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Inside a real cold store: How forklifts operate in -24°C

Written by Bengt Kristiansson, 2018-12-07

Cold stores are extreme environments, but they're an absolutely essential part of the modern supply chain. Without these specialised warehouses, where temperatures can go as low as tens of degrees below zero, it would be impossible to store and distribute frozen goods. Even chill warehouses, which operate at much warmer (but still cold) temperatures are essential for the supply of perishable goods.

Forklifts are essential here, just like in most other materials handling operations, but it's not easy to operate in these environments. So how do companies that operate them manage? Each case is different, but three main factors make things easier:

Reliability and good service

Unfortunately, breakdowns are guaranteed when working in these difficult conditions. What counts is getting a truck up and running again quickly after it fails. Most cold store operators will have a pretty comprehensive service agreement for that reason — without one, decent efficiency and productivity levels would be hard to achieve.

Storage density

Cold store running costs are much higher than standard ambient warehouses. All the equipment and electricity needed to maintain the temperature isn't cheap. That's why dense storage is important — a smaller cold store, which uses the available space efficiently, is cheaper to run. In Chiltern's case, high, double-deep racking is used, and offers high storage density while also maintaining good selectivity (ease of access to pallets).

Special forklift design

If you put a standard forklift into a cold store, it won't last long without breaking down. At such low temperatures, battery life is reduced, mechanical components fail more easily, and even steel can become more brittle. By working with their supplier, cold store operators counteract this with specially-adapated forklifts. Things like special hydraulic fluids that resist thickening in cold temperatures can bring reliability up to an acceptable level.

More major adaptations can be neccessary. In Chiltern's case, they needed high-capacity double-deep trucks with a lift height of 11.2 metres in order to work with their high-density storage system. No manufacturer met these requirements with a standard truck, but UniCarriers' special design department managed to create two reach trucks that met the requirements perfectly. In extreme temperatures, extraordinary solutions are sometimes needed.

You can watch our video case study with Chiltern at the top of this blog post, but if you're interested in more information on this topic, click the button below to get the free PDF guide, How to keep your trucks operating efficiently in cold store operations.

Get our complete guide to cold store operations

Topics: Cold store Service

Bengt Kristiansson

UniCarriers Europe Senior Advisor Sales & Marketing


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