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Newspaper Plant Uses PDQ Plastic Pallets for Slave Pallets, Shipping
Pallet User Focus: A daily newspaper printing facility relies on PDQ Plastics for its highly automated operations; plastic pallets are used internally for slave pallets and also shipping out newspapers.

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 5/1/2009

            There are few products with a quicker cycle time and a shorter shelf life than the daily news. And in a highly automated newspaper printing plant with no tolerance for down time, high quality pallets can make all of the difference.

            Such is the case at The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper. It is printed at the company’s 230,000-square-foot press facility in Vaughan, Ontario, just north of Toronto, which houses six MAN Roland presses. The plant also features automated material handling equipment, including palletizers, laser-guided robotic vehicles and conveyor systems.

            “Because of the size of the facility, we use unmanned Laser Guided Vehicles (LGV) to automatically store and retrieve skids from our warehouses and for most in-house movement,” said Keith Scanes, assistant superintendent of the mailing room. Keith began working at the newspaper in 1970 as a part-time mailing room employee and was promoted to foreman in 1981.

            The Star’s production process is highly automated. For example, the plant has 30 Alvey palletizers to ready bundles of newspapers for shipment. Because of the high level of automation, plastic pallets are used as slave pallets and also for shipping.

            “We only use one type of plastic pallet, the PDQ Plastics Super D 40-by-48 pallet,” said Keith. “Quality has never been an issue.”

            Four-way pallets are important especially for The Star’s shipments of finished newspapers. “For our operation, it is absolutely essential,” said Keith. “By using a four-way entry pallet we can maximize the number of skids being loaded onto the trailers for shipment.”

            The plant receives a steady volume of newspaper inserts – pre-printed fliers, brochures and other advertising materials that are inserted into a newspaper. The inserts arrive on wood pallets, and the loaded pallets are placed on the PDQ plastic pallets to be moved by an LGV into storage. An LGV will be dispatched later to pick up inserts from the warehouse and move them to machines that will insert them into the newspaper.

            Bundles of finished newspapers are palletized on the PDQ plastic pallets for shipment. After the newspapers are delivered to the carriers, the pallets are trucked to a warehouse, where they are counted and stored for a day or two before being returned to the plant.

            The newspaper recently implemented a manual system of tracking pallets in order to curb losses, which are about 300 pallets annually. “We have been reasonably successful in this endeavor,” said Keith.

            The plant also is equipped with electric tow motors, lift and reach forklifts and electric skid lifters. “This is why the use of four-way plastic pallets is so crucial,” Keith said. “They need to be durable and flexible in their various applications with our equipment.”

            In the high-speed production and cycle time of newspaper printing and delivery, each plastic pallet is used about 12 times per week.

            Most incoming shipments of inserts arrive on wood pallets. The size and quality of the wood pallets are quite varied, according to Keith, which is why they are transferred onto the plastic pallets to be handled by the LGV.

            “Like most newspapers, we sometimes struggle with the incoming skids of flyers that arrive on wood pallets,” said Keith. “Everyone is looking at ways to cut costs, and as a result you can expect that the quality of pallets we see coming in is not all that great. Loads that collapse in transit are sometimes turned away to be re-piled. Other times, we will re-pile it ourselves, depending on staff availability and timing.”

            One trend that Keith has noted is that the quality of inbound wood pallets has become increasingly inconsistent. “I assume this is the result of everyone trying to cut costs,” he said.

            “We have very few specifications for incoming pallets,” said Keith “As long as they are in reasonable shape for safe handling and don’t pose any risk of collapse during production, we’re okay with almost any pallet.”

            The Star does not participate in any pallet pool or retrieval programs with insert suppliers. The plant occasionally encounters a stray CHEP pallet or other pool pallet, but these are processed the same as other wood pallets.

            Wood pallets are sorted, and a small supply is kept for shipments of commercial printing jobs. The remaining used wood pallets are sold to a pallet recycler. The money earned from selling the cores to a pallet recycler goes to The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, which provides Christmas gifts for needy children.

            The U.S. Postal Service experienced a rash of plastic pallet losses in recent years. One of the issues had been printing companies that used postal pallets to ship finished goods to customers like newspapers instead of using them strictly for shipments to the Postal Service. The agency subsequently took steps to educate its mail customers and eliminate misuse.

            “We used to see those (plastic Postal Service pallets) on an occasional basis but haven’t seen many lately,” said Keith. “In fact, it is rare. I’d be interested in getting some information on the measures they took,” he said, to improve pallet control.

            The Star was a pioneer in using plastic pallets. “We started using plastic pallets approximately 40 years ago solely for the purpose of piling our TV guides at our old rotogravure plant,” said Keith. “They were then shipped to our main production facility where they were inserted into the daily paper.” At that time, bundles of finished newspapers were loaded directly onto truck floors; pallets were not used.

            Starting in the late 1980s, The Star began looking at ways to speed up the unloading process at various depots where newspapers were distributed to delivery personnel. A process called side-loading was developed in conjunction with specially designed trucks. Bundles of newspapers moved by conveyor to the plant loading dock, and then they were hand-stacked onto plastic pallets that were side-loaded onto the special trucks for delivery to the depots. Now, all palletization is automated.

            With few specifications for inbound pallets, The Star’s experience with the mix of wood pallets it receives has been a sour point for Keith. “I dislike wood pallets because handling them always comes with a host of safety requirements,” he said. Employees handling wood pallets use personal protective equipment, such as gloves and safety glasses.

            Wood pallets are prone to damage when they are picked up or moved by forklifts, Keith noted. They also can be damaged by the steel bands that secure a unit load. “Plastic pallets don’t have these types of issues,” he said.

            The Star provides training in proper lifting techniques in order to avoid unnecessary injuries associated with lifting and handling wood pallets. In addition, employees are trained to use personal protective equipment when handling wood pallets.

            Keith did not hesitate to recommend New Jersey-based PDQ Plastics. “We’ve been dealing with them for over 40 years and have always been more than satisfied with their service and products,” he said.

            Some times the plant has been short of pallets because of unexpected production requirements, and it needs additional pallets delivered quickly under those circumstances, noted Keith. “There have been times where we have ordered 500 pallets, and they have been at our doorstep within 72 hours. That’s service.”

            PDQ Plastics also has provided critical information regarding purchase history. The supplier also cooperated with The Star’s research into radio frequency identification and other avenues to prevent pallet losses.

            “I think it’s essential that any pallet provider truly understands their customer’s needs and works with them,” said Keith. “In the end, both parties benefit by the loyalties that get established.”

            The Star stands as an excellent example of how a pallet supplier can collaborate with a customer to provide a high quality pallet — one that helps achieve uninterrupted high-speed production and distribution of a fast moving product.

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