Warehouse automation projects are becoming increasingly popular. Experts attribute the rush to automation on the rise of online commerce. “Rapid growth in the worldwide market for warehouse automation and control systems is being driven primarily by the global boom in e-commerce, and its profound effects on fulfilment requirements,” reports the ARC Advisory Group.
ARC notes that as the market “is analysed and the data is compiled, it becomes evident that the growth is rapid and widespread across vendors, regions, and technologies.” Automated warehouses help operators to efficiently address e-commerce and omnichannel fulfilment challenges related to staffing, picking productivity and space utilisation.
Consider that 80% of warehouses are still manually operated, according to the Robotics Industries Association. Things are expected to change dramatically. For example, the global logistics robotic market generated revenue of around £1,45 billion in 2016, rising to £17.2 billion by 2021. Robot unit shipments will increase from 40,000 to 620,000 annually over the period.
For the most part, automated systems require precisely manufactured, durable pallets that provide reliable service in high volume applications. Quality problems can result in pallets getting jammed in equipment or spinning out of alignment on conveyors. “Unfortunately,” a leading pallet provider notes in a brochure about automation, “for many customers, equipment jams are a fact of life.”
Many automation projects are turning to plastic pallets. The dimensional consistency of plastic pallets helps enable consistent performance. As retailers increasingly strive to offer next day or even same day delivery, there will be increasingly little tolerance for downtime. Plastic pallets can help ensure reliable fulfilment execution.
So, the question should be asked – does one design automation for optimisation, or does one design it to work as best it can with the supply chain pallet specification that has likely been in place for years or decades? For their part, some automation providers design systems with demanding pallet requirements, while others offer solutions that “work” with average wood pallets. But do they work as well as they could?
Over the years, wood pallet thought leaders have emphasised the importance of considering the pallet as part of an automated system, one as important as any other piece of equipment in it. It has been argued that by failing to design for the realities of the current pallet system, supply chains will endure significant additional cost in terms of requiring mechanized pallet transfer equipment (at a tactical level) or the even more sizeable investment in a compatible new pallet system (at the supply chain level).
Whether your supply chain is complex or relatively straightforward, it is certainly worth asking if the current pallet in use will limit the potential of the planned automation project. And be sure to consider the other automation projects which will inevitably follow in the years ahead. Make sure your legacy pallet doesn’t end up wagging the automation dog. It just might be time to take a serious look at supply chain pallet reform.
New high-volume service centre will handle a variety of pallet and container washing, inspection and repair needs for new and existing customers
Polymer Logistics, a leading international provider of ‘One-Touch/Retail Ready Packaging (RRP)’ Solutions, recently opened its newest washing facility in Coventry, UK. The 50,000-square foot centre features five loading bays. It provides washing, inspection and repair services for pallets and containers manufactured by Polymer Logistics as well as those produced by other suppliers.
Polymer’s new wash plant supports the continued growth of the company as an ‘end to end solution provider.’ The innovative manufacturer of long lasting reusable packaging solutions now follows every aspect of the logistics cycle to provide a comprehensive container management service to customers.
The Coventry facility came online in December 2017 after a successful trial period. The opening has created 20 new jobs in the region.
The strategic location of the facility in the Midlands provides a convenient base to serve the washing needs of UK and international customers. It will support existing and new Polymer Logistics clients in sectors including produce, meat, grocery, bakery and e-commerce.
Designed with flexibility in mind, trays, folding bins and other containers can all be washed on the same machine. It has the capability to run 24/7, an output capacity of 35 million trays annually and it is currently operating 16 hours daily plus Saturday morning as demand continues to grow.
The wash line features pre-wash, hot wash, high pressure wash, hot rinse and drying operations to ensure a high-quality service. Wash water is reused and cleaned to reduce environmental impact and cost. In addition to providing leading edge washing capabilities, the location also provides reusable packaging inspection and repair. And while the wash line was specifically designed to process plastic products from Polymer Logistics, it can easily handle other containers as well.
Other sustainability features of the plant include solar power generation to help reduce its energy requirements, as well as grey water capture from the roof to provide water for WC flush and other needs.
Steve Raybould – Business Unit Manager for washing and services at Polymer Logistics: “Our new wash plant in Coventry builds on our capability to address every aspect of reusable plastic pallet and container management. Its central location, flexibility to handle multiple types of containers, and capacity for increased throughput provide the wash services needed as Polymer Logistics continues to grow.”
Also, four crucial business benefits to consider
Polymer Logistics is proud to once again receive the Gold Level rating for sustainability from EcoVadis, the first collaborative platform providing sustainability ratings for global supply chains, outperforming the benchmark for both Fair Business Practice (FBP) and Sustainable Procurement (SUP). It is the second time in a row that Polymer, the leading provider of ‘One-Touch/Retail Ready Packaging (RRP)’ solutions has achieved Gold. The Gold benchmark includes only about the top 5% of all companies assessed by EcoVadis. Polymer Logistics previously received the Silver Level rating for 2015.
Doing business with sustainably minded suppliers like Polymer Logistics is becoming imperative for many companies, and EcoVadis is leading the way. Used by over 35,000 companies worldwide, its unique Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) assessment methodology includes 150 purchasing categories, 120 countries and 21 CSR indicators. The EcoVadis methodology assesses ethical, social and environmental risks.
There is no question that sustainability is of paramount importance to everyone. Also, EcoVadis outlines some pressing business reasons why companies should be interested in achieving a high sustainability ranking and dealing with like-minded companies.
Better brand protection in complex supply chains
As companies become more globalised, Ecovadis notes, supply chains are becoming more complex. Risks are increasing and are becoming more difficult to anticipate. With social media, any shortcomings can be exposed to a worldwide audience within minutes. Brand damage is only a Tweet away.
Increased scrutiny and more advanced NGO data sources
Thanks to the Internet, buyers and third-party providers can more easily monitor supplier business practices. This exposure to scrutiny underscores the importance of highly reputable behaviours. With sources ranging from NGOs to government agencies, online information about supplier performance issues is readily available.
Preparedness for regulatory pressure
Companies are struggling to stay current with the increasing wave of legislation in global supply chains, including new laws and regulations such as Conflict Minerals Act, UK Modern Slavery Act, and, most recently, the Devoir de Vigilance.
Sustainability as a competitive advantage
Most compellingly, sustainability is good business. According to the EcoVadis/HEC Sustainable Procurement Barometer, “97% of organisations surveyed consider sustainable procurement important or critically important to their businesses, and many companies have chosen to invest in improving their procurement practices.”
As the urgency for sustainable procurement escalates, the importance of comprehensive independent assessment, such as that provided by EcoVadis, continues to grow. If you haven’t already, visit www.ecovadis.com.
It’s too late to call the exterminators. By the time December 2018 arrives, the Earth will be crawling with over 11 billion “things” connected to the Internet, and there is no turning back. So is the time finally at hand for some of those IoT devices to be your pallets?
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of devices to the Internet and each other. IoT items include everything from your smartphone, Apple watch and household appliances to manufacturing and transportation equipment. In industry, such sensors enable the capture of vast amounts of data. Such “Big Data” can help companies make more-informed business decisions.
The point of IoT isn’t about the sensors, of course; it’s about the insights they can provide. In warehouses, connected pallets and items will enable smarter inventory management. For freight operations, the tracking and tracing of goods “become faster, more accurate, predictive and secure while analytics of a connected fleet can help to predict asset failure and to schedule maintenance checks automatically,” noted a report from Cisco and DHL. Even in the last mile of delivery, the connection of delivery personnel, delivery vehicles and people is seen as a way of delivering faster, more reliable and more cost-effective delivery execution.
But what about IoT for pallets? Sensor-equipped pallets are predicted to become increasingly crucial in IoT enabled supply chains, according to Berg Insight. The consultancy believes that connected pallets rank as the most promising greenfield IoT opportunity, facilitated by low-cost LPWA (low power, wide area) cellular and noncellular technologies. Initially, Berg Insight believes that IoT will find traction in industries with high-value goods or with strict regulatory oversight.
Another attractive use case will relate to the more efficient management of proprietary and commercial pallet pools, a development which will make the use of plastic pallets increasingly profitable. First of all, because plastic pallets last much longer than timber pallets, the IoT cost on a per trip basis will be much lower for plastic.
At the same time, one of the leading concerns about investing in long-lasting plastic pallets has been the fear of pallet loss and the cost of replacement. No surprise, however, IoT-enabled pallets provide better visibility and accurate accounting of who exactly has the pallets. They are at trading partner B, C and D, and they need to be picked up. IoT in combination with the appropriate software can enable cost-effective pallet management and the elimination of their loss.
The relationship between IoT and plastic pallet adoption can go together like a crisp Chablis with vintage Cheddar. Plastic pallets will be more highly demanded to help reduce the cost of IoT hardware, and at the same time, IoT technology will boost pallet user confidence toward introducing them into their supply chains without fear of pallet loss. With the insights provided through increased visibility becoming increasingly valued, IoT and plastic pallets just might prove to be the perfect pairing for your supply chain.
Lightweight and durable plastic pallet delivers on sanitation, ergonomics and
hygiene; superior load stability eliminates damage and promotes safe handling
Polymer Logistics has completed a highly successful trial of its Cleanpal plastic pallet in the challenging fresh produce supply chain. Participating in the project were D.E. Brand, the family-owned Lincolnshire-based supplier of quality Brassica vegetables, as well as leading retailer ASDA. Cleanpal 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.
As the fresh produce supply chain continues to evolve, it is becoming increasingly sensitive to inefficiencies stemming from the use of wood pallets. Negatives such as water absorption, inconsistent weight, frequent damage, splinters and exposed nails underscore some of the nagging ergonomic, hygiene and handling issues associated with their use.
The trial was undertaken to demonstrate the efficacy of Cleanpal for the palletisation and seamless shipment of fresh produce. Several factors were evaluated, including
ease of forklift handling during loading and unloading, load stability in conjunction with plastic crates, as well as suitability for manual handling. The project allowed material handlers to experience how the plastic pallets, weighing just 15kg each, can be easily lifted and stacked manually as well as nested when empty to optimise space utilisation.
The Cleanpal trial proved to be a success in all regards. 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. Forklift handling and pump truck manoeuvring was easily accomplished. Operators appreciated the easy fork entry, with the free underdeck providing a larger opening than found in wood pallets. From a health and safety perspective, ASDA remarked positively that trays of product could be easily slid from the pallet as per established best practice. This recommended approach is often not feasible with wood pallets, given their inconsistent surfaces and likelihood of exposed nail heads.
Adrian Dale, Managing Director at Polymer Logistics (UK): “In today’s supply chain, speed, safety and reliable quality have become essential. 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 Cleanpal delivers in every category to improve the fresh produce experience”.
New generation of merchandising display stands are lightweight, easy to assemble and disassemble and include a hidden storage space for crates and merchandise.
Polymer Logistics’ culture of innovation continues. Following the success of its Wood Look Stand and RPC merchandising systems – selected worldwide by retailers including Tesco, Carrefour, Walmart and more – the company has introduced its lightweight, easy to assemble version of the popular Wood Look Stand.
The motivation for creating the new stand stemmed from a desire by retailers. They asked for a wood look stand that would be very simple to assemble for seasonal fruit and vegetable displays. As it turned out, the flexible display stand is ideal for a wide variety of temporary merchandise promotions in addition to fresh produce. Aside from ease of use, the new stand has another significant advantage. It is hollow inside, which allows the retailer to store any crates inside of the stand itself, without interfering the wood look appearance.
When not required, the new Wood Look Stand can be quickly disassembled. Once taken apart, storage requirements are minimal.
The next generation stands are offered with a flat cover or a pyramid cover for a spillover presentation of fruits and vegetables. A tilted plinth display is another option, similar to the existing Wood Look Stand. This feature allows easier access to the back row of the crates for both stockers and customers.
The new wood look stands are available in several colours, including white, green, black and brown.
Adrian Dale, Polymer Logistics MD for the UK, said: “While the Wood Look Stand has been enthusiastically received by major retailers around the world, our continued success depends on our ongoing dialogue with customers, and mutually exploring opportunities for improvement. The next generation Wood Look Stand is a result of those conversations. Like the original, it provides a superior shopping experience, with added benefits of ease of use and additional storage.”
Cleanpal plastic pallets from Polymer Logistics provide a suite of savings, including the elimination of product damage, reduced weight in transport, as well as improved hygiene, cube utilisation, ergonomics and pallet life
FreshLinc specialises in the total supply chain management of temperature controlled fresh, chilled and horticultural products. It is a leading service provider throughout the UK and Europe to retailers, producers and importers. Its modern fleet and facilities allow it to deliver cost-effective and customer-driven solutions to meet the needs of its unique clients.
From telematics to digital driver safety monitoring, the company has a reputation for its willingness to deploy new technologies, which promote productivity and safety. One area where FreshLinc has quietly embraced a new technology towards improving operational performance, quality and worker safety has been in the introduction of the Cleanpal plastic pallet from Polymer Logistics. At only 15kg, the hygienic Cleanpal can be readily picked up by one worker, rather than the two employees recommended for handling a heavier wood pallet. The plastic pallet construction eliminates the risk of cuts from exposed nails or bacteria-laden wood splinters, which also pose a physical contamination risk. The reduced debris from the plastic pallet means less time is spent cleaning the warehouse and trailer floors, thus increasing productivity.
The company is also benefitting from reduced product damage thanks to the use of its interlocking tray system in combination with Cleanpal. The system has eliminated the overhang of merchandise beyond the pallet deck, and with it, the associated exposure that often leaves pallets of perishable products subject to damage. Another benefit from the switch to Cleanpal is consistent pallet quality. FreshLinc’s customers have experienced a damage free supply of pallets which ensures time-sensitive perishable products are able to move without avoidable delay or double handling throughout the supply chain.
Cleanpal pallets also offer huge space savings compared to wood pallets when stacked in the warehouse or on the lorry, thanks to their 3:1 nesting ratio. In addition, unlike wood pallets, Cleanpal is RFID capable, providing the opportunity for accurate pallet tracking in the supply chain.
Adrian Dale, Polymer Logistics MD for the UK, said: “FreshLinc provides a highly sophisticated approach to supply chain management in the fast-paced temperature controlled supply chain. We are delighted to support their efforts through the provision of Cleanpal, which helps improve the safety, quality and efficiency of their operations.”