Smart, progressive food processors, contract packagers, contract manufacturers, nutraceutical and pharma plants are focusing on ways to reduce product recalls and improve food safety. One tested method is to keep production and mixing areas clean and free of splinters, nails, debris and other contaminates which can be carried in on wood pallets. The switch to clean, re-usable captive plastic pallet prevents cross contamination. However with so many styles, types and capacities, the task of changing over to plastic pallets can be daunting and overwhelming even for the most seasoned materials manager. Here are the 5 steps to a successful conversion.

 

  1. Research and Rate What Is Important.
    • Develop a Criteria score card to determine critical factors, Score on a 1-10 scale, determine what type of pallets meets most of your requirements. It is important to be realistic. If on your score card low price =10 (most important) and racking strength = 8 and durability = 8 this pallet will not be available. However if low price = 4 more pallets will be available. Criteria requirements
      • Durability/longevity
      • Low Price
      • Hygienic/Cleanliness
      • Consistency (size and weight)
      • Racking strength
      • Fire rating
      • Compatibility (automation and warehouse equipment)
  1. Evaluate and Test
    • This is the critical and most often ignored step. In the research stage you probably read or heard about different molding processes, superior HDPE or co-polymer plastic blends, one and two piece construction and impact and racking strengths. You’ve done your homework.
    • Now it’s time to test to make sure that the pallets you believe will work in YOUR facility indeed will.
      • Testing period – How long it will take?
      • Sample size- How many pallets do you need to test to be certain they will work?
      • Base your testing on the critical criteria described in point #1 above.
      • What are the desired results you are looking for? (Be Realistic)
  1. Determine the Total Cost of Conversion
    • It is important to recognize that converting to plastic pallets may involve process change, material movement and adding or upgrading existing equipment. Make sure to factor this into the return on investment. Here are some things to consider:
      • Potential Upgrades (sprinklers, pallet decking/supports)
      • Keeping Pallets Captive - transferring pallet loads from wood to plastic with Pallet Inverters and load transfer systems
      • Cleaning and sanitizing with Pallet Washing Equipment
      • Controlling Shrink, Theft and Damage
      • X-ray and Metal Detectors, if applies
  1. Be Informed Concerning Fire Safety Issues
    • Depending on the size of the conversion (thousands of pallets vs hundreds of plastic pallets) conversations with your local fire marshal and insurance company may need to take place regarding the following topics:
      • FM, UL approvals
      • Idle storage
      • Burn rates
      • USDA approved material vs Fire rated material
  1. Train Your Staff Regarding the New Pallets
    • Make sure to work with the pallet supplier to obtain information regarding the safe handling procedures for the new pallets. Ask for videos, documents, and posters that cover some or all of the following topics:
      • Addressing product Slippage
      • Transportation and Movements throughout the building
      • Treating Pallets as an Asset vs. Ongoing Expense
      • Replacement and Recycling

The 5 Steps to a Successful Conversion are a great basis for understanding how to effectively transition from using wood pallets to plastic pallets.  Although the process may require a little bit of time, money, and training the results such as a safe and clean facility will make it absolutely worth it.