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Packing RTP into your process

23 January 2017

Damian Gilbertson looks at the steps that food manufacturers can take to save money through the use of returnable transit packaging (RTP), while remaining compliant with stringent industry regulations. 

Food manufacturers are continuously searching for ways to make their processes more efficient and eco-friendly. However, introducing new ways of working can be difficult as there is a learning process that needs to take place before the right solution is realised. The many methods of improving factory efficiency often requires wholesale changes, while finding the smaller and less obvious changes can often provide significant results.

One such change is the introduction of returnable transit packaging (RTP) to the manufacturing process, which can offer a variety of benefits. For example, if your operation uses disposable, single-trip packaging, then taking the simple step towards RTP can provide a host of savings. Making the switch will provide reduced operational costs, it will last longer, will be more hygienic and will decrease carbon footprint. 

Robust and durable, RTP is well suited to use in the food sector as it can provide better protection against damage than disposable containers, ensuring that customers receive products that are free from damage.

While RTP brings clear savings, there are additional benefits of utilising the containers that provide a higher return on investment. As RTP is reusable, manufacturers make instant savings by reducing their packaging and waste disposal costs. 

Specification considerations
There are some important features to consider when selecting the plastic container best suited for your operation. Whether specialising in bakery, meat, fish, dairies or fruit and vegetables, the specifications of packaging solutions will vary. Schoeller Allibert is able to design a container to meet the specific needs of an operations and can suggest whether a solid, ventilated or stackable solution would be required.

Utilising a reusable container that is also to help reduce the risk of contamination is an integral step for food manufacturers. By developing RTP products specifically for use in food carrying applications, the design must ensure that dirt traps are avoided and that the containers are easily washable. The RTP needs to be robust enough to stand up to high-pressure washing at high temperatures and must be compatible with the latest filling, weighing, handling and washing methods employed in the food industry.

There are strict European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guidelines regarding recycled materials and the safety concerns surrounding its use, food manufacturers can now also able to use recycled trays and containers. Schoeller Allibert’s recycled RTP, for example, is now EFSA approved. Previously, old or damaged containers would be recycled for other use but couldn’t enter the food supply chain as the plastic wasn’t certified for direct contact with fresh produce.

To comply with regulations, requires a food-contact-approved material from either closed or controlled loop distribution that is recycled in an EFSA approved recycling process. Schoeller Allibert has developed an EFSA-accredited recycling process which allows food manufacturers to save money on purchasing new RTP, but it also reduces the carbon footprint of the processes to help meet increasing sustainability targets.

When food-grade crates need replacing, they can be returned for recycling, providing they have been used in a closed or controlled loop distribution system. 

Know your temperature
In the food industry, working with different temperatures is a certainty and, as a result, manufacturers need to be assured that the equipment they use is safe and can operate under differing temperatures.
Polypropylene trays and containers are suited to use at temperature of between -10°C and +50°C, with many models having a working temperature range of -30°C to +80°C. The versatility of RTP means it can be used in fridges and freezers or for holding a variety of baked goods straight from the oven. 

Outside the factory, there is another way that manufacturers can reduce costs. Money is often wasted in the delivery of goods and subsequent return journeys of containers. The transport of RTP can provide savings. 

Calculating the number of containers that a vehicle can carry may seem like an arduous task and is why many manufacturers rely on guesswork for the amount of containers to pack onto a vehicle. However, there is a solution which will ensure a vehicle is filled to capacity. Schoeller Allibert’s vehicle fill calculator allows manufacturers to optimise their transport by calculating the number of pallet spaces per vehicle and the number of containers per pallet, both when full and stacked or empty and nested. This tool helps create further cost and energy savings through the use of RTP.

Additionally, return journeys can be reduced through the 180° stack-nest properties of Schoeller Allibert’s RTPs meaning that more containers can be returned in one journey. Containers can stack when loaded and nest when empty by turning through 180° which saves up to 70% of space compared with stacking, cutting down the number of return trips.

Operational improvements
When making a change to processes, manufacturers may have concerns about whether new products are compatible with existing factory equipment. For example, RTP needs to be able to work with procedures such as the latest automated handling equipment.

Food manufacturers can now also take advantage of RFID technology within the containers. RTP containers can integrate RFID tags to deliver benefits such as faster supply chain trip cycles, accurate ‘real-time’ inventory and reduced losses of returnable containers, providing manufacturers with a traceable and manageable system.

Damian Gilbertson is sales director UK & Eire for Schoeller Allibert

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