Plastic pallet case study: switch results in improved performance in automated system.
More and more businesses are making the switch from wooden to plastic pallets to help drive efficiency, improve operational processes, and reduce their impact in advanced automated storage and material handling systems.
During the Summer of 2021, when a global supplier of electronic components approached Goplasticpallets.com to help them find a more efficient pallet to seamlessly integrate with its automated high bay system, the plastic pallet experts had just the solution.
Starting out as a supplier of parts for radio repair shops some 84 years ago, the company has become the world’s largest distributor of electronics and maintenance products.
Today, it operates in over 30 countries, offers around 500,000 products to over one million customers, and ships more than 44,000 parcels a day, many of which are next-day delivery if ordered before 8:30pm.
One of its significant milestones in achieving this growth was to open its major UK distribution centre in 1997. This half a million sq. ft. warehouse enabled the company to make substantial strides in fulfilling orders, expanding into new countries, and developing its e-commerce presence.
As the business continued to grow at a fast pace, it incorporated new technology into its processes to help drive efficiency. Automation and robotic technology made picking and packing orders quicker and more accurate, meaning more happy customers.
The challenge for automated storage
However, the engineering and facilities team of the business was starting to identify areas in its day-to-day operations where wood pallets were not performing as well as they needed. The team approached Goplasticpallets.com for its advice about the recurring issues with wood pallets and was looking for a recommendation to a different solution in their order fulfilment process.
The distribution centre consists of a 15-level high bay pallet store with more than 19,000 pallet locations and 1.2 million SKUs (stock keeping units).
When stock arrives at the warehouse, it is delivered on pallets and the pallets are put away in the high bay store, with their location recorded in the stock system. When the business receives an order, the goods are retrieved from the high bay and presented to the picker on the pallet. The item is picked, scanned, and the stock pallet gets returned to the high bay. The stock inventory level is adjusted, and the product moves to the next stage of order fulfilment.
In order to keep up its next-day delivery commitment to customers, the pick, pack and despatch process needs to be flawless and quick. The inbound wooden pallets often varied in quality with different formats and dimensions of fork openings present in the supply chain, which impacted the efficiency of the operation.
Many of the pallets received were damaged and in poor condition, and not strong enough to enter the high bay through the automation system. This meant the pallet needed to be swapped and the goods reloaded before acceptance into the high bay.
There were other instances where the wood pallets had been accepted into the system but then had subsequently failed under load, meaning the pallets were not able to be retrieved automatically and sent to the pick area. This caused disruption and delays with double handling of goods and interventions from warehouse personnel to remove the damaged pallets from the high bay. This was both time consuming and costly as the high bay area needs to be isolated and picking suspended to enable this process to be carried out safely.
The plastic pallet solution
Goplasticpallets.com recommended its APB1210 Pool Pallet 5R for its strength, consistency, and reliability.
The APB1210 Pool Pallet 5R is a heavy-duty pallet with five runners manufactured from high quality recycled polymer. It is designed for multi-cycle usage and can withstand rigorous handling. Injection moulded under high pressure in a polished mould tool ensures the pallet’s consistent dimensional accuracy and loading capacities. The smooth radiused corner block profiles and wide flat runners also mean that the plastic pallet moves easily through the automation, rolls well on conveyors, and transitions through the junctions and intersections in and out of the high bay.
The pallet has a high-performance specification and is rated according to ISO 8611 at 1,200kgs when stored in pallet racking. It has a dynamic load rating of 2,500 kgs. The fork openings are wide and well designed and allow easy use of Fork-Lifts Trucks & PPTs and stacker cranes.
The high load ratings allow the customer to load the pallet with heavy individual items such as drums of cable onto the pallet while knowing the pallet will not deflect and can still be accessed by the automated cranes on and off of the top hat rail system.
With heavy workloads, wooden pallets quickly became damaged and inconsistent in use. Nails in wood pallets work loose and fall out, and timber moves and splinters under load leading to failure of the pallet. Nails and wood splinters will then enter the automated system causing regular stoppages on the roller and chain conveyors. Unlike wooden pallets, a plastic pallet is consistent in dimension and weight. The APB1210 Pool Pallet 5R doesn’t retain moisture, so the plastic pallet’s surface is clean and dry and keeps the retail packaging of the products being stored in pristine condition.
Since the trial, the customer has replaced 6,110 wooden pallets with plastic ones. The business’ next step is to consider the benefits of the APB1210 Pool Pallet 5R as its primary pallet used in a fixed loop. It can issue out pallets to suppliers, deliver to the distribution centre with stock, use them in the automated system, and send back out to suppliers when empty to restart the process.
To find out more, visit www.goplasticpallets.com.