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STORAGE OPTIMISATION FEATURE


GETTING A HANDLE ON AUTOMATION


storage and materials handling companies, something as simple as a damaged or misaligned pallet could ultimately spell commercial disaster. Given the potential for poor quality


pallets to impact the business model, industry-leading enterprises are now recognising the pallet as integral to automated materials handling systems. Inevitably this puts the pallet front and centre when considering the successful deployment of automation.


With automation now playing a rapidly expanding role in storage and handling solutions, it is the ubiquitous and often overlooked pallet which plays a surprisingly crucial role in achieving operational success


F


or the goods handling and storage sector, automation is already making


a significant contribution to the smooth and timely distribution of products. The fast-moving consumer goods sector, for instance, has been quick to adopt automated equipment in its desire to keep up with a hugely complex network of suppliers and distribution channels. Indeed, a CAGR well north of 12 per cent is forecast in a recent Interact Analysis report on the warehouse automation sector. That growth is predicted to be sustained through to 2023. Automated pallet handling and conveyor


systems such as palletisers, autonomous forklifts and stacker cranes, as well as sorting and repair units are increasingly common. Nonetheless, for all their obvious benefits and growing usage, automated systems can also represent challenges when it comes to day-to-day operations.


POOR QUALITY PALLETS CAN LEAD TO INCREASED COSTS Although the pallet acts as the single interface between the product, its packaging, and the material handling and storage system, it is typically considered as an afterthought when


enterprises are looking at investing in automated equipment. Automated systems offer many


advantages, but they are also far less flexible when attempting to successfully manipulate unsuitable or damaged pallets. As a result, where pallet quality has been overlooked, it is possible to invest in automated equipment which actually causes more problems than it solves. In a recent study from Virginia Tech


University (VTU) based on an industry survey, the impact of pallet quality on automated storage and handling operations is evidently a significant factor among the bulk of respondents. Pallet-related issues with automated


equipment occurred on a daily or weekly basis for above half of the sample, according to VTU. However, many of the issues reported are not as a result of equipment failure, more as a result of poor quality or damaged pallets clogging up machinery. Damaged pallet bottom boards were highlighted as a key issue for the survey respondents. Such jams clearly represent downtime


and lower efficiency. In the fast-moving consumer goods sector in particular, delays have a significant impact. For


 LPR www.lpr.eu


Automation will continue to establish itself as the standard solution in the modern business of materials storage and handling


IMPROVING PALLET QUALITY In a bid to address the challenge of poor- quality pallets, a number of different strategies are being adopted by handling and storage businesses. These include procuring higher quality pallets, reducing the number of vendors to drive more consistency across the pool, or refurbishing pallets in-house to guarantee an agreed quality. Another attractive solution is the use of pallet pooling companies. Fully outsourced third-party pallet


pooling ensures that all pallets meet the most stringent specifications required for use with automated systems. While maintaining strict quality standards, pallet pooling services can be provided by some poolers at a fixed price per pallet. Pooling services cover delivery and collection, while the top-tier companies like LPR also sort, repair, refurbish or recycle all pallets as they pass through a widely distributed network of centres before being re-issuing back into service. Accepted by all major European FMCG players and their automated equipment, pallet pooling represents an effective solution that can also support wider corporate social responsibility goals.


GETTING THE GO-AHEAD ON AUTOMATION Every business sector is being challenged and changed by the digital transformation. Certainly, automation will continue to establish itself as the standard solution in the modern business of materials storage and handling. There are compelling business drivers behind this trend with the reduction of operational costs, improved efficiency and shorter time-to-market that is only possible with increased automation. Even so, no matter the sophistication of automated equipment, ultimately it is the simple pallet that acts as one of the key foundations of modern commerce.


IRISH MANUFACTURING | FEBRUARY 2020 23


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