"In the grocery industry, they can work very well for self-distributing chains, where you have dedicated trucks traveling back and forth between the distribution center and the retail stores," Most observes.
"We've also seen some companies form partnerships to do pallet exchange with plastic."
Reusable Containers Meet A Variety Of Needs
In addition to pallets, there are other kinds of reusable containers and shipping packaging available to meet a wide variety of specific needs.
"Reusable containers are nothing new," Saladin notes. "But we are seeing more companies moving toward reusable packaging and shipping containers recently, due to growing concern over the future of the environment and a desire to reduce waste."
Many retailers including drugstores and supermarkets have been using flip-packs (totes with attached lids) to move product from the DC to store shelves for years, Saladin notes.
"Recently a large chicken processor has started using plastic containers to move its chilled product through the supply chain. Because of the harsh environment the product travels through, with high levels of humidity, they've found that corrugated doesn't withstand the rigors of handling nearly as well as plastic containers.
"We're also seeing growing use of reusable plastic shippers in the produce industry, where you have product moving all the way from the field to the store shelf in the same plastic shipper," says Saladin. "Many of these containers, some of them collapsible, are now shipped right out to the store floor and used for display."
There are hundreds of varieties of reusable container configurations, some tailored exactly to specific applications. Another advantage these offer over pallets, slip sheets, and other methods of packaging product for shipping, is that they can be designed specifically to protect the goods involved, resulting is less damage and waste.
In general, reusable shipping containers make not only good environmental policy, but also great economic sense, Saladin adds.
"We've had studies done that show a return on investment in anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on the supply chain. Those are real, immediate dollar savings. When you add the environmental and other benefits, there's a lot of interest."
SECTION 3 / LIFT TRUCKS
Workhorse Gets Green Makeover
By Brian Schiavo
Lift truck manufacturers have not been immune to the "green" trend. In fact, companies such as Raymond, Crown, Hyster and Yale are finding new ways to reduce the impact that their manufacturing processes and their equipment has on the environment.
"We have a long history of environmental efforts and sustainability," says Brian Duffy environmental and safety manager for Crown Equipment Corp., New Bremen, OH. Crown manufactures a large percentage of the components that go into its lift trucks. This gives the company a distinct advantage in what happens during the manufacturing process, allowing it to apply its own environmental principles, down to the component level.
"Each component has an environmental strategy associated with it," he says. "In our mast plant, for example, we do welding and plating. Our component level strategy for that was to put together a zero discharge plating operation." This means the process generates no hazardous waste sludge. Even the rinse waters used during plating are re-cycled, making it a completely environmentally sound operation.
Crown was recently awarded an Achievement Award from the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities for one of the changes it made in its production processes. This one entailed switching from a liquid coating painting process for its power units and most parts to a powder coating process. The process eliminates all VOC (volatile organic chemical) emissions. The switch eliminated more than 65 percent of the wastewater generated by the old process and saves more than 200,000 pounds of water and sludge.
On The Horizon: Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Another trend that has been gathering an incredible amount of steam in the past few years is the utilization of hydrogen fuel cells to power lift trucks. Many of the major manufacturers are testing the viability of this alternative power system.