VOLUME 17 ISSUE 1
PalletPlast’s rPET pallet offers optimum lightweight transport solution
PALLETPLAST, a new venture by Cape custom moulder Sandplast, has introduced its lightweight rPET pallet in what is one of the most exciting projects in the local converting industry currently.
Made from as much as 97% recycled PET, the new pallet – which can rack stack 1,2 tons – is being marketed as an ultra-light product transport solution which provides a ‘realistic and cost-effective alternative to wooden pallets that is well suited for the single-use export environment’. A further advantage for Palletplast is that it’s design allows for easy airflow, an important consideration for cold storage use and maintenance of the cold chain.
The main and obvious advantage of using rPET is that the material comes in at a substantial price advantage, but the technical challenge has proved demanding and it comes as no surprise that such a product introduction has probably not been tried before in South Africa, or anywhere for that matter. To give you an idea of the degree of the challenge, the Palletplast partners could not find a mould maker in China prepared to construct the mould for the job. Given that China possesses of several of the world’s top and most efficient toolrooms, who have supplied many of the most difficult and largest moulds in South Africa over the past decade or two, genuine difficulties were expected in the mould construction stage – as well as in moulding.
The mould was ultimately manufactured by a world leading toolroom in Portugal.
With a shot weight of just over 17kg, extended flow paths and the complicated geometry of the design, besides running a material which is virtually certain to display variably consistency and MFI, the job is complicated to say the least.
But the partners, led by Sandplast’s Steph le Roux and Chris Smith, have forged ahead with the project, which has been two years plus in the making so far. Le Roux and Smith have been successful with difficult moulding jobs before and fear of a challenge doesn’t appear to be something that scares them off. The fact is that product introductions invariably present difficult moulding issues, with risk-to-reward ratios going up on the moulding difficulty scale. Suffice to say that few convertors in Southern Africa would have gambled on this job, but therein lies the attraction.
The Palletplast team has worked steadily over the past year plus (the first production trial took place in Portugal in late 2017) and overcome a series of processing problems, including those presented by material drying, material flow, chilling of the mould and others. By end-January the team was on the verge of full production.
With market acceptance, the rPET pallet could see huge demand. Annual demand for pallets – for produce manufacturers and the entire logistics chain – in South Africa is estimated to be between 30 and 40 million units a year, although getting accurate stats proves difficult. At present wood still forms the bulk of pallet supply.
The Cape has already seen a major plastic pallet project go under, but lessons were learned from the Lomold long fibre-low pressure concept. In that case, proprietary equipment was utilized, and several experienced local injection moulding specialists had warned of the danger of trying to develop new technology. After several design variations and much hype, the Lomold business imploded in 2013.
By contrast, the Palletplast project is using standard technology and has steadily eliminated problems encountered along the way, mainly stemming from the use of recycled material. The Palletplast team appear to have not let expectation get too far ahead of the team, but solving the technical challenges has kept the pressure up throughout.
With wood prices going up, and availability of wood reduced, the long-serving wood pallet is not what it was, so again there appears to be an opportunity for material substitution here. Besides that, the origin of the rPET pallet was that of developing a ‘non-slip’ pallet, and the Palletplast product offers a vital additional advantage here too.
With the introduction, the Palletplast sales team is working with distributors around the country; they have an estimated 40 product trials underway, even up to Limpopo, and initial feedback has been positive. The rPET pallet has been approved by UK supermarket group Tesco.