Jim Hardisty, Managing Director for Goplasticpallets.com examines the rise of automation in the food and drink sector and crucial role plastic pallets play in ensuring a smooth and efficient production line.
According to business advisory BDO’s Food and Drink Report 2018, productivity was a critical focus area for 89% of the food and drink industry. However, when it comes to automation, only 54% of respondents were looking to increase levels of investment – a fall from 66% in 2017. The uncertainty over Brexit and fear that as we leave the EU, costs will rise has much to answer for this. That said, still one in two firms said they were going to increase investment in technology and automation.
Furthermore, a recent report by the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies entitled Trends in Food Processing Operations, suggests that the uptake of automation in the next three to five years will continue to rise, with half of the companies surveyed looking to increase their level of automation.
Despite these positive statistics, many food and drink manufacturers admit that they don’t know where to start. When considering the introduction of any level of automation in the warehouse or production line it is important to look for a solution that integrates holistically with the whole of the operation. This means thinking about not only the type of automation that might be best suited to your needs but also how your products are moved through the supply chain.
A warehouse or production line with an automated handling system in place can increase throughput, moving goods through the supply chain at a far greater speed than any forklift driver can manage, reducing labour costs. The speed at which such systems function is also often the result of fewer mistakes.
Pallets in automation
But, automated handling systems are not invincible. The most common cause of disruption is the use of wooden pallets, which can result in lengthy delays, missed shipments and a huge cost to businesses.
Common problems caused by wooden pallets include: inconsistency – as wooden pallets are not uniform in size and shape, even small inconsistencies can cause a pallet to jam; damage – loose slats and broken nails can result through frequent use; contamination – as wooden pallets are absorbent they take in moisture where bacteria can harbour and grow, and in the worst case contaminate the goods loaded upon it.
A typical wooden pallet is therefore a weak link in the automated process. The obvious solution is to adopt a platform that is durable, totally consistent, does not contain nails or fasteners and is moisture resistant.
Plastic pallets and boxes perfectly complement automated handling systems, and in our experience of supplying products to the food and drink industry, they provide a reliable asset for all types of applications.
The advantages of plastic pallets over wood are plentiful, just a few include: consistency – plastic pallets are 100% size and strength consistent; durability – their strength is unrivalled, heavy duty varieties can also withstand frequent repeated use in rigorous, closed loop scenarios; hygienic – they are non-absorbent and resistant to most chemicals and can be washed repeatedly; recyclable – more than 90% of our plastic pallets are made from recycled plastic and at the end of their long working life can be reground to produce new, sustainable plastic pallets, saving trees along the way.
Plastic pallets in practice
At Goplasticpallets.com we have sold in excess of one million plastic pallets, boxes and containers in the last 20 years. Just a few of the automated solutions we’ve provided include: supplying 1,400 of our APB 1210 Pool Perforated 5R pallets to Edrington, the international premium spirits company, for use in automated pallet stacking and handling; supplying 2,000 of our largest 1,400 litre GoPalletBox 1311 to Logoplaste for the automated handling and storing of bottle preforms (this same product is also being used by a potato supplier in its fully automated factory); and modifying a plastic pallet to provide precise recesses to accept heavy kegs for a manufacturer of premium cider.
We have also provided plastic pallets to one of the UK’s largest supermarkets for use in an automated storage and retrieval system.