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Finding pallets to complement automated processes

04 August 2019

Jim Hardisty explains the crucial role plastic pallets play in maintaining a smooth, hygienic and efficient production line in today’s highly automated food processing plants.

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Automation is everywhere in today’s modern food plants – whether it be in the actual processing of the food or the packaging of the food. Where humans were once commonplace on the factory floor, automation and robotics are taking over. This should be seen as a way to free up human resources to undertake more effective, productive tasks.

Research would suggest that many food and beverage businesses are increasing the level of automation in their plants to improve productivity. According to business advisory BDO’s Food and Drink Report 2018, productivity was cited as a critical focus area for 89% of the industry, with half of the firms interviewed looking to increase investment in technology and automation over the coming year.

Furthermore, a recent report by the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies entitled Trends in Food Processing Operations, suggests that the uptake of automation in the next three to five years will continue to rise, with half of the companies surveyed looking to increase their level of automation.

Pallets are the single most ubiquitous component in the supply chain; the standard for handling and moving products from one location to another. In food processing plants they play a vital role, both in the production area and for packaging and distribution. But not one size fits all. Before investing in pallets it is important to consider exactly where and how they will be used.

For food production areas for instance, there really is only one viable option – hygienic plastic pallets. Manufactured from the highest food grade virgin HDPE, hygienic pallets should have totally smooth, sealed surfaces and should be fully compliant with EU safety legislation and should be free from joints, slots and other cavities. can offer pallets that have been specially designed to prevent the accumulation of dirt and dust, ensuring optimum hygiene conditions are maintained as they transit through the factory.

However, the benefits of using plastic pallets go beyond the food production area alone. If the food processing and packaging plant uses any level of automation – whether roller conveyors, sortation equipment or robotic automation – then plastic pallets have considerable advantages over alternatives.

Wooden pallets face issues of inconsistency – as they are not uniform in size and shape, even small inconsistencies can cause a wooden pallet to jam and cause untold damage. Wooden pallets subject to frequent use are susceptible to wear and tear, this might be a loose slat or broken nail, either way disruption is likely to occur, even in operations that have the most stringent inspection processes in place. There is also the problem of contamination with wooden pallets as they are absorbent so take in moisture where bacteria can harbour and grow, and in the worst case could contaminate the goods loaded upon them.

A typical wooden pallet is therefore a weak link in any automated process. The obvious solution is to adopt a platform that is durable, totally consistent, does not contain nails or fasteners and is moisture resistant. 

The advantages of plastic pallets over wood includes:
• Consistency – plastic pallets will be 100% size and strength consistent, their uniform weight and deck can support loads across the whole span of the product, reducing the chance of products shifting. 
• Durability – they are strong when compared with wood, plus heavy-duty varieties can also withstand frequent repeated use in rigorous, closed loop scenarios. 
• Hygienic – they are non-absorbent and resistant to most chemicals and can be washed repeatedly, removing the risk of contamination.
• Recyclable – more than 96% of plastic pallets from are manufactured from recycled plastic and at the end of their long working life can be reground to produce new, sustainable plastic pallets.

Jim Hardisty is the managing director of 

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