chaz4Losing pallets in a supply chain can be a costly business and even the expert pallet pooling companies can lose sight of the ball, as Brambles, owner of the Chep brand, found to its embarrassing cost a few years ago when it lost track of 14 million timber pallets. Losing plastic pallets can be far more costly as their initial costs exceed timber four or five fold. There are, of course, ways to reduce these losses, including RFID tags and colour coding, usually two toning, or by using one of the leading pallet pool operators, like Chep and LPR.

One company to use colour coding successfully is the Scotsman Publications, who ordered 330 two-colour medium weight pallets from Previously, the Scotsman used timber pallets but health and safety considerations motivated them to change over to plastic. This meant that problems with splinters, nails, sharp edges, mould and other handling issues no longer arose. Being completely weather resistant, they are also lighter than timber and easier to clean, but less easy to repair. Since using plastic pallets, the Scotsman has reported no losses.

Unlike timber, plastic pallet producers are innovating all the time. Goplasticpallets, for example, have just introduced into the UK its APB 1208 LSNR, a pallet that nests, stacks and racks. A standard truck can hold up to 33 stacks of them piled 35 high, so ensuring minimal space wastage in storage and transit. When racked, these pallets will take a 400 kg load.

The debate of plastic versus timber will continue to exercise minds but the overall consideration is that the application usually decides the choice. Generally, food companies prefer plastic to timber for hygiene reasons but on green issues timber has the edge on plastic.

Plastic may also be preferred in automated warehouses, where consistent, precise tolerances and lack of nail/damage problems means less trouble for the automated stacker cranes. One household name retailer found at least 10% of its timber pallets had to be rejected owing to quality issues which prevented them being used by the stacker cranes. Chep and LPR wood pallets, however, are sturdy, well made and within tight tolerances.

But the fact is that pallets of both materials are morphing into other designs which cut down several layers of packaging and make handling much easier. Examples are roll container cages, trolley bases, pallet boxes, be they timber, cardboard, plastic or metal. These can be wheeled straight out of lorries onto shop floor display areas as point of sale aids. Sometimes, regarding small parts deliveries, pallets in all their forms can be replaced by trolleys loaded with small parts bins and wheeled straight from lorries to line-side assembly stations, where the empty trolleys are collected and returned to the supplier for future refills. This cuts out a great deal of unnecessary handling and frees up storage space.

Timber can and is still being used in food shop areas if they have been kiln dried but if a fungicide is used to treat them operators should be aware of the chemicals used. Toxic chemicals used in the past could migrate from the pallets through food wrapping and so contaminate food. As for plastic pallets, the use of deca-bromine as a flame retardant is subject to an EU ban, but Goplasticpallets is working on a fire retardant to meet the limited demand in the UK. This should be 100% safe, says the company, and details will be released in September.

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