By Paul Wilkinson, Business Development Manager, Pacepacker Services
Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap was once a palletising tactic confined to wholesale outlets. Yet nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see pallet loads, especially around busy seasonal periods, carefully positioned on supermarket floors. More complex patterns, combined with revisions by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to the L23 manual handling guidance (Manual Handling Operations; Regulations 1992), is proving to be catalyst for automating palletising operations.
It might seem like a giant game of Jenga, but given that back injuries from manual handling are a major cause of occupational ill health, palletising is no game. Well over a third of injuries lasting three-days or more reported annually to the HSE are caused by manual handling. Switching from stacking pallets by hand to automated solutions, is far less risk averse. It can also significantly increase your production output and save on transport and labour costs. 

Weighing up the risks

If you are currently stacking pallets by hand, it’s important to give consideration to a number of factors. Manual handling hazards are wide ranging. Although application driven, unusually shaped or unstable loads, excessive weights, stooping and twisting in cramped workspaces can increase the likelihood of a workforce injury. or lifting, it can be helpful to use the 5x5x5 equation – does the load mass weigh more than 5kg, is it carried further than 5 metres and does the person do this activity more than 5 times a month?  If the answer is yes, this could imply a significant lifting activity.

The art of creating stable stacks

Leaving gaps between boxes can help to create a stable stack, and an automated programme can do this repetitive task consistently. Retailers are also calling for more mixed pallet loads in an effort to pare down stockroom inventories. A robot can be configured to differentiate light from heavy packages, which means they can palletise a variety of case sizes of products on one pallet without compromising the stability. 

There’s also an emerging trend for the double stacking of palletised loads. Although this technique increases your storage capacity, to do double stacking successfully depends upon the base pallet load being sufficiently strong to carry the load of the pallet above. The weight of the upper pallet must be evenly shared by all sides of the bottom stack, which articulated robotic arms can successfully accomplish.

Be mindful of tricky products

Sacks tend to be lumpy compared with plastic crates or cardboard boxes. Also, plastic sacks can be more slippery than paper. In many cases, a person building a pallet can compensate for slight variations in outer package shape and pallet stability. Nevertheless, a strong pallet binding with wrap or strapping may be advisable to avert potential disaster. Palletising location and climate can also have an effect. For example, when stacking bags of frozen product condensation can form and even ice up, which can make packs and sacks slippery.

While there are many free pallet load calculators available on the Internet, Pacepacker always recommends speaking to a well-proven palletiser solution provider who can demonstrate how they can handle your products and palletise them. The company’s award winning, Essex-based ‘Try Before You Buy’ facility enables customers to complete pallet stack trials giving 100% confidence that the chosen palletising technique won’t topple their efficiency ambitions.