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Non-Wood Pallets Make Good Showing At Material Handling Trade Show
ProMat: Non-wood pallets make strong showing at material handling trade show; ProMat event draws pallet industry’s big, high profile players as exhibitors.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 3/1/2007
CHICAGO — This year’s ProMat material handling trade show featured 300,000 square feet of exhibits and 700 suppliers showing off the latest and the greatest product in the materials handling world.
From a pallet perspective, the show typically provides a good read on what is going on in the arena of non-wood pallets as well as some of the big, high profile players in the industry. CHEP, IFCO Systems and iGPS sponsored exhibits at this year’s show. Regional or local wooden pallet companies were not visible, although they seldom are at this type of trade show.
If You Build RFID, Will They Come?
CHEP showed off its new composite block design as well as a forklift attachment it calls the Blue Guardian. The top of the new composite blocks are recessed on the end and side, which allows the use of a thicker stringer board without increasing overall pallet height.
The Blue Guardian is a forklift mast attachment that provides a rubber cushion against the center block to prevent damage from forklift tine impact. It will be offered in some form to CHEP customers, and it seems like a good idea. Raymond Corp., which manufactures forklifts, offers a similar product called the Pallet Dawg.
CHEP also exhibited its Plus ID pallet, which comes equipped with 3-in-1 CHEP tags – an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip, bar code and an identification number. I did not discuss this directly with CHEP personnel. However, according to others who spoke with CHEP representatives, demand for the pallet has been very modest, at least by CHEP standards. The broad range of customers still has not seen fit to pay the added cost for RFID technology.
A representative of a leading materials handling trade journal noted that the hoopla surrounding RFID tapered off in 2006. “A lot of companies are finding the return on investment just isn’t there,” he said.
However, I attended a presentation by another company supplying RFID technology, and they rattled off cases where customers enjoyed a positive return on investment. Bottom line: there are mixed messages coming from the market place about the value of RFID.
The iGPS exhibit was another active display. It featured a video of CEO Bob Moore (former CEO of CHEP) explaining the value of its plastic pallet pooling service.
A backdrop of the iGPS exhibit was a stack of some pretty rough looking wood pallets. Even though it is a blatant misrepresentation of the wooden pallet industry, the pile of scrap wood pallets is one of those images that the plastic pallet industry used to trot out a lot in years past. Until I saw the iGPS exhibit, I had not seen it used in a while.
I have a mind to float out some pictures of broken expendable plastic pallets, but so much for splitting hairs.
The iGPS pallet is very nice looking and weighs 47 pounds. It features an injection molded base and a twin-sheet thermoform top deck that are ‘welded’ together. All the iGPS pool pallets are equipped with RFID technology, with an RFID chip imbedded in each corner.
iGPS has about 12 customers although they cannot identify them because of confidentiality agreements. Pallet production for the next two years already is committed to customers, according to iGPS.
iGPS announced at ProMat that Mattori, an Arizona-based produce company that grows melons and broccoli, would begin testing the pallet pool this winter.
The iGPS management team is stacked with some heavy hitters. Besides Moore, the team includes Rex Lowe, another former CHEP executive, and Ron Reed, formerly a packaging executive at Wal-Mart.
In addition, there were a number of other former CHEP staffers at the show, marketing pallets and related products for other companies.
At the IFCO exhibit, an upbeat sales team was on hand, and a flat screen TV displayed information about the company’s products and services.
Existing Solutions Find New Traction
It seemed like products that have been around a long time are catching a breath of fresh air in a stronger economy.
Non-wood pallets were strongly represented, as they usually are at this type of event. Clyde Witt, executive editor of Material Handling Management, told me the contingent of plastic pallet vendors seemed as large as ever.
While the usual group of leading plastic pallet manufacturers was present, such as Orbis, Rehrig Pacific and Trienda, there was the usual contingent of newer entrants, too. Some Asian companies were represented and offered very good pricing, such as plastic pallets rackable to 2,000 pounds for about $40. There were some well known European producers, too, including Craemer, marketed by Granville Plastics, and Utz. Most plastic pallet companies seemed to be offering a lightweight expendable pallet in the $10 range for truckload quantities.
A company from China exhibited a lightweight steel pallet, which they said was priced “between wood and plastic.”
While I think that lightweight steel might make some inroads, that type of sales line always drives me crazy. When I suggested to the sales rep that this put the price in the “narrow” range between $4 and $120, that pretty much put a lid on our conversation.
There were a number of metal pallet and container suppliers with a surprising number from Asia. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up as many business cards before with non-North American telephone numbers. The markets are getting more global all the time.
Steel container people seemed bullish on their product lines. They say steel has regained some of its shine for durability as resin costs have increased and plastic pallet and container applications have been around enough years to make a realistic comparison.
Corrugated pallets also were represented by at least four manufacturers. They showed a surprising range of pallets beyond the traditional shipping skid. Products included collapsible pallet containers, reusable pallets, insulated pallet containers, end-of-aisle retail displays and over-sized pallets. One manufacturer displayed a 13-long pallet used for shipping vinyl siding and said he sells 10,000 per month. Freight becomes a factor for corrugated pallets, so some manufacturers partner with companies in other parts of the country to assemble the components close to the customer.
Center for Unit Load Design
Other exhibitors familiar to the wooden pallet industry included APA-The Engineered Wood Association and the Center for Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech, which was represented by Ralph Rupert and Bonnie Maccubbin. Ralph, the new director of the center, said they garnered enough good leads on the first day of the four-day show that they could have packed it in happily after day one. It was the second ProMat for the Center, which also exhibits at PackExpo, a major material handling trade show held in November in Chicago. Ralph and Bonnie also seemed very confident that the new consulting business of Mark White, former director of the center, will generate additional work for the center.
Pallets aside, the ProMat show is always guaranteed to provide a few eye-openers. Two of my favorites this time included a portable automatic wrapping machine that can be brought to the load and automatic guided vehicles that stop and go around unexpected objects like people.
Of course, there were plenty of robotics and other automated storage and material handling systems, which will likely eventually find greater application within the pallet industry.