Pallet Program Promotes
Safety and Sustainability
women in plastics
by Amy Miller

othing comes before safety at IAPD member companies, including mine. But a review of our procedures led to an uncomfortable realization: Selling polyolefins by the sheet was a time and labor-intensive process. Picking teams in the warehouse spent hours every day repackaging sheets into smaller order quantities. This involved taking a full skid off the racks with a forklift, un-banding it, manually moving the ordered quantity of sheets to the shipping skid, then re-banding the full skid and replacing it in the racks. Repeated handling of these large, unwieldy sheets — which were 4′ x 8′ or 4′ x 10′ and could weigh more than 200 pounds — could lead to rushing, fatigue and other risky safety behaviors that might result in pinched fingers, back injuries or even something worse.

In response, a cross functional team resolved to create a process to prepackage the most common polyolefin items into set pallet quantities at the extruder, decreasing handling and waste. These efficiencies would allow my company and its customers to reap safety and sustainability rewards.

For nearly a year, the team worked out the details. They wrestled with new item numbers, shifts in inventory patterns, changes in the manufacturing process and even the height of the warehouse racks. Every time the team encountered an obstacle, they worked together to develop a solution.

prepackaged pallet of Proteus HDPE
This prepackaged pallet of Proteus HDPE is ready to go from the rack to the dock with no additional handling.
sheet of Proteus HDPE and TIVAR UHMW-PE before the pallet program
Before the pallet program, every sheet of Proteus HDPE and TIVAR UHMW-PE had to be counted out by hand before shipping.
The desire to provide better service to their customers propelled the team through every challenge. “Based on customer feedback, it was clear that providing volume of material, such as pallets, would enhance our key partners’ distribution position,” explained Doug Mahler, global marketing and communications manager. “By selling one sheet at a time we devalued the distributors who wanted to invest in stock.” Under the new pallet program, logistical savings are passed to the distributors that purchased full pallets.
Benefits to distributors
Once the pallet program launched, the commercial team went to work to introduce it to customers. As Anne Shamus, inside sales representative, explained, “After reviewing the sales history and purchasing patterns of our distribution partners, we showed them how we could help them increase sales by purchasing in pallet quantities and having material ready when their customers needed it. Some were hesitant at first, as they didn’t want to put more inventory on their shelves, but after they saw the many benefits of purchasing in pallet quantities, they were excited and ready to participate.”

The pallet program launched in 2019 with 10 common gauges of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). It quickly took off, exceeding all expectations. It has since expanded to polypropylene (PP) and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW-PE), with new sizes and products added as internal and external stakeholders alike have embraced the model. The warehouse is so grateful for the efficiencies created that they have become the program’s biggest advocate, frequently leading the charge for new pallet items.

Safer and more efficient employees
According to Steve Uliana, former plant manager, “Selling prepackaged pallets eliminated thousands of high-risk repackaging activities every month. We have seen significantly lower near-miss events since the pallet program was implemented — from an average of 30 per year to well below 20 for the last two years combined!”
pallet program in the warehouse
The pallet program has kept 142 miles worth of nylon banding from landfills in just two years.
Prepackaged pallets available in Proteus HDPE
Prepackaged pallets are available in Proteus HDPE, Sanalite HDPE, Proteus Polypropylene, TIVAR 1000 UHMW-PE and TIVAR ECO UHMW-PE.
Thus far, the pallet program has saved more than 1,000 hours of plate transfer and repackaging; that’s nearly 42 days. The shift to prepackaged pallets has allowed the warehouse to safely and efficiently ship more pounds out the door even as they faced COVID-related staffing challenges and elevated order volume. Prepackaged pallets are safer and easier for customers to receive than mixed skids, reducing their own time and effort. Shipping errors decreased because less counting is needed on the warehouse floor.
A more sustainable approach
The pallet program has also realized significant sustainability rewards. Previously, every time a full skid was taken from the rack for a few sheets to be shipped, several nylon bands had to be cut and discarded, and the remaining sheets re-banded before being returned to the rack. Those bands might be cut and replaced several – or several dozen – times before an entire skid was sold. Now that pallets are packaged at time of production, we have eliminated the need for 145 miles of nylon banding in just two years – enough to stretch from our North American headquarters in Reading, PA, USA to the warehouse in Scranton, PA, USA and halfway back! This represents a significant landfill reduction. We have also used 5,000 fewer pieces of cardboard and countless fewer wooden skids. Customers benefit from less packaging waste in their own warehouses as well. More efficient ordering patterns of fewer, larger shipments rather than more frequent, smaller shipments result in lower freight costs and a smaller carbon footprint.

Ron Pierce, distribution manager, reflected fondly on the experience. “The business is always changing; we’re always met with new challenges and the pallet program was a step in the right direction. It was a great collaboration across many different departments: sales, planning, warehouse and manufacturing. It is still proving to be a great success. Many safety factors were eliminated or greatly reduced because of this program, less physical handling, going in and out of racks just to name a few. The time saved pulling pallets as opposed to single sheet handling was greatly reduced. We’re looking forward to extending this program into other product lines. I am very proud to be a part of such a project and what we as a team accomplished.”

Amy Miller is the PE product line analyst for Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials. For more information, contact Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials at P.O. Box 14235, Reading, PA 19605-4235 USA, phone (610) 320-6600 or (800) 366-0300, fax (800) 366-0301, amy.miller@mcam.com or www.mcam.com.