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In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of logistics, the choice of containers deployed across your supply chain plays a pivotal role in maximising operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. Two prominent contenders in this area are stack/nest plastic containers and folding boxes – and many supply chain managers will spend significant time weighing up which product would be the best fit for their applications. Therefore, we have written this detailed guide which compares their different features, key strengths, and in which environment they would be best suited.
1. STACK/NEST PLASTIC CONTAINERS
Every day, millions of stack/nest plastic containers are used across the world. These products are heavily relied upon by several industries – most notably retail, manufacturing and food and agriculture. Larger businesses could often have tens of thousands of these containers across their vast fleets, known for their robustness and ease of washing.
Stack/nest containers come in many shapes and sizes (see our extensive range here) and they are available with solid walls and bases or perforated walls and bases. Perforated versions are designed to allow sufficient airflow, crucial for processes like drying, freezing, or defrosting produce.
The two most popular examples of stack/nest containers are the “180-degree stack/nest plastic container” and the “bale arm stack/nest plastic container”.
A closer look at the 180-degree stack/nest plastic container
180-degree stack/nest containers are a testament to innovative design and functionality. Their unique design allows them to be stacked in one orientation and, with a swift 180-degree rotation, nested. This dual capability proves invaluable for food manufacturers and retailers, offering significant space-saving benefits during transportation and storage.
Typically constructed as a single moulded piece, these containers boast strength and durability. Their one-piece moulding also ensures a prolonged lifespan, making them a cost-effective solution and a fantastic long-term investment.
However, their design comes with certain nuances. They cannot have entirely parallel sides, as it would impede their nesting capability – and therefore the base footprint is slightly more compact than the top due to its tapering form. For example, when nested this container would add another 50mm to a stack of other nested containers.
Their versatility is evident in their widespread use, from harvesters picking berries to food manufacturers looking to freeze meat – and we have written a blog all about the role of plastics in the distribution of fresh produce and meat. They’re also indispensable in retail logistics, where they are used to store all different sorts of components during shipping.
Some stack/nest plastic containers feature a bi-colour design, which is used to indicate the stacking and nesting orientations. This simple feature will ensure users can protect the container’s contents effectively.
Bale arm stack/nest containers: The supermarket sensation
Bale arm stack/nest containers have become a ubiquitous sight in our daily lives, especially when visiting supermarkets or unpacking your groceries after a home delivery. Over the last 20 years, these containers have revolutionised the way goods are stored and transported, offering a more sustainable and efficient alternative to traditional cardboard trays and boxes.
The standout design feature of the bale arm stack/nest containers is the dual-hinges. When the arms are extended, they allow another tray to sit securely on top. When empty, the user can fold back the arms and the container will seamlessly nest inside another unit. This design not only optimises space but also guarantees stability during stacking, a crucial feature when transporting delicate items like fruits.
We stock a wide range of high-quality bale arm stack/nest containers that are already being widely used right across the UK and Europe. This includes the GoMaxi 43200P, offering robustness, space efficiency, and a user-friendly design. This perforated crate can also be printed with company logos. Another noteworthy product in this category is the GoMaxi 64253P. Perfect for the food and agriculture industry, this container can hold 44-litres and features handholes for easy lifting throughout the supply chain.
2. FOLDING BOXES:
With an increasing focus on sustainability, folding boxes are quickly becoming a Supply Chain Manager’s best friend. Their unique design allows them to be folded down to a mere fraction of their original height. This is made possible by the hinges running the length of the box, enabling the sides to fold in efficiently. It is also worth sharing that, as they comprise of multiple components, they can be slightly heavier than their counterparts.
While the sophisticated design and additional components make them approximately 20-25% more expensive than stack/nest plastic containers, the benefits they offer in terms of space-saving are worthwhile to many businesses.
The parallel-sided design ensures that the base dimension is almost identical to the top, eliminating the wastage seen in tapered designs. This efficient use of space is a key selling point, especially for supermarkets where a lot of produce comes in packaging with straight edges. It translates to increased logistical efficiency, ensuring every inch of space is utilised – whether that’s in transit, in the warehouse or on the shop floor. A great example of this is the GoFold 64230P, is 230mm high to 36mm when folded.
However, the design is not best suited for certain types of goods. For instance, you wouldn’t typically store raw produce directly in folding boxes, as the structure and design would make the units harder to clean than a one piece container. They are the perfect solution to efficiently store and move packaged finished goods into the retail supply chain.
Our wide range of folding boxes include the GoFold 43120P and the GoFold 64221S. Meanwhile, the GoFold 64200P offers that increasingly important space savings for return trips and storage while maintaining large internal capacity when constructed. This particular model offers various design options: it can have a perforated side with a solid base, or both the side and base can be perforated. This folding box is deeper than usual. Notably, it features “castellations” on the top, which aid in its folding mechanism. The design ensures that, as the container’s height increases beyond its length, it can still fold efficiently without overlapping. These “castellations” assist in interlocking the container. For taller containers, instead of adding an additional hinge in the middle, this design uses a segmented folding approach, making it a cost-effective solution for achieving greater height in a folding container.
WASHING STACK/NEST PLASTIC CONTAINERS AND FOLDING BOXES
Across large operations, the cleaning of both stack/nest containers and folding boxes has been streamlined using mechanical washing machines, which continue to improve year-on-year.
Stack/nest containers, with their simpler design, are notably easier to clean manually, making them a preferred choice for operations without advanced washing facilities. Folding boxes are potentially harder to clean because of the fold mechanisms. However, advancements in mechanical washing technology are bridging this gap, ensuring even these complex structures are thoroughly cleaned.
APPLICATIONS, USE CASES AND MARKET TRENDS
Although all of the product types mentioned in this article are widely used across different environments, stack/nest containers, including bale arm containers, are best suited for food manufacturing and harvesting, plus storing components for non-food businesses. Meanwhile, folding boxes are the ideal choice for retail displays and logistics. The most sophisticated automation systems may erect the folding boxes before picking and packing. While this is not too common at the moment, we expect this technology will evolve quickly to meet the demands of retailers and their supply chains in the future.
All types of containers and boxes have specific weight limits, similar to plastic pallets. However, consideration must be given to how the crate will be handled, either completely as a manual process, or in a combination of automatic and manual tasks.
The logistics and supply chain landscape is rapidly evolving and stack/nest plastic containers and folding boxes can play a key role across the sector moving forwards. Their popularity is not just a testament to their design and functionality but also to the broader industry trends prioritising sustainability, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. As environmental concerns become more pronounced, the benefits of these containers, from space savings to reduced fuel costs, will only continue to see their popularity rise.
We offer the UK’s largest range of plastic pallets, pallet boxes, small containers, crates and trays. If you need help, one of our knowledgeable and friendly pallet specialists will gladly offer guidance and discuss your requirements. Call 01323 744057 or email email@example.com