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Poor pallets hamper automated projects

15 January 2020

With automation now playing a rapidly expanding role in storage and handling solutions, it is the often overlooked pallet which plays a surprisingly crucial role in achieving operational success.

Poor pallets can mean hidden costs. Although the pallet acts as the single interface between the product, its packaging, and the material handling and storage system, it is typically considered an afterthought when enterprises are considering investment in automated equipment.

Automated systems offer many advantages but they are also far less flexible when attempting to successfully manipulate unsuitable or damaged pallets. As a result, where pallet quality has been overlooked, it is possible to invest in automated equipment which actually causes more problems than it solves.

In a recent study from Virginia Tech University (VTU) based on an industrial survey, the impact of pallet quality on automated storage and handling operations is evidently a significant factor amongst the bulk of respondents.

Pallet-related issues with automated equipment occurred on a daily or weekly basis for above half of the sample, according to VTU. However, many of the issues reported are not as a result of equipment failure, more as a result of poor quality or damaged pallets clogging up the machinery. Damaged pallet bottom boards were identified as a key issue for the survey respondents.

Such operational downtime clearly impacts time and lowers effectiveness. In the fast-moving consumer goods sector in particular, delays have a significant impact. Highly competitive, for storage and materials handling companies, something as simple as the pallet could ultimately spell commercial disaster.

Given the potential for poor quality pallets to impact the business model, industry-leading enterprises are now recognising the pallet as integral to automated materials handling systems. Inevitably this puts the pallet front and centre when considering the successful deployment of automation. 

In a bid to address the challenge of poor-quality pallets, a number of different strategies are being adopted by handling and storage businesses. These include procuring higher quality pallets, reducing the number of vendors to drive consistency across the pool, or refurbishing pallets in-house to guarantee a minimum standard of quality. Another attractive solution is the use of pallet pooling companies. 

Fully outsourced third-party pallet pooling ensures that all pallets meet the most stringent specifications required for automated systems. While maintaining strict quality standards, pallet pooling services are typically offered at a fixed price per pallet. Pooling services cover delivery and collection, while top-tier companies like LPR also sort, repair, refurbish or recycle all pallets as they pass through a widely distributed network of centres before being issued back into service. Accepted by all major European FMCG players and their automated equipment, pallet pooling represents an effective solution that can also support wider corporate social responsibility goals.