Necessity is the mother of (pallet) invention
What do you do if you’re a plastics manufacturer and your parent company in the soft drink and beer industries is in need of a better plastic crate and pallet?
If you’re PTM (click on the top to translate into English), whose parent company FEMSA bottles Coca-Cola and Heineken in Latin America, you design the better product. In this case, a plastic crate that is wear-friendly to plastic soft drink bottles and a plastic pallet featuring structural foam reinforced columns that is good for up to 100 trips, according to testing conducted at Virginia Tech’s Center For Unit Load design. The crates and pallet are currently being used by FEMSA in its Coca-Cola operations in Mexico; Heineken recently placed a significant order to convert from wood to plastic pallets in 6 plants.
If you think you’ve done a good job, you also set your sights on introducing the pallet to the North American market, according Jose Antonio Fernandez Garza, PTM’s CEO and general manager. “We went to Modex as a visitor and we’ll be exhibiting at PackExpo in the fall,” Garza told me last week. “Right now, we’re talking to distributors and we’re visiting the North American operations of some of our large customers to learn the market. We believe we’ll have a handful of customers in the next couple of months.”
First, a little about PTM. The company was founded over 37 years ago as a division of Heineken in Mexico to manufacture plastic crates. Over time, the Mexican beer industry moved away from plastic to other materials so PTM branched out into plastic coolers, ice chests and plastic furniture. Today, the company is the leading manufacturer of plastic crates in Latin America. PTM has over 1000 employees, two production facilities in México and operations in the US, Colombia and Brazil.
About ten years ago, PTM jumped back into the materials handling industry with a new plastic crate design for Coca-Cola. “We developed a plastic crate that doesn’t cause wear when the bottle is cradled in the crate,” Garza said. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola was using plastic pallets manufactured by one of PTM’s competitors. “We didn’t have a plastic pallet and decided to get into the industry,” Garza explained.
Working with a consultant, PTM designed a structural foam plastic pallet for FEMSA known as the Ultra Pallet (r). The technology behind the pallet consists of combining low and high pressure molding injection processes. The cover and base are injected at high pressure, both parts are then assembled with a snap fit mechanism, and then 8 out of 9 blocks are injected at low pressure with structural foam. Thanks to the structural foam injected in the blocks, the pallet becomes a single, inseparable and highly durable product.
What then is different about the pallet? According to Garza, the most damage to pallets used in the beverage industry occurs to the columns. By reinforcing them with a foaming agent, he added, the pallet is resistant to damage and disassembly and is relatively lightweight, which saves on transportation costs. The pallet is fully recyclable. And while the pallet is priced in the range of competing plastic pallets, Garza contended that the pallet will last longer than the competition and deliver a lower cost per trip.
In addition to FEMSA’s Coca-Cola and Heineken operations, PTM has sold the pallet to a few other customers in Mexico in the CPG and automotive industry. They are also branching out into plastic dunnage. “We’re in a shift from a company that for years only made plastic chairs and tables to a materials handling company with a full line of products,” Garza said. “We believe there’s a lot of opportunity in Latin America, especially in the automotive industry, which is switching from wood to plastic.”
And then, there’s the U.S. market. “When it comes to impact resistance and durability, we believe we have a product that is second to none for companies that have a closed supply chain,” Garza said. “If we win a contract, we’re even thinking of putting up a plant or partnering with another manufacturer. We’ll provide products at a very competitive price to the US.”