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How Can Smart Warehouse Cooling Systems Enhance Product Quality and Safety?

Aug. 17, 2023
Smart cooling systems are often seen as a way to reduce energy consumption, but they impact product quality and safety, too.

Repeated supply chain disruptions over the past few years have pushed many warehouses to embrace smart technology. Many of these AI-driven improvements focus on inventory management or workflow automation, but other, seemingly unrelated applications can yield substantial results, too. Smart warehouse cooling systems are a prime example.

These technologies function like consumer-facing smart HVAC technologies, using AI to adapt heating and cooling processes in response to real-time data. That can yield energy savings for consumers, but it can enhance product quality and protect worker safety on an industrial scale. Here’s how.

Preserving Perishable Goods

The most straightforward impact of smart cooling systems on product quality is the preservation of products with short shelf lives. Roughly 7-15% of food waste occurs in transit, often due to refrigeration issues. Smart technology addresses that product loss by making cooling systems more reliable.

Most cooling systems include built-in thermometers, but smart alternatives analyze this information in real-time. As a result, they can detect issues as soon as or even before temperatures drop below acceptable levels. AI then either adjusts the system to cool or warm goods appropriately or alerts employees of a mechanical problem.

This responsiveness ensures warehouses can prevent product loss before it happens. That assurance, in turn, results in higher-quality products in consumers’ hands, fewer monetary losses and increased client satisfaction, leading to reduced churn.

Protecting Sensitive Equipment

Smart warehouse cooling systems also prevent errors and breakdowns in sensitive equipment. Extreme temperatures on both sides of the scale can cause machinery to malfunction. By ensuring consistent temperature and humidity levels, smart HVAC systems prevent these outcomes.

AI-equipped technology enables this accident prevention in two main ways. First, by adjusting heating and cooling to real-time temperature and humidity changes, it ensures warehouses stay at ideal operating conditions. Next, it employs predictive maintenance, alerting employees of any errors within the system as they arise. These alerts prevent breakdowns on the HVAC side that would lead to temperatures rising and damaging equipment before workers notice.

Preventing equipment downtime has several tangible benefits for product quality and workplace safety. A single offline machine can cost $750 a day, not including repair costs, and the disruption to productivity could result in delays producing spoiled products. Malfunctioning equipment could also harm operators or damage products.

Ensuring Maximum Machine Efficiency

Similarly, keeping indoor temperatures and humidity at ideal levels ensures all equipment runs as efficiently as possible. Even outside of breakdowns, high temperatures or excessive moisture can cause malfunctions or inefficiencies that endanger products and workers, which smart cooling systems prevent.

By maintaining optimal conditions, smart cooling systems prevent moisture buildup on warehouse floors. That humidity reduction can improve vehicle traction, minimizing the risks of forklift collisions with shelving or employees. The same benefits also apply to pedestrian workers, who’ll be less likely to slip and fall in a less humid environment.

Preventing excessive heat and moisture buildup also ensures robotic systems move as efficiently as possible. Consequently, these machines are less likely to handle products too harshly or make unnecessarily large motions, which could damage nearby goods or hurt employees.

Preventing Heat-Related Injuries

Smart warehouse cooling systems also play an important role in protecting the workforce. In addition to preventing machine-related accidents, optimal indoor temperatures eliminate the risk of heat-related injuries.

Environmental heat exposure caused 36 workplace deaths in 2021 alone. That figure doesn’t include non-fatal injuries, either. Warehouse work is already physically strenuous, and high temperatures exacerbate these risks. Overexertion, heat exhaustion and muscle fatigue are all more likely in these conditions and can limit productivity even when they don’t cause immediate injuries.

Conventional cooling systems are too inefficient and error-prone to eliminate these risks entirely. Traditional AC also struggles in high heat when it’s most important to work properly. Smart alternatives are less likely to break down, thanks to predictive maintenance, and are better at maintaining ideal conditions throughout the day, thanks to their real-time data analysis.

Preventing Cold Stress

Heat-related injuries may be the most prominent HVAC-related health risk, but the other end of the scale presents risks, too. Cold stress, while less common than high heat, is also possible and can similarly affect worker safety.

If warehouses are too cold, employees risk numbness in their limbs and fingers. That loss of sensation heightens the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and overexertion, as workers may not realize how much they’re exerting themselves until it’s too late. Machine operators’ dexterity may suffer in the cold, too, and the resulting equipment accidents can endanger them or other nearby workers.

Warehouses handling many refrigerated goods or operating in cold areas face higher cold stress risks than many businesses. Consequently, it’s crucial to maintain effective heating throughout the facility, which smart HVAC systems enable.

Reducing Human Errors

Even if high or low temperatures don’t cause injuries, they can still endanger workers and products through human error. Employee error plays a role in almost all workplace accidents, and these mistakes are more likely in uncomfortable conditions.

Indoor heat doesn’t have to reach dangerous levels to be distracting. If it grows too warm or too humid, workers can easily lose focus because the heat bothers them. That lack of focus, in turn, makes it easier for them to drop items, run into machines after not seeing where they’re going or make other mistakes that lead to injury or product loss.

Smart cooling systems can adapt not just to changing environmental conditions but to operators’ preferences. Over time, data from manual adjustments will inform these systems of what levels best meet users’ needs. As a result, warehouses will become more comfortable workplaces, reducing distractions and making errors less likely.

Warehouses Today Need Smart Cooling Systems

As warehouses grow busier and demands grow, these advantages become increasingly difficult to ignore. Heat and humidity play a bigger role in product quality and workplace safety than many companies realize, but smart cooling systems offer a solution.

AI-enabled HVAC systems’ tendency to reduce energy consumption is enough to warrant their adoption, but their benefits don’t stop there. Warehouses that embrace them will also enjoy higher product quality assurance and fewer workplace accidents.

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About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.