I had a chance to tour the CHEP pooled pallet maintenance center during the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Fall Member Meeting in Florida.
This was a fascinating look into the world of asset repair that ensures optimal performance and longevity of the wood pallets. This particular facility was operated by CHEP, an SPC member company that manages thousands of sturdy wood pallets in a pooled environment where the pallets are owned and maintained by CHEP. The pallets are treated as assets, and intense effort and scrutiny is afforded on maximizing the life of each pallet.
The process starts with pallets coming to the center for repair and being loaded on to a conveyor that moves them one by one past an inspection station manned by a human who visually surveys each pallet from multiple angles.
Here the inspector will manually pull off damaged parts. Irreparable pallets are removed from the stream and manually hurled off the line. From here the pallet moves to one of several repair stations where the pallet is transferred onto the station.
These stations are equipped with a standard toolkit that includes a claw hammer, a specialized long-handled crowbar to rip off boards easily, a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade, and a heavy duty nail gun suspended on a spring. (My own pallet deconstruction tool kit used to study pallet construction while I was building the tertiary packaging LCA model for COMPASS 3.0 (Comparative Packaging Assessment) lacked the hefty nail gun.
What struck us most was the fact that though the pallets weighed nearly 65 pounds each and all the conveyance was mechanised, all inspection, dismantling, repair and movement on to the conveyors was essentially a manual process involving men moving adeptly at almost robot-like precision. This was an environment of intense concentration and manual dexterity (See the short video of a repair station in action). Pallets that had been repaired were placed back on the conveyor and moved through a series of rollers that push the nails down to flatten the surface. From there, the pallets are sent to a painting station where a fresh coat of the CHEP blue is applied before the lot is loaded onto flatbeds for delivery.
All in all, this tour was a hit with the attendees, especially since this is an industrial process rarely seen. It helped confirm aspects of pallet construction and maintenance that I had come to appreciate through my own deconstruction and upcycling activities that let to the eventual LCA model in COMPASS.
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