Efficient and secure refrigerated storage is indispensable in many companies for preserving temperature-sensitive products. These facilities are designed to maintain specific environmental conditions to ensure the freshness and integrity of perishable goods, among others.

What is a refrigerated warehouse, and why do we need cold storage?

Essentially, a refrigerated warehouse is a carefully designed structure or facility to maintain controlled and optimal temperature conditions for products highly sensitive to thermal fluctuations. Externally, these warehouses may resemble any typical storage facility, but the fundamental difference lies in their interior.

The need for cold storage is not a new concept. Since ancient times, humans have understood the importance of keeping food at low temperatures to preserve its quality and extend its shelf life. What began with simple ice chambers in the Victorian era has evolved into a highly sophisticated industrial process, backed by cutting-edge technology and automation.

To fully grasp the importance of refrigerated warehouses, one only needs to consider their significant influence on our daily lives. In 2018, the global frozen food market was valued at $260.8 billion, and this figure has only increased since then. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the critical need to maintain products, such as vaccines, at extremely low temperatures.

When it comes to perishable foods, medications, or temperature-sensitive chemicals, cold storage is essential for maintaining the quality and safety of these products. However, the cold chain extends beyond medical or food products; it spans a wide range of industries, from pharmaceuticals to chemicals.

Construction of a refrigerated warehouse and types of cold storage

Refrigerated warehouses are built with specific technology and materials that allow them to efficiently maintain controlled temperatures. One key component in constructing these warehouses is the Sandwich Panel. This insulating element consists of two layers of precoated steel with an insulation core of polyurethane or polyisocyanurate foam in the middle. This design prevents external temperatures from affecting the interior of the warehouse.

Refrigerated warehouses are generally divided into two main categories based on the temperatures they must maintain:

  • Controlled temperature refrigeration: These warehouses maintain temperatures between 0 and 10 ºC. They are common in the food industry, helping preserve the freshness of perishable products and extend their shelf life.
  • Total freezing: These warehouses operate at temperatures between -30 and 0 ºC. They are essential for preserving products at extremely low temperatures, including volatile chemical compounds that must be stored at -20 ºC to prevent evaporation. This also applies to certain pharmaceutical products, particularly vaccines produced with viral strains and/or lyophilized products that require temperatures between -15°C and -25°C.

The choice between these types of warehouses depends on the nature of the stored products and their optimal storage temperature. Indeed, a refrigerated warehouse must maintain a consistently controlled temperature to ensure the quality and safety of the products. Additionally, it must ensure efficient operation, which is one of the current challenges in industrial refrigeration.

Critical Design Aspects in Cold Storage Warehouses

A successful refrigerated warehouse is not limited to its construction alone; it also involves carefully considering various design factors to ensure efficiency and optimal operation. Some key aspects to consider in the design of a refrigerated warehouse include:

  • Type of merchandise: Obviously, the nature of the stored products, whether food, pharmaceuticals, or chemicals, will influence the temperature and storage requirements of the facility.
  • Reception and dispatch capacity: The capacity for receiving and dispatching goods must be defined to ensure an efficient workflow within the warehouse.
  • Loading docks and temporary storage areas: Loading docks and temporary storage areas are essential for maintaining controlled temperatures during the loading and unloading process.
  • Warehouse layout: In this regard, the design of the internal distribution of the warehouse, including the location of shelves and storage space, must be optimized for efficient access and handling.
  • Storage systems: Appropriate storage systems, both manual and automatic, must be chosen to operate in low-temperature environments, as needed.
  • Efficient refrigerated doors: Undoubtedly, refrigerated doors play a crucial role in maintaining internal temperatures. They must be suitable for the purpose and prevent temperature loss when opened.
  • Handling equipment: Certainly, handling equipment, such as electric forklifts, must be compatible with low temperatures and designed to operate safely in cold environments.
  • Security systems: Security systems, such as controlled access and temperature monitoring, are essential to ensure safe and efficient warehouse operation.

Basic Elements of a Refrigerated Warehouse

To thoroughly understand the operation of a refrigerated warehouse, it is essential to know the fundamental elements that compose it. In addition to the structure and insulation, there are other key components that ensure an optimal storage environment:

  • Refrigeration equipment: Logically, refrigeration equipment is essential in a refrigerated warehouse. These devices are responsible for maintaining the internal temperature in accordance with the requirements of the stored products. The choice of refrigeration equipment depends on various factors, such as the required temperature, storage time, and dimensions of the chamber.
  • Cold room floors: Surprisingly, the floor of a refrigerated warehouse plays a critical role in its performance. In chambers with temperatures above 0 °C, isolating the floor is unnecessary. On the contrary, in freezing chambers, having an insulated floor is fundamental to avoid condensation and ensure thermal insulation. This is achieved by installing insulating panels or an insulated concrete floor.

Operation of an Industrial Refrigerated Warehouse

The operation of an industrial refrigerated warehouse is based on thermodynamic principles that allow maintaining controlled temperatures inside. The following describes how this process works:

  • Refrigeration cycle: Specifically, the cooling process in an industrial refrigerated warehouse is based on a refrigeration cycle. This cycle involves the continuous circulation of a refrigerant that absorbs and releases heat to maintain the desired temperature in the chamber.
  • Evaporation: Inside the refrigerated chamber, the refrigerant is in a liquid state at low pressure and temperature. The evaporator is the component responsible for facilitating the exchange of energy between the refrigerant and the chamber’s air. A fan forces this exchange, causing the refrigerant to evaporate, thereby absorbing heat from the surrounding air and reducing the temperature in the chamber.
  • Compression: After evaporation, the gaseous refrigerant is suctioned by the compressor. The compressor compresses the gas, increasing both the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant.
  • Condensation: The compressed refrigerant is directed to the condenser, where heat release occurs. During this process, the refrigerant gives off heat to the external environment and returns to a liquid state at high pressure.
  • Expansion: Finally, after leaving the condenser, the liquid refrigerant at high pressure is directed toward an expansion valve. This valve reduces the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant, preparing it to return to the evaporator and start the cycle again.

This refrigeration cycle is repeated continuously to maintain the interior temperature of the refrigerated warehouse at the desired level. It is worth noting that, over time, ice can accumulate on the evaporator due to constant condensation and evaporation. Therefore, periodic defrosting procedures are necessary to ensure optimal performance of the refrigeration system.

Need Cold Storage?

At Intersam, we specialize in designing and developing customized refrigeration and air conditioning systems for the industry and commerce since 1995. Our in-house manufactured condensers and adiabatic air coolers control water consumption by 100% and feature low-energy consumption ventilation systems.

In general, we develop all kinds of water-air, air-water, and air-refrigerant high-energy efficiency and low-operating-cost refrigeration and air conditioning systems. We handle your refrigerated warehouse project both within and outside of Spain. Contact us right now!

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