Plastic pallets in the spotlight
When it comes to pallets, wood still accounts for most new and used shipping pallets in the market. However, the demand for plastic pallets continues to grow, according to Curt Most, senior product manager for pallets and bulk at Orbis (http://www.orbiscorporation.com).
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increased interest and steady growth industry wide,” Most says. “It hasn’t been one specific area, but a growing demand in several areas.”
Most identified three trends that are driving the growth of plastic pallets.
Increased regulation: While food and pharmaceutical manufacturers have used plastic pallets for years, new food and drug safety regulations are driving those industries to be more proactive than reactive around product safety and contamination. For instance, the plastic used in food grade pallets now includes barium sulfate that can be detected by x-ray or metal flakes that can be picked up by a metal detector. “If a piece of plastic from the pallet has contaminated a batch of product, it will be picked up as the food or drug passes through a metal detector or x-ray system prior to packaging,” Most explains. The idea is to catch contamination before product goes out the door rather than issue a recall later.
Increased automation: Everyone agrees that we are in the midst of an automation boom, as more manufacturing plants and distribution centers introduce automation to their operations. That is leading to more interest in plastic pallets. “Pallet dispensing machines, automated cranes and photo eyes like consistency,” Most says. “Plastic pallets are all the same dimensions, heights and weights because they’re coming out of a mold.” In addition, plastic pallets have no loose boards or protruding nails that may jam a conveyor.
In-store displays: While still a niche of a niche market, quarter-sized and half-sized pallets are showing up as the platform for end-of-aisle and floor displays in retail stores. In part, it’s because plastic pallets create a nicer impression than wooden pallets. “If they store the display pallets in the back, many are nestable, which means they don’t take up as much space as wooden pallets,” Most says.