Markets in Transition: PallTek Bullish on the Opportunity for Plastic Pallet Repair Service
Columnist Rick LeBlanc discusses the business opportunity and challenges involved in repairing plastic pallets with a focus on the growing need and technology advancements.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 8/1/2011
Is plastic pallet repair going to become more common in the future? The usual thinking about heavy duty plastic pallets has generally been that they are extremely durable, but when they break, you don’t try to fix them, you accumulate them for return to the manufacturer, and receive a certain credit towards new ones. In North America, at least, there hasn’t been a lot of plastic pallet repair undertaken. But that could be changing, according to a Florida company called PallTek (www.palltek.com).
Truth be told, I had never heard of PallTek until I took a look for plastic pallet repair on the Internet. What perked my interest was recent discussion by a financial analyst that plastic welding equipment had been purchased by a company associated with Schoeller Arca for the repair of a backlog of damaged iGPS pallets. With the price of new plastic pallets as high as it is today, it seemed like there just might be an opportunity for economical repair.
At the same time, it would help keep broken plastic pallets out of the plastic recycling stream. I know when I worked in the grocery industry, we didn’t bother accumulating our broken plastic pallets to ship back to the manufacturer. We just didn’t have room, so instead we shipped them out with the rest of our scrap plastic pails and containers. In today’s environment, with more and more focus on pallet theft, it seems like plastic pallet repair would provide a better control to avoid confusion about whether a pallet is in the waste stream because it is stolen or whether the owner deemed it damaged.
But getting back to plastic pallet repair, PallTek is headquartered in central Florida. The company uses a patent pending repair process for thermoformed and other types of plastic pallets and containers, employing the latest advances in adhesives and sealants. Marketing efforts are centered on offering plastic pallet repair to companies that own and use plastic pallets, plastic pallet manufacturers requiring warranty repairs, and the defense logistics sector.
Keith Carrington, owner of PallTek, said that most of his customers never anticipated that they would have to repair their plastic pallets. “They assumed they would be extremely durable, but if they did become damaged, then they would be recycled into newones on a one for one basis,” Keith stated. He stressed that the notion of a one for one swap is a little misleading in terms of material utilization, stressing that a minimum of two pallets are needed to recover enough material for one pallet – important information from both an environmental and cost perspective.
Keith has found that companies are really looking for ways to extend the life of their pallets and the pallet repair service offered by PallTek provides just that opportunity. With the price of a high quality rackable plastic pallet in the $70 range, PallTek can offer repair services in the $3 to $25 range. PallTek also repairs thermoformed pallets.
The idea of a plastic pallet repair service was over two years in development before launching the business. “We developed a structural adhesive that allows us to very cost effectively repair plastic pallets,” Keith commented. “Usually we can repair about 70 to 80% of the damaged pallets we receive from a customer.” PallTek staff typically sorts damaged pallets first prior to repair. Keith previously worked in the chemical industry – and around plastic pallets. It was in this environment that he first saw the need for a plastic pallet repair service.
The main form of damage PallTek sees in rackable plastic pallets is top deck separation. Keith indicated that plastic pallets can be repaired to be stronger than they were originally when the structural adhesive is applied.
For holes and other penetrating damage in blocks, an epoxy resin is used. PallTek is mindful that the repair cannot add any additional weight to the original pallet, and at the same time, functionality of the repaired pallet within any automated systems must be preserved.
Asked about plastic welding, Keith stated that his company tries to steer its customers away from welding. While PallTek has the capability to weld, the company has found that structural adhesives provide a more durable repair. Welding requires the heated manipulation of the plastic into a viscous state that allows for adhesion of the welded components. Through the heating process, PallTek and chemists at several independent laboratories found that the plastic weld material is weakened and does not provide the same shear strength and tolerances that can be achieved through the use of patented structural adhesives.
PallTek currently uses seven different adhesives to use for specific materials or types of repair. The company fixes all types of plastic pallets, as long as it makes sense commercially to do so. For example, a customer with a unique pallet and very small volumes might not provide a commercial incentive to develop a solution.
Having a fresh concept can be an exciting opportunity, but it also can pose problems because of a lack of awareness in the marketplace. PallTek has found, for example, that some clients have a budget to replace but not necessarily to repair. “A key role we have to play is that of industry educator,” explained Keith. “As the industry evolves so to do the options available and for us that means helping our clients see the alternatives and the benefits to harnessing new technologies and processes.”
“Having the right team has made all of the difference,” Keith commented about the early success of his company. PallTek is currently exploring opportunities to double its production facility size and has plans to triple its workforce within the next 18 months due to increasing demand both domestically and from other NAFTA zone countries.
“It is rewarding work because there isn’t anyone else out there doing it, at least in North America” Keith said.
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