provides greater shear strength, and a heavy 7-gauge wrap-around connector plate ensures a square and plumb installation with a tighter connection and greater moment resistance.

“Over 23,000,000 lbs. of frozen product are stored in Coloma Frozen Foods’ freezer and rack space, including 9,000 pallet positions of 4” structural c-channel drive-in rack,” said Wendzel. “The rack is five levels high including a floor level, and arrayed from two to five pallet positions deep for both storage efficiency and an ability to accommodate a range of SKUs.”

“With the drive-in rack’s efficient frozen storage, we’ve consolidated our operations on one campus and aim to double our re-pack capability,” said Wendzel. “The interest and amortization of our new facility is less than what we paid for commercial storage.”

Compared to typical rack, the drive-in rack includes a number of features that enhance ease-of-use and safety.

According to Southwest Docking and Handling President Jim Nowicki, the drive-in load rail construction includes: flared rail entry ends to allow easy bay access; space-saver low profile arms that increase clearance and decrease possible product damage; structural angle rails that “guide” pallets for ease of use; welded aisle-side load arms that eliminate hazardous load projections into aisles; and welded rail stops that prevent loads from being pushed off and increase safety.

For added protection against forklift impact, a forklift tire rub rail was mounted near the floor to guide the vehicle safely into the rack. All uprights and columns also have oversized baseplates for greater rack stability.