Wood Pallet Suppliers Face Increased Quality Assurance Expectations from Customers

Pallet customers are increasingly looking to verify pallet supplier quality processes.

As pressure to establish quality assurance programs in the supply chain continues to take root, wood pallet quality is increasingly becoming part of that conversation. “One of the things I have been dealing with at Millwood, and more and more of our customers and supply partners have dealing with, is quality,” stated Ralph Rupert, Manage of Unit Load Technology for Millwood, Inc., speaking at the 2016 Western Pallet Association Annual Meeting.

According to Rupert, a number of trends are resulting in customers looking to validate the quality assurance programs of their extended supply chain, including pallet suppliers. Such customers include food product and pharmaceutical manufacturers looking to better assure their supply chains, as well as companies with ISO programs pushing those requirements out to their packaging and pallet suppliers. Companies involved with ISO programs typically involve automotive and other OEM (original equipment manufacturer) companies.

When such companies seek to validate the quality of their pallet suppliers, this can involve requiring the pallet supplier to fill out the appropriate paperwork to verify that they have a quality system in place, as well as onsite audits in some cases for additional scrutiny.

One of the requirements is with respect to documenting pallet specifications. “Most of us use PDS, but where are these (printouts) located, and how do they get out onto the shop floor?” Rupert asked. While he believes that the pallet industry is doing a solid job with quality, unfortunately, it often falls short regarding documentation.

While Rupert was visiting a pallet supplier with a customer auditor, the plant was flagged for not having a documented procedure for HT stamped pallets coming off the production line. The auditor asked how the company ensures that the pallets are actually heat treated before they are shipped. The answer from the plant owner is that the untreated pallets are staged in the “to be heat treated” section while treated pallets are staged in the “ready to ship” section. While the company did have an effective process, unfortunately, the company did not have a written procedure or even signage which identified the specific staging areas. Going forward, having written procedures will be increasingly important.

Other aspects of interest to auditors include employee training documentation, preventative maintenance schedules, and records, as well as other factors. For example, food processors are increasingly concerned that incoming lumber is stored in a covered storage environment, and that finished pallets also be stored under cover. In the work area, there is an expectation that no food is consumed. While bottled water is permitted (it doesn’t have sugar to attract ants or other pests), having lunch on the floor is not acceptable. Regarding quality assurance programs, companies can be expected to have pest control programs and bait traps.

With respect to training, it is becoming the expectation that one cannot place a new hire with an experienced person in the absence of more formal training. The training process and skills to be mastered must be documented, along with verification of successful acquisition of them by the newcomer. Likewise, it is not enough for preventative maintenance to be practiced. It also should include documented schedules and maintenance records.

“Our customers are expecting more and we as an industry need to step up to the plate,” Rupert concluded. “This is not going to go away. That bar is going to continue to be raised. Your documentation of your work flow, processes and training will help your business and the pallet industry as a whole.”