June 19, 2019 3:30 PM, EDT

Idaho Cold Food Storage Facility Design Will Cut Loading, Unloading Time

Cold Food Storage FacilityThe inside of the innovative cold storage warehouse. (NewCold)

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The tallest building in Burley, Idaho, contains millions of pounds of frozen french fries and other potato products. At 14 stories, it’s one of the largest cold storage facilities in the country.

NewCold, a 180,000-square-foot site that can store 90,000 pallets, is being leased by Canada-based McCain Foods. The company, valued at C$9.5 billion, is the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products.

Cold Food Storage Facility

Nearly one-third of the nation’s potatoes are grown in Idaho.

For the trucking and logistics industries, the warehouse’s unique design, and its partial automation, should significantly reduce loading and unloading times, experts said.

“French fries all look the same. You can determine how to stack the packages,” said Bruce Hartman, a logistics expert who teaches at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. “You could pack them up in larger units that fit the truck dimensions and then just load them up, and the truck would be on its way. Most of it could be automated.”

Breda, Netherlands-based NewCold said trucks should be able to move in and out of the loading docks at the $90 million plant in just three minutes.

“We still have loading docks like normal warehouses have, but with a robotized process bring those goods from the storage location without anyone touching the products,” Jonas Swarttouw, the U.S. manager for NewCold, told Transport Topics. “And vice versa, when you need to load a truck the robots bring the goods to that area,” so for large parts of the facility people are just operating and maintaining the robotized equipment. About 100 employees oversee the shipment process.

Cold Food Storage Facility

“There are conveyor systems, roller conveyors in which pallets are put on, and vertical elevators to manage the products from one floor to another, like you also see in conventional warehouses, but instead 140 feet tall,” he added.

Burley is on the Snake River, along Interstate 84 halfway between Seattle and Denver. Some 85% of the potato products at the facility are shipped by truck. A shortline rail operation is nearby, and the other 15% of the food products will be transported by freight rail.

Swarttouw said the warehouse will store food at minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with oxygen levels lowered to 16.5% for fire prevention. The company also said that by building the storage facility vertically, instead of the traditional horizontal configuration, it will slash electricity usage by as much as 50%. Much of the upper section of the building will be accessible only by robots, and workers rarely will go there, so lighting will be kept to a minimum, also lowering energy needs.

The Idaho location is NewCold’s second cold storage center in the United States. The first is in Tacoma, Wash.

The company decided to build the Idaho facility after May 2017, when McCain, its largest customer in the state, announced a $200 million expansion in Burley.

Cold Food Storage Facility

An outside view of the NewCold facility. (NewCold)

City officials said that expansion brought 180 jobs to the region.

“Due to its concentration of food processing companies, strong labor force and good supplier and government partnerships, NewCold chose Idaho for one of the most innovative and efficient frozen-food centers in the country,” Swarttouw said.

City officials believe NewCold has the potential to generate more jobs, especially in the trucking, transportation and logistics sectors.

“This is an amazing development for Burley and the state of Idaho,” said Doug Manning, the city’s economic development director and former mayor. “This is significant, not just because of the number of employees, but the salaries and the benefits. We’re looking for career jobs here so people don’t have to leave the area to go find work.”