Lakelands open futuristic facility
Lakeland Dairies new €10m distribution facility will have a pay-back of less than five years due to savings in warehousing rents and staffing requirements.
The 14,000 pallet facility at their Newtownards plant stretches 30m high, and operates in total darkness due to its fully automated design.
"It's the first of its kind in Europe, and because there aren't people working in the facility, we can reduce the oxygen content in the atmosphere inside by 30pc, which allows us to eliminate the possibility of a fire in the facility," explained Lakeland's CEO Michael Hanley.
"If a fire breaks out you automatically lose all your product due to smoke or water contamination, so the trick is to prevent a fire breaking out in the first place. In this place you can't even get a cigarette lighter to work," Mr Hanley told the Farming Independent.
The automation saves the company up to 15 'labour units', and will operate day and night handling up to 100,000t of product annually.
Since Lakeland's bought the Pritchard business in 2003, the company has trebled volumes with only a 20pc increase in labour requirements at the Newtownards site.
"All of our food service product will be distributed from this facility, which operates completely differently from our big powder storage facilities in the South. With powder, you are often loading 20t of a single product onto a truck each time.
"With food service, we can be assembling 10 different SKUs (stock-keeping units) onto a single pallet for delivery. So pallets are handled multiple times," he said.