J.R. Simplot, one of the world’s largest private food and agribusiness companies, recently made a change in the pallets it uses inside its 380,000-square-foot processing facility in Caldwell, Idaho. At any given time, more than 24,000 pallets are in circulation for transporting finished products – from frozen French fries and veggies to packages to be used in prepared meals – between finished product packaging, frozen storage, and shipping docks. For outbound rail shipments, products are removed from their pallets via slip-sheets into railcars using a push/pull system. For truck-loading, unit loads are similarly removed from in-house pallets and transferred to inexpensive shipping pallets.
“Wooden pallets can be challenging because as they age they leave wooden pieces everywhere, and you’ve got to repair and/or replace them frequently,” said Gary Bleazard, project engineer, providing background on why the change was made. “Even with very careful handling, wood can splinter and penetrate cases and packages, creating the potential for foreign material to enter the product.”
Preventing these risks required constant vigilance, and resulted in the plant deploying one person working 24 hours a day “whose job it was to do nothing but inspect and sort pallets,” Bleazard says. Pallets that couldn’t be rotated from the dock back to the plant were sent to an outside service provider for repairs, and pallets would be repaired many times – some more than 10 – until further repairs were no longer viable. Additional labor was also required to keep the facility clean and clear of wood debris, again, to ensure food safety compliance and maximum productivity. “We have wooden pallets that have been in operation for 3+ years as they are stamped. They may have been repaired 10+ times,” says Bleazard.
Aluminum Pallets Chosen for Internal Storage and Production
This problem was discussed in the plant as well as with the Food Group Management Team. The team evaluated the pros and cons of using corrugate, plastic, and aluminum pallets, and chose aluminum for several reasons. These included: greater service life, easier cleaning, a greatly reduced risk of bacteria and insect harborage, and elimination of screws, nails and other hardware that can come loose and present risks to products and to food safety overall. One possible solution was to install pallet transfer machinery to swap product in storage to non-wood pallets specifically for use in the packaging area – and transfer finished product back to wood pallets for storage. However, says Bleazard, “Once we analyzed the plusses and minuses, we settled on aluminum throughout the facility, even for storage.”
In 2016, the plant replaced all 20,000-plus wood pallets with aluminum pallets from Aluminum Industries (www.aluminum-pallet.com), Shawnee, Kansas, a leading supplier of high quality, custom engineered aluminum pallets and material handling systems. Wood pallets are now used only for outbound shipments.
Lower Total Cost of Ownership, Food Safety Considerations
According to the release, the use of aluminum pallets has reduced the labor of inspecting and maintaining wood pallets while reducing bottlenecks and other downtime incidents. Food safety and product quality compliance have also been enhanced by the switch to aluminum.
“We’ve done extensive analysis, and cost was certainly part of calculations,” said Bleazard, “but the main drivers were food safety and more efficient operations.” That said, a total favorable cost of ownership is anticipated. Additional advantages, seen and unseen, include significant cost avoidance through the prevention of production stoppages and food safety incidents that have a significant impact on the financial health of the company, its supply chain partners and a global marketplace of end-consumers. In addition to being economically sustainable, the release states, the new pallets are also environmentally sustainable. Aluminum pallets have a practically endless service life that’s potentially measured in decades. Once they reach the end of that life, aluminum pallets, which themselves may be made of recycled aluminum, can be sold to recoup an estimated 20 percent of their initial cost.
Source: Aluminum Industries LLC