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Warehouses Get Smarter

Tools for traceability and increased speed, efficiency, and profit

The technology world has big plans for warehouses, and the Produce Traceability Initiative is forcing these plans to become reality. Although some produce companies have been slow to pick up on these new opportunities, others are moving forward for greater speed, efficiency, accuracy, and product safety. New warehouse systems not only improve operations, but bring a higher level of intelligence to the facilities, building on the so-called “Internet of Things” to integrate sensors and other data communications technologies into physical objects.

“There are many options for incremental improvement in warehouse technologies,” comments Matt Mandel, vice president of sales and marketing at SunFed in Rio Rico, AZ. “You need to look at anything that will elevate the final product to the end consumer more as an investment than a cost. To drive consumption of fresh produce, we as an industry need to offer better fruits and vegetables to consumers.”

With recent changes, running a wholesale produce company has become much more complicated than in the past and employing technology has become a necessity, says Jonathon Wood, vice president, Wood’s Produce Company, Inc. in Meadows of Dan, VA. “The biggest challenge Wood’s Produce has faced, as well as other companies, is that from the top of the organization down, everyone must be open-minded and willing to embrace change. When used properly, technology is amazing in how it can completely transform a business for the better, but if you choose to fight the influx of technology, it can be just as powerful in driving you mad.”

Of the current warehouse technologies produce companies are either using or considering, many relate to the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), though others include picking and packing, temperature monitoring and control, enhanced communications to link smartphones and tablets, overall warehouse management systems, and robotics.

“Due to the implementation of new PTI standards, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the always-present need to improve efficiency, produce warehouses are being modernized to reduce labor requirements, increase production, and create a better pack with the adaptation and the implementation of new technologies,” says Rick Salinas, food safety coordinator at Ruiz Sales in Edinburg, TX. “Many of these technological advancements focus on automated solutions to packing, inventory, and shipping problems warehouses face today.”

For Wood, “the primary uses of new technologies are focused on streamlining the picking, loading, and delivery processes.” A wholesaler handling both hardy vegetables and fragile fruit, the company also provides warehousing and cold storage services. As always with perishables, speed and efficiency are among the keys to success. Fortunately, he says, “There are many new solutions for picking, ranging from voice picking to elaborate bar code scanning systems.”

Scanning and Voice Picking
Technologies like radio frequency scanning and voice picking are valuable tools in making traceability less of a challenge. “Although radio frequency scanning and voice picking are not new technologies, they are new to many of our customers and have greatly increased productivity in their warehouses,” says Tony Milano, territory manager at Ronkonkoma, NY-based VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.), a software solutions firm.