McKeown Fine Foods is a family-run food-processing business supplying meat products to wholesale, retail and food service organisations across the UK and Ireland.

The company has grown rapidly over the years, taking on a number of cold stores on both sides of the Irish border. With the recent upgrading of its cold store facilities in Rasharkin, Ballymena in Northern Ireland, the business was faced with a decision on how best to rack-out the new building to maximise storage density and ensure smooth, reliable throughput to the production lines.

The new three-chamber cold store, with two rooms operating at temperatures of -20 degrees and a third at one degree, has a capacity to hold some 4,400 pallets – quite a step up from the existing manually operated 300-pallet facility on site.

McKeown took the decision to invest in Toyota’s high-density automated storage solution, BT Radioshuttle.

The Radioshuttle system is designed to automatically store and retrieve pallet loads of product at rates of up to 60 per hour, combining fast and efficient transport of goods with space utilisation of up to 85 per cent of available storage space. The system uses radio-controlled shuttles that are automatically guided along channels within the racking and powered by lithium ion batteries for reliable long-shift operations.

Maximising storage density using Radioshuttle offered significant advantages in cutting the cost-per-pallet stored and in reducing the potential for forklift truck collisions with racking.

Damian McKeown, Managing Director and owner of McKeown Fine Foods, explained: “Our product was stored in several cold stores across Ireland, and we had a small cold store in Rasharkin with drive-in racking which held 300 pallets. I imagined that once the three-chamber store was completed we would have to employ three or four more people, but that wasn’t the case at all. With the Radioshuttle system, one chamber can take in seven lorry loads of pallets a day, easily, with the same number of people that worked in our old cold store. The system is extremely fast and reliable.

“One shuttle can do so much work, it’s quite amazing. Within the time the forklift goes to pick up another pallet from the lorry, the shuttle is back waiting, every time. The forklift  drivers just can’t keep up with the shuttle, it’s really efficient.”

McKeown Fine Foods has two shuttles at present, with a third on order, giving the business the flexibility and scalability to increase throughput in step with demand. The process of storing and retrieving pallet loads is simple. The forklift operator lifts a shuttle into the required channel, places a pallet load onto the shuttle and then presses a remote control, sending the shuttle with its load off into the racking. Retrieving a load is just as easy.

The professional support from Toyota’s Chris Adamson also played an important part in securing the order. “Chris was outstanding,” said Mr McKeown. “He stepped in and provided a quote in record time, just a few days, and ensured that the whole process went smoothly.”