Smithfield Foods, a vertically integrated global food company and one of the world’s largest pork producers and processors, and Lineage Logistics, the world’s largest operator of refrigerated warehouses, on April 19 announced the opening of an automated, next-generation distribution center in Olathe, Kansas.
Lineage designed and built the facility to enhance Smithfield’s complex distribution network, which supplies thousands of destinations with frequent shipments of protein in varying quantities. Spanning nearly 20 million cubic feet with over 62,000 pallet positions, the distribution center’s innovations provide high levels of operational efficiency and reliability via automation.
At the facility’s core are 18 automated cranes that move inventory into, out of and within the premises, which also features one of the largest temperature-controlled layer-picking systems in the world. Layer-pickers disassemble and reassemble pallets of goods, a process previously performed manually. As a result, the robotics and software fully automate over 97% of the product movement through the facility.
Lineage sponsored academic research in mathematics to determine how to schedule and dispatch components in the facility, increasing throughput capability. Computer vision systems automatically identify the contents of each pallet, decreasing the building footprint. Its technology teams refined the robotic layout in simulation, stress-testing it against high growth, food holidays and even March 2020 panic buying during the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
The facility also features Lineage’s patented blast cell technology (US Patent #10,663,210) that reduces freeze time and energy use by approximately one-half relative to traditional blast cells, aligning with Smithfield’s commitment to sustainability. The food company has pledged to become carbon negative, reduce GHG emissions by 30% and halve food waste at its company owned operations in the USA by 2030.
“Our new facility in Olathe represents the pinnacle of supply chain technology. It combines innovations in robotics, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, algorithms, computer vision and software to enable reliable and efficient access to food. Olathe is the foundation of our automated future,” said Sudarsan Thattai, Lineage’s chief information officer and chief transformation officer.
“As a major food company feeding a growing global population sustainably, we’re continually working to implement enhancements across our value chain, including our distribution network, to support our customers and reduce our environmental footprint,” said Shane Smith, president and executive officer of Smithfield. “We’re pleased to partner with an innovation-driven company like Lineage to further optimize our operations and better serve our customers.”
“Automation is increasingly important element of our strategy to achieve efficiencies across our business and exceed customer expectations,” said Brady Stewart, chief operating officer of Smithfield Foods. “The opening of our new facility in Olathe brings unmatched innovation and new levels of resiliency to our supply chain.”
“Lineage Logistics’ decision to build the Smithfield Foods distribution center in Kansas is confirmation that our central location, strong infrastructure and world-class workforce are exactly what companies need to expand business operations,” said Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. “This project is a major win for Olathe and the state as a whole. Lineage exemplifies the type of businesses we are working to attract and retain, and their investment helps solidify our role as a 21st century hub for transportation, logistics and distribution.”
In addition to state-of-the-art software inside the building, the facility features Lineage Link, a customer experience platform that provides Smithfield unprecedented access, visibility and control to its product. With the ability to see inventory levels and receive timely alerts, Smithfield can place the necessary orders and schedule the shipments to ensure orders reach consumers when needed. The platform in turn seamlessly interacts with the operating software to ensure tasks are prioritized for the requisite appointments to maintain the highest level of throughput and productivity.