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Reliable plastic pallets: The answer to your automation needs

Managing Director, Jim Hardisty, explains the crucial role plastic pallets play in maintaining a smooth, hygienic and efficient production line in today’s increasingly automated laboratory environments.

The use of automation and robotics in the pharmaceutical industry is increasing rapidly. According to a new study by The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies ‘Robotics 2019: Innovation to Implementation’ deployment of robotics in North America in the life sciences/pharma segment reported a 31.3% increase in units shipped from 2017-2018. Across Europe too, as pharmaceutical manufacturers strive to remain competitive automation initiatives are being seen as a means to stimulate economic growth.

The pharmaceutical industry produces millions of tablets each week, all of which must be carefully scrutinized before being packed and shipped to distributors. Most pharmaceutical packaging systems use automation to manage bottle orientation, capping, labelling and collation systems. Automation of packaging also requires a system that monitors the operation on a supervisory level, checking for fallen bottles and low-level supplies.

Considering automation

When considering the introduction of any level of automation in a pharmaceutical laboratory it is important to look for a solution that integrates holistically with the whole of the operation. Clearly defining the objectives for the project and the tasks for the automation are is essential. Equally important is to consider how you want humans to engage and interact with the equipment.

In addition to defining the scientific process used in a new system, identifying the handling requirements, such as how to move something from point A to point B is also key. This means thinking about not only the type of automation that might be best suited to your needs but also how your products are moved through the supply chain.

3) Plastic pallets have considerable benefits over wooden pallets in pharmaceutical packing environments.

Pallet choice

Pallets are the single most ubiquitous component in the supply chain; the standard for handling and moving products from one location to another. Pallets play a vital role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, both in the production area and for packaging and distribution. But not one size fits all. Before investing in pallets for your operation it’s paramount that you consider exactly where and how they will be used.

For laboratory and clean room environments, for instance, there is only one viable option; hygienic plastic pallets. Manufactured from the highest food grade virgin HDPE, our hygienic pallets have smooth, sealed surfaces and are fully compliant with EU safety legislation. Free from joints, slots and other cavities, they have been specially designed to prevent the accumulation of dirt and dust, ensuring optimum hygiene conditions are maintained as they transit through the area. All laboratory environments that employ staff are at risk of human error from time to time. Using hygienic plastic pallets with completely closed surfaces mean that should a tablet accidentally get dropped, it can be easily identified as there are no holes or crevices where it can get trapped.

However, the benefits of using plastic pallets go far beyond the laboratory environment alone. If your pharmaceutical packing area uses any level of automation – whether roller conveyors, sortation equipment or robotic automation – then plastic pallets have considerable advantages over alternatives.

2)	Our hygienic plastic pallets being used to store the product in a warehouse.

Pallets for automation

Automated handling systems are not invincible and can be disrupted. The most common cause of disruption is the use of wooden pallets for moving goods around. In a highly automated packaging area, this disruption can result in lengthy delays, missed shipments and a huge cost to businesses.

Wooden pallets face issues of inconsistency – as they are not uniform in size and shape, even small inconsistencies can cause a wooden pallet to jam and cause untold damage. Wooden pallets subject to frequent use are susceptible to wear and tear, this might be a loose slat or broken nail, either way, disruption is likely to occur, even in operations that have the most stringent inspection processes in place. There’s also the problem of contamination with wooden pallets as they are absorbent so take in moisture where bacteria can harbour and grow, and in the worst case contaminate the goods loaded upon them.

A typical wooden pallet is, therefore, a weak link in the automated process. The obvious solution is to adopt a platform that is durable, totally consistent, does not contain nails or fasteners and is moisture resistant.

Plastic pallets perfectly complement automated handling systems, and in our experience of supplying the pharmaceutical industry, they provide a reliable asset for all types of applications.

The advantages of plastic pallets over wood are plentiful, just a few include: consistency – plastic pallets are 100% size and strength consistent, their uniform weight and deck can support loads across the whole span of the product, reducing the chance of products shifting; durability – their strength is unrivalled when compared with wood, plus heavy duty varieties can also withstand frequent repeated use in rigorous, closed loop scenarios; hygienic – they are non-absorbent and resistant to most chemicals and can be washed repeatedly, removing the risk of contamination; recyclable – more than 96% of our plastic pallets are manufactured from recycled plastic and at the end of their long working life can be reground to produce new, sustainable plastic pallets, saving trees along the way.

When you compare plastic pallets and wooden pallets, plastic truly is triumphant.