Podcast: Pallet Stability

What are the challenges and risks in ensuring pallet stability? And how do businesses ensure they’re sending out products securely and safely?

In this in-depth video podcast Robert McEwan, MorsaPack’s Managing Director, looks at this important area of packaging and product safety. He advises on why getting pallet stability right is essential – for safety, primarily, as well as for the environment, and a company’s finances and reputation. He also offers advice on how to not risk underestimating nor overcompensating when packaging products for shipments, and outlines who is responsible for correct execution and delivery of pallet stability.

Alternatively, read a full transcript of this discussion below:

Katie Upton (Interviewer): So, we’ve touched on stability of products and pallet stability, so if we talk about that in a bit more detail, if we go with the big question, what are the biggest challenges in ensuring pallet stability?

Robert McEwan: The first principle of wrapping a pallet is to make sure that the product stays on the pallet.  It’s actually a very, very good question, because we did an exhibition, the CHEMUK exhibition recently, and I reckon that over the two days I had probably about 30 conversations over two days with companies that basically said they didn’t know that they were sending out a pallet that was stable and was able to get to the destination safely.

Katie Upton: So, they were just hoping for the best?

Robert McEwan: Yeah.

Katie Upton: What are the risks associated with that?

Robert McEwan: The risks are massive, aren’t they?  Just take chemicals, the risk of a drum of chemicals falling off the back of a truck is scary.  I think the data is that there were 1,000 deaths last year in Europe alone that was caused by something falling off the back of a truck, yet we’ve got a culture that is very much aimed at price.  Even within our own industry we see a push for the lowest price per kilo of film, where I believe the push should be about stability of pallets.

Katie Upton: And stability of pallets presumably means security of pallets?

Robert McEwan: Yes.  If I’m sending a pallet out on the back of a truck, I need to be confident that that product is going to get to the customer without damage.  Again, the data is quite scary because I think the data shows that 4% of products that’s dispatched in Europe ends up damaged before it gets to the customer.  So, if you just think of the amount of money that people are spending, what is it, billions a day, 4% of it is damaged.

Katie Upton: So, there’s cost implications to that?

Robert McEwan: There’s huge cost implications to it.

Katie Upton: Probably environmental as well?

Robert McEwan: Well, it’s not very sustainable is it if you’ve got to resend products out or repack products, it’s all part of the whole sustainability thing.

Katie Upton: And there is reputational damage.

Robert McEwan: Reputational damage and there’s…and the costs that has to be paid for by somebody.  Okay, in some instances insurance probably covers it but it’s not quite so straightforward as all that is it?  So if you go back to the issues as far as stability I think one of the biggest issues is that it’s very difficult to know.  Yes, if you have a problem where a pallet falls over you can then make adjustments within your processes to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  But what happens then is that people compensate for the possibility that something may happen.  So if you’ve got 4% of your products are being damaged it wouldn’t surprise me if we go off Pareto rule that 80% of the rest of it you’re putting too much packaging on and there’s probably only a very small percentage that is actually being packaged effectively and efficiently.  That’s when the experience of companies like ours really comes into its own because the knowledge of the product, as in the pallet wrap and the machinery that’s used to apply it and the understanding of how products travel in transit and what the environment is then becomes critical in how we specify what your wrap patterns are and what film you should use.

Katie Upton: So, what are the key questions that people might ask or that you might take people through for them to figure out what the solution is for their pallet stability?

Robert McEwan: So, the first thing that I would want to understand is how the pallet reacts under acceleration and braking, so we have the facilities to be able to test that so that we can see how that pallet reacts.  So if you’ve got something that is extremely stable and it reacts in a certain way you then can prescribe what film is needed to hold it in its final position.  So EUMOS regulations which I think is something that every manufacturer, everybody that is selling pallets should understand and know about, gives you a protocol as to how you test a pallet for stability.  What that then allows us to do is to prescribe a wrap pattern and a film and a product and all the settings that a machine enables you to do so that you can guarantee that whenever you send a pallet out you’ve got a test to say how stable that pallet is. 

So if you’ve got a product that isn’t stable and you can’t get it to be stable with using stretch film you can then compensate for it when you put it on the back of a truck as to what you require the driver to strap the product into place or whatever that is needed to be able to make sure that when that truck is going down the road you don’t have an issue with it falling off the back of the truck. 

This is real stuff.  It’s not that long ago that on the M62 at Leeds there was a pallet went over and the truck driver opened his curtain to see what had happened and the pallet landed on top of him and he was killed, that’s even just in the local area.  So, this is real stuff.  The challenge then for people that are wrapping pallets is first of all how can they be sure that they are specifying it for the right specification and secondly to ensure that they are getting that consistency that every pallet is wrapped in the same sort of way.  It becomes even more challenging if you don’t have a machine and you are wrapping something by hand because you are then relying on an individual to create that consistency.

Katie Upton: So, I was going to say are their different approaches people can take, whether it’s through the film that they’re using or the machines that they’re using?

Robert McEwan: Yes.  So, it’s a balance of the three actually.  So it’s how your product reacts on the pallet, it’s the film that you use and the machine that you use.  Now the two most important things is that you get the film that you use to match with the machine that you use.  If you get that performance side wrong you can then have a product that…  Let’s say you’ve got a film that stretches 300% but a machine that only stretches 100%, you are going to adjust how the product performs for your stability of your pallet, but then also you are lacking two thirds of your performance you are not using.  So from an environmental point of view there is a challenge there.

Katie Upton:      So, if people already have machinery in place or surplus resources in wrap can they go about matching what they already have to other products to maximise the efficiency?

Robert McEwan: Yes, they can, but we’re in a…  If you’ve got existing machines the important thing is to make sure that your film is specified to your machine and then you get the wrap pattern and the thickness of the film right for your pallet.  If you’ve got excess film, we’re in a real world that you’re not going to have…you’re not just going to throw away film to be able to get it to be right and if your machines don’t stretch to that capacity you’re going to have to find a way to work around that.  But I often say to customers that I go and see when we start talking about wrapping film, well if this is the first time that you’ve ever wrapped a pallet like this how would we do it, what machine would we specify, what film would we specify, what wrap pattern would we specify to make sure that the product achieves what we need to do. 

So, if you’ve got a film that isn’t performing to the same standards as what you would expect the machine to perform it could be that we can put more film on to create the stability.  The stability is actually extremely important, it’s more important than the environmental side and I want that be taken guardedly.  Because the environmental side is about recycling what you use, but the stability is far more important because if that falls and kills somebody or injures somebody it’s a very different conversation to using excess plastic and making sure that that goes through a recycling facility.

Katie Upton: And your pallet stability presumably creates environmental benefits by products not arriving damaged, not creating production waste, products not toppling over and ending up in waterways, so there are also environmental benefits to that process.

Robert McEwan: Yes.  Add onto that, if you just take an industry like the chemical industry, if you have a drum that comes off the back of a truck and that gets into the waterways, well that’s a massive environmental disaster.  But also the cost that’s involved in that of getting specialists in to make sure that things are controlled and managed.  We see images in the news of trucks that have gone over and there’s product all over the place.  You get situations where pallets are not secured to the back of a truck and have fallen over, well just the resource waste of re-palletising and that’s if product isn’t damaged, just the resource waste that is involved in it is a big effect that needs to be taken into consideration by industry and how it works.

Then you mentioned earlier in relation to reputational damage and things like that, if you take a big shed like B&Q or Tesco or any of those, if you’ve got a pallet that turns up and the pallet has turned over they won’t unload you and you get fined.  So the cost implications are considerable.  I think the important thing when we talk about pallet stability is really having an understanding of how a pallet moves in transit.

Katie Upton: Is that down to the product that is on the pallet or is it down to what steps are being taken to transport it in terms of the distance it’s travelling or the methods by which it is being transported?

Robert McEwan: It’s both.  When you’re a manufacturer, if you’re a manufacturer of products, let’s say we manufacture paints, we’ve got paint goes into a tin or a tub and then we put it onto a pallet and we might have a layer pad that goes between layers to bring the products together and hold them together.  Then we put stretch film round it and then it will go into storage, it will then go on to a truck and it will end up at B&Q for example where they’ll cut the film off and they’ll put those tins of paint onto the shelf.  So we’ve now got quite clear picture as to the lifetime of that product.  If you’ve got 10 litre plastic tubs you’ve got a situation where if you put too much tension on the film the tubs crush and the lids pop off.  I was in a paint factory where it did exactly that and all of a sudden you’ve got paint all over the place that is an obvious issue, environmental issue. 

So, understanding how those products move and the importance that they are stacked correctly and that the control of how the machine applies pallet wrap film to the pallet so that you don’t get that crushing is absolutely critical.  But then if we apply an amount of film and we get an amount of stability, understanding how that will react as it goes from the manufacturers to B&Q’s central warehouse and then from B&Q’s central warehouse to the shed is very important because you’ve then got to hold that product to the back of the truck.  EUMOS covers all that, that requirement, so that you are taking into consideration the whole life-cycle of the packaging and what it’s meant to do.

Katie Upton: Is it the producer who is solely responsible for the pallet stability or are there other people along the supply chain who also have responsibilities to the product safety?

Robert McEwan: Yeah.  Absolutely.  And now under EUMOS regulations there are now people being prosecuted because they have not taken up their responsibilities within it.  So if I’m a producer I’m responsible to be able to say to my carrier that my pallet is this stable and these are the things that you need to do to make sure that it stays on the back of your truck.

Katie Upton: Right.  So, each person on the supply and logistics chain has a responsibility.

Robert McEwan: Have a level of responsibility.

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