The next package of frozen seafood or broccoli florets you pull from your grocery store freezer just might have come from a new cold storage warehouse in Tacoma that uses robots to stack its shelves.
It’s known around town as “The Cube” because of how it looks from afar – a big, white square.
The NewCold facility is one of the largest cold storage facilities in the nation, topping out at 25 million square feet of storage space, or 100,000 pallets, at a 3.5-acre facility on Tacoma’s Orchard Street. The capacity of the Dutch company’s $50 million facility comes with technology. Robots stack and retrieve pallets from higher pallet racks than conventional forklifts can otherwise reach. The taller stacks also allow for increased energy efficiency – about half of a conventional cold storage facility – since robots don’t need lights to work. Since workers don’t have to navigate forklifts around the 140-foot-tall facility, the racks can be closer together, which means about four times the density.
“The bigger you build, the more cost efficient you can be,” said NewCold Business Development Manager Jonas Swarttouw. “This is a next-generation technology.”
Workers on computers orchestrate commands to robots to retrieve pallets of frozen foods from the climate-controlled storeroom to loading docks for distribution. The cold storage area itself requires workers to wear special suits because it has limited oxygen to allow for colder temperatures and avoid condensation from becoming ice.
About 100 people will work at the facility, sending robots to fill orders, talking to customers, repairing equipment and monitoring temperatures.
The facility’s anchor client is Trident Foods, but more customers – small and medium-sized food processors, grocery stores and restaurants in the region – are in the works, if they need either long-term or temporary storage of multiple pallets of food products. The facility neither stores pharmaceuticals or electronics nor is set up for small volumes of frozen foods.
“If there is a hunter who wants to store a deer they shot, we are not the place for them,” Swarttouw said.
The company has similar facilities around Europe as well as a storage center in Idaho that is set to open in 2019. The Tacoma site could also double its capacity.
The company selected Tacoma to site its facility because of its proximity to the working waterfront as well as Interstate 5 and State Route 16. Another factor to siting the facility in the region was the pool of tech-savvy workers to operate and monitor the operation to fill on-demand timelines that are increasingly becoming commonplace in the 24-7 demands of the warehousing industry.