Plastic Pallets from Polymer Logistics Give Fresh Produce Supply Chain a Lift
Light pallet effortlessly performs the heavy lifting in a recent supply chain trial
From omnichannel to automation, and from real-time visibility to heightened concerns about hygiene and worker safety, emerging trends continue to strain the capabilities of today’s retail supply chains. Operators are increasingly motivated to identify and root out long accepted legacy practices that may be impeding operational improvements. One such area of opportunity pertains to pallet technology.
A recent trial assessed the potential for a highly engineered lightweight plastic pallet from Polymer Logistics in a fresh produce application. The project involved D.E. Brand, a supplier of quality Brassica vegetables, as well as Asda, a leading grocery retailer. Produce is a demanding application for pallets and palletised products, involving hygiene, ergonomics and worker safety risks, as well as moist conditions that can result in wood pallets and corrugated cartons absorbing moisture and harbouring bacteria.
D.E. Brand’s production unit is based in Surfleet, where the company farms more than 1,300 acres on some of Lincolnshire’s best silt land. They offer a rich combination of experience, expertise and commercial knowledge, with experts in varietal development, crop management, harvesting, product care, distribution and category management.
Asda, part of the Walmart family, is one of the UK’s largest grocery retailers. They are guided by aspirations to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment. They recently created the Asda Sustain & Save Exchange (SSE), a collaborative approach to building a world-class sustainable supplier base. Today, Asda products travel 30 million fewer miles to and from depots today than they did in 2005, resulting in significant carbon and cost reductions. By 2014, they were diverting 98.9% of their waste.
Plastic Pallets: Engineered for the 21st Century Supply chain
Designed for today’s supply chain needs, RFID capable plastic pallets offer several benefits versus timber pallets, starting with weight. At just 15kg, it provides ease of manual handling, making it a much more ergonomically friendly solution than wood. Also, the lighter pallet means that more capacity is available for product before weighing out a load. On average, 3 to 6% more merchandise can be loaded onto a vehicle with plastic pallets than with wood pallets. The result is that fewer miles are required to ship the same amount of product.
Another important differentiator is the durability of plastic pallets. They experience a damage rate of just 1.5% per trip compared to more than 25% for wood pallets. Increased life expectancy translates into more reliable performance in the supply chain, with fewer delays, disruptions or product damage because of breakage. In addition, a 3:1 empty pallet nesting ration provides space-saving efficiencies for return and storage. Vastly improved pallet life, along with fewer delivery and return miles, combine to offer essential sustainability gains.
Additionally, because plastic pallets are RFID capable, they can be used in conjunction with tracking systems to provide supply chain visibility for the products they carry.
Plastic Pallets Trial Demonstrates the Power of Plastic
Plastic pallets were utilised for field palletisation and shipment to Asda CDCs (central distribution centres) in Skelmersdale and Lutterworth. Products involved in the operation were broccoli and cabbage, with an average tray weight of 9kg. No half trays or boxes were used in the trial.
The trial was undertaken to demonstrate how plastic pallets could improve supply chain operations for fresh produce. Several variables were evaluated, including the productivity of forklift handling during loading and unloading, load stability in conjunction with plastic crates, as well as the fit of plastic pallets for manual handling. The project allowed material handlers to experience how the plastic pallets can be easily lifted and stacked manually as well as nested when empty to optimise space utilisation.
The plastic pallet trial proved to be highly successful. Harvest workers enjoyed the ease of pallet handling in the field, with no change required for pallet strapping requirements. There was absolutely no shifting or loss of palletised product in transit as load stability was enhanced by the use of interlocking trays. Because trays do not overhang the pallet, pallets of product are faster to manoeuvre and are less vulnerable to damage.
Forklift handling and pump trucks functioned seamlessly with plastic pallets. Operators appreciated the ease of fork entry, with the free underdeck providing a larger opening than found in wood pallets. Some of the feedback from Asda Skelmersdale personnel included comments that the plastic pallets were easily handled by MHE and pump trucks, and lighter to lift and stack. They also appreciated that plastic pallets were a consistent weight as opposed to wood pallets and that the risk of splinters and nails was eliminated.
From a health and safety perspective, ASDA remarked positively that trays of fresh produce could be effortlessly slid from the pallet as per established best practice. This recommended approach is often not feasible with wood pallets, given the gaps between top deck boards, the likelihood of exposed nail heads, as well as other irregularities.
Adrian Dale: “As supply chain operators strive to deliver on excellence, there can be no stone left unturned when it comes to evaluating legacy products and processes that are standing in the way of important improvement opportunities. Problems related to the use of wood pallets are increasingly coming under the microscope as retailers look to take their operations to the next level. This trial demonstrates how plastic pallets deliver in every category to improve the fresh produce experience.
“While the use of wood pallets is a widely accepted and entrenched legacy practice, it makes perfect sense for retailers and their suppliers to start identifying specific supply lines that will be best served by a conversion to plastic pallets, such as the partnership between D.E. Brand and Asda. By identifying and upgrading the pallet technology used in such trading relationships, one partner at a time, the overall pallet system can systematically begin its transformation toward a leading edge 21st Century solution.”