Baby, it’s cold in there…

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

You may have seen the massive cube rising just off Orchard south of 40th. That would be the NewCold (Advanced Cold Logistics) state of the art cold storage facility.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, so what? Anybody can refrigerate stuff? We all do that at home.”

Yes, we all have refrigerators, and cold storage sites are all over town. But you, or the world, have never seen anything quite like this.

NewCold lives up to its name in both senses; it is new and it is cold.

By new, I mean mostly automated. And by cold, I mean a standard temperature of five degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

If you think about the standard cold storage warehouse, much of the space is dedicated to open areas for forklifts and storage, and massive doors that sit open so pallets or trucks can be moved in or out.

NewCold actually thought this through. Massive software controlled conveyer lines take the pallets in, sort them and send them off to an upper storage area.

Basically the bottom floor is where shipments enter and leave (eight stacker cranes can process 4,000 pallets a day) and the storage entryway looks relatively standard with pallets and forklifts in motion.

After that, (or, technically, above that) it is as if everything jumps a century or two.

The "cube" rises like a monolith on the horizon. Above the corner of the building is a photo-bombing seagull.        	 Photo: Morf Morford

The “cube” rises like a monolith on the horizon. Above the corner of the building is a photo-bombing seagull. Photo: Morf Morford

Filling the “cube,” upstairs are 14 floors of steel struts and passageways far too narrow for forklifts or carts. Only a few maintenance people make their way here – but only as needed. Video monitors track every movement, package or degree change.

You can take a short video tour of the facility here – http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/business/article211753169.html.

In much of the facility, oxygen is reduced (down to about what it is about two thirds of the way up Mt. Rainier) to reduce fire danger and the use of indoor sprinkler systems – to put it mildly, the use of water to put out a fire in a frozen food facility would probably cause more damage than any fire.

Thanks to these design features, this facility uses about half of the energy of an equivalent site of the same size – saving about what 700 homes would use.

The whole facility sits on 35 acres, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and yes, that building is big; it is about 140 feet high and sixty feet across.

NewCold has room for potential expansion as well.On the current Tacoma site they can add capacity for handling another 100,000 pallets.

Besides being a locus for refrigerated food (frozen for now) this facility will employ 50 – 100 full-time, permanent local workers – and they won’t be standard warehouse workers – these workers better have the required technical/computer skills – and they better get used to the cold.

This chart captures the history and geography of NewCold. Their first facility opened in France in early 2011 with a capacity of 38,000 pallets. Their most recent is in Tacoma with a capacity of over 100,000 pallets. Growth, in terms of size and locations, is clearly on their horizon. Even though the company is based in The Netherlands, the company has no facilities there. Expansion into Asian markets is a distinct possibility.

This chart captures the history and geography of NewCold. Their first facility opened in France in early 2011 with a capacity of 38,000 pallets. Their most recent is in Tacoma with a capacity of over 100,000 pallets. Growth, in terms of size and locations, is clearly on their horizon.
Even though the company is based in The Netherlands, the company has no facilities there. Expansion into Asian markets is a distinct possibility.

NewCold began in early 2011 (see chart, above) and has facilities (eight in all) across Europe, Australia and, as of this year, North America.

The Tacoma facility opened earlier this year and another, slightly smaller version, is under construction in Burley, Idaho and is scheduled to open in early 2019.

I took a tour of the facility and met some of the staff. Jonas Swarttouw, the US Country Manager, described the facility as being “the future” – and yes, it certainly is. But as I was looking at the videos and the intricacies of the mostly automated system, I couldn’t help thinking that it was looking familiar. As I looked through their website, I saw why – the Dutch have always been at the center of global trade and could easily be considered the founders of the whole concept of a global economy (1*). To refresh your memory, or to convince you, take a look at this article - http://www.scmworld.com/dutch-invented-global-logistics-history-lesson/.

One issue that Jonas Swarttouw brought up was the difference in community response to the construction of the NewCold facility and the outrage and opposition to the proposed methane production plant at the Port of Tacoma a little over a year ago. Mr. Swartthouw was expecting community resistance but found only support.

I told him that I thought it was primarily because the NewCold facility was more in sync with the identity of Tacoma as a trading center rather than as a chemical processing site.

Tacoma’s location, culture and identity are a perfect match for companies like NewCold – we look to the future, the larger world, stable employment, energy and environmental stewardship and emerging technologies to make our community and economy ever stronger.

We aren’t afraid of the future or of work, and we don’t cling to the past.

We have a history we want to respect and acknowledge, but our destiny is ahead, not behind us.

 

(1*)    And just a reminder, the original European name for New York City was New Amsterdam. NYC, a couple centuries later, is still considered one of the world’s major trading centers.