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Pallet Enterprise: By Rick LeBlanc

Reusable Pallet Load Straps, Wraps Find Acceptance in Closed Loops

Some pallet users are using reusable unit-load strapping and wrap products in closed loop applications. Reusable straps and wraps reduce solid waste and offer other advantages.

Distributors and manufacturers alike are becoming increasingly concerned about excessive amounts of pallet stretch wrap ending up in their solid waste stream. Some pallet users are now beginning to look towards the purchase of reusable unit-load strapping and wrap products as an answer for closed loop applications.

Overwaitea Food Group in Alberta, Canada, and its third-party contractor, Linkfast, took dead aim at their solid waste stream by purchasing reusable pallet wraps for wrapping palletized store orders for the trip from warehouse to retail outlet.

An Arizona automotive supplier, TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, had a similar dilemma. It wanted to reduce waste while providing the flexibility to apply strapping wherever required rather than at dedicated wrapping stations. The introduction of reusable straps gave TRW the freedom to strap loads anywhere on the plant floor; as a result, it was able to reconfigure its assembly line more efficiently.

These are two award-winning examples of a new trend in unit-load packaging that has begun to appear – a demand for reusable pallet or unit-load wraps and straps. With increased interest from users in industries as diverse as automotive components and grocery distribution, the timing for inroads by such product lines may be close at hand.

Overall, unit-load trends are gravitating toward reusable pallet and shipping container applications, so reusable straps and wraps may be a natural progression.

Resistance to a high initial purchase price is still a frequent occurrence in reusable packaging, but one which is gradually decreasing as buyers recognize the potential for cost-per-use savings. With this rationale becoming more widely accepted in material handling, orders should come easier for reusable packing products, including wraps and straps.

At the same time, pallet users are trying to reduce their generation of solid waste while trying to eliminate worker's compensation claims resulting from cuts to employees slashing off wrap or handling steel banding – factors that may be favorably impacted by the use of returnable unit-load restraints.

For the pallet industry, reusable wraps and straps may be products that can be offered to customers or perhaps be feasible for third-party rental or management in some applications.

One company offering a reusable pallet-load restraint system is AGM Container Controls Inc. of Tucson, Ariz. AGM, in business for over 40 years, offers a diverse range of container related products, including air breathers, desiccators, tie-down straps and other items.

Its Kevlok tie-down system is a recent award-winning addition to its product line. AGM won the National Institute of Packaging, Handling and Logistics Engineers 1998 excellence award in the material handling device category for the Kevlok tie-down. Products were evaluated on such characteristics as design ingenuity, environmental impact, safety, and ease of use, among others.

The Kevlok strap, co-designed by AGM vice president Howard Stewart, contains AGM's over-center Kevlok buckle, high-strength bulked nylon webbing, and a special steel pallet hook at each end. The hooks grip the pallet stinger without damaging the wood. The strap's ultimate breaking strength is in excess of 1,000 pounds. A lighter duty 300-pound polypropylene reusable strap is also available. For smaller box sizes, the use of horizontal corner pieces on top of the unit-load under the straps will add greater stability, according to Howard.

"Kevlok straps provide a cost-effective solution to moving pallet loads in-plant, inter-plant or even in closed loop system," Howard said. According to his estimate, shrink wrap costs about 50 cents to $1 per pallet. Of course, it also takes time to apply and creates waste that must be disposed. Disposable banding costs about 30 to 70 cents per pallet, according to Howard, but requires special tools for application and – in the case of steel strapping – for removal as well. Accordingly, this limits the number of locations where steel straps can be applied, he said.

A leading customer of the Kevlok strap is TRW Vehicle Safety Systems in Mesa, Ariz. TRW has over 3,500 employees at two Arizona facilities and produced more than 13 million air bags in 1996.

TRW previously used production lines that extended from one end of the building to the other in their driver-side air bag facility. In order to speed up their manufacturing process, however, they designed a horseshoe-style assembly line. This caused problems for applying pallet restraints because shrink wrap and disposable banding require a fair degree of space to apply. With the use of Kevlok strapping, however, unit-loads could be secured along the horseshoe assembly line, allowing for better space utilization.

Flexibility of application also is a key benefit stressed by Amici Enterprises for its Envirowrapper. Amici vice president Joe Pullano said the Envirowrapper can help improve productivity by reducing employee travel time to dedicated wrapping locations.

The Envirowrapper was designed as an alternative to plastic stretch wrap used on pallets, according to Amici president Frank Gallucci. It is made of light-weight but extremely durable polypropylene material for the opaque version or polyethylene for the semi-transparent version. Straps are made of polyester. Envirowrappers are estimated to last from three to five years, or 300 to 500 trips.

Envirowrappers are stored at the end user in large cardboard containers such as watermelon bins for return to the warehouse or they can be attached high on the sides of the trailer with a newly designed wrapper holder. At the warehouse, Envirowrappers are stored in boxes or on pallets placed at strategic locations.

Amici Enterprises began as a food brokerage operation in 1991, and work on the Envirowrapper came shortly thereafter – as a sideline at first. Testing cycles took place on an on-going basis between 1991 and 1995, with the first major order coming in late 1996. The company received a first U.S. patent for the Envirowrapper in 1993, and the Canadian patent is pending.

The Envirowrapper is manufactured by another company in Calgary, Canada. Resin is received from the U.S. in pellet form and taken to broadsheet by the manufacturer. Buckles and straps are attached by sewing.

Amici is working to improve the product further even though it works well now, Joe said. It is developing a new buckle that will be resistant to virtually any warehousing stress – including being driven over by a forklift. Introduction is slated for the early fall. The company also plans to develop wrappers made completely of polypropylene to facilitate easier recycling.

The elimination of waste and cost savings for customers have been critical factors in the interest generated by Amici, which is Italian for "good friends."

"Overwaitea has worked very closely with us as they believed in the product right from the start," said Frank. "A year and a half ago, Linkfast purchased and started using the wrappers in 52 percent of their Calgary operations with significant results."

By eliminating the use of plastic stretch wrap, according to Frank, Linkfast paid for the wrappers in less than a year while their retail customer reduced its waste disposal charges. About 6,000 rolls of stretch wrap, which would have been destined for the landfill, were eliminated. And with two to four years of service left in each wrapper, Linkfast can reinvest the tens of thousands of dollars in savings each year, Frank added.

Other customers for the Envirowrapper include Bridge Brand Food Services and Lilydale Foods, an important regional poultry processor. The product is currently being evaluated by several other potential customers.

Enthusiasm has been gratifying, according to Joe. "Meetings we have scheduled to last half an hour often end up running to four or five hours," he said, "because they are eager to bring other managers into the discussion."

Amici's Envirowrapper won the best amenities or supply award at the Eviro Business Expo held earlier this year in Calgary. "We are delighted to win the award," said Joe, who noted that more than 5,000 tons of plastic stretch wrap is deposited into Alberta landfills each year. "If you multiply this figure for Canada and the United States, it is a wonder nobody has made it more of an issue," Frank added.

For loops that can be successfully closed, reusable strapping and wrap devices such as those offered by AGM Container Controls and Amici Enterprises represent another dimension in the growing trend toward reusable packaging.




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