When storing cocoa, there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, cocoa is relatively expensive. Secondly, if it catches fire, the blaze is difficult to extinguish since cocoa powder contains 10 to 20 percent fat.
Innovative warehousing solution
After two major cocoa blazes in The Netherlands in 2003, logistics specialist DSV Solutions and Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate decided to work together on designing a new, inherently fire-safe approach to storing cocoa. Two warehouses comprising 50,000 square metres and constructed at a safe distance apart, have been specially equipped to store cocoa products, and in particular cocoa powder. “ To prevent is better than to cure,” says Cargill’s supply chain director Gijs Vorstman, summing up the main starting point. “Spraying a cocoa blaze with water has little to no effect,” he explains. Therefore, the oxygen level in the warehouses has been reduced from the normal 21 percent to just 16 or 17 percent so that, in the case of fire, the cocoa will smoulder or smoke at most. The second line of defence is triggered simultaneously: carbon dioxide is blown into the warehouse from two large tanks holding liquid CO2 which are situated next to the warehouses. Within just half an hour, this further reduces the oxygen level to around 12 percent, thus extinguishing the seat of the fire. Vorstman: “The concept has been around for a while, but this is a very innovative application of that approach.” In principle, no warehouse employees will be required to work in the low-oxygen environments, because the cocoa will be transported internally using remote-controlled and fully automated very narrow aisle automated guidance vehicles (VNA/AGVs), which also generates extra storage efficiency. Standard forklifts would not only require more room to manoeuvre, but also – and more importantly – would be manually controlled. The combination of humans and machinery always carries a risk, says Vorstman.
Save and efficient
Needless to say, efficiency was also a key consideration. “Naturally, we have commercial objectives too. We don’t intend to price ourselves out of the market with a hugely expensive warehouse.” The extra investment in software to control the AGVs has fortunately also improved efficiency within the logistics processes.
Account manager Jack Streefland from DSV Solutions considers the intensive collaboration between Cargill and DSV to be particularly special: “The combination of new legislation relating to cocoa product storage and both parties’ focus on fire prevention has resulted in an extremely innovative warehouse.”