It’s the plastic thing!

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Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) cover a multitude of products – soft drinks, beers, bread, milk and vegetables, for instance. And, as the term suggests, fast moving consumer goods would not be expected to be on a store shelf for very long. However that is not always the case.

FMCGs in supermarkets require frequent replenishment. Traditionally, this involves pushing out a roll cage and manually stacking the shelves. Stores often wait until the top shelf is empty before carrying out this time-consuming and obstructive procedure. Part empty shelves, however, create an untidy appearance for a supermarket.

Sometimes supermarkets put out full pallets at the end of the aisle for more convenient shelf replenishment. However, 1m pallets do not fit under a conventional supermarket shelf and encroach into the aisle’s space, causing an obstruction for staff and customers.

Chris Adams, division manager – UK and Ireland at Interroll Dynamic Storage (IDS), explains: “People never pick from the back of a shelf, always the front. That means some products will go out of life because replenishment is at the front, not the back.” As a result stock at the back of shelves can remain there well beyond their sell-by dates, and then removed from sale. On average, shelves in shops will only be half full, adds Adams.

To overcome the problem, companies have been seeking a handling solution that suits both the retail market and the supply chain. And Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has been at the forefront of that quest, working with IDS and Polymer Logistics in finding a suitable load handling solution and which is an alternative to putting stock on shelves.

CCE is responsible for manufacturing, bottling and distributing Coca-Cola Great Britain’s brands nationwide. It has six productions plants and eight depots including its largest European distribution centre and plant at Wakefield in West Yorkshire.

A leading name in FMCG sector, CCE dictated that the solution must meet several criteria covering:

lGood presentation.

lSafe handling.

lEasy handling by existing materials handling equipment.

lCompatibility with rack storage, drive-in storage and flow storage.

The use of wooden standard or Euro pallets as an alternative to shelving was rejected on the grounds that they did not look good in stores, were too big and created a safety issue. Roll cages and dollies were considered but eliminated because of their unpopularity within supply chains – they are awkward to store, transport, load and handle as well as can be easily damaged and susceptible to theft.

Dollies were eliminated because of their difficult handling for FMCG products in the supply chain.

Adams explains: “Dollies have been used, and they are great in store as well as very fast moving. However, they are not good in the supply chain. Nobody likes them, and they can’t be handled in the warehouse.”

Replenishment solution

The new system combines the advantages of a pallet for the producer and a dolly for the supermarket, to save time, space and money. It has provided the answer and one which Interroll is certain will have a major impact on the retail sector when restocking FMCGs.

Polymer developed the Merchandisable Unit (MU) Pallet, a display unit on wheels which can be stacked, racked and moved on roller conveyors.

CCE is successfully using the MU Pallet to transport bottles of soft drinks from its plant in Wakefield direct to the supermarket shelves of the leading grocery retailers in the UK.

Adams says: “By providing a single platform, which is ideal for carrying fast moving consumer goods through a supply chain, the MU Pallet at last provides the retail sector with an alternative replenishment solution.”

Weighing just 13.5kg, the MU Pallet is made of polyethylene and polypropylene, and measures 800mm long x 600mm wide x 180mm high – essentially a half Euro pallet. The one-piece, easy-to-clean deck moulding has three runners. The third runner has an 80mm diameter wheel embedded on either side of its chamfered underside edge. Processing the real thing!These wheels come into contact with the ground when a purpose-built Mini-lifter truck raises the MU Pallet’s opposite side. This truck ‘pumps up’ the MU Pallet leaving only the wheels on the chamfered edge of the MU Pallet in contact with the ground, allowing an operative to easily move the pallet. When lowered on the ground, however, the MU Pallet becomes a sedentary platform once more.

The Mini-lifter truck is little more than the tiller arm and pump of a conventional pedestrian pallet truck. However, replacing the regular pallet forks are two short prongs sticking out either side of a crossbeam. These prongs slot into the outer runner of the MU Pallet, joining pallet to Mini-lifter. This design presents a space saving unit, which causes minimum obstruction when used in confined areas.

With a 500kg uniform load capacity, the MU Pallet provides an ideal solution to restocking FMCGs in supermarkets. Also, it combines the advantages of pallets, roll cages and dollies by providing a single mobile unit that can be easily rolled straight out into a supermarket aisle to sit beneath a shelf.

Flow storage

The advantages of the MU Pallet are accentuated further down the supply chain because the unit is easy to load – not just in delivery vehicles and conventional racks. Interroll has developed flow storage systems for CCE, which had asked IDS to devise a solution capable of handling the MU Pallet within the blocks of Pallet Flow storage at the Wakefield site – the biggest plant of CCE in Europe. The Interroll solution also had to meet stringent safety criteria.

Retail distribution centres generally store FMCGs in space-saving dynamic storage systems, comprising inclined lanes of rollers. As the pallet travels down the lane it is gripped by a ‘speed controller’ to slow it down.

Speed controllers are integrated within a roller – one per pallet position – to regulate the speed of a passing pallet. Traditionally wooden pallets are used within dynamic storage systems because it is difficult for a speed controller to acquire the same level of grip on a plastic pallet.

Adams explains: “It is harder for conventional speed controllers to maintain control of a runaway plastic pallet, with obvious safety risks and potential damage to goods.”

IDS, working with Polymer and Coca-Cola Enterprises, devised a special speed controller, which grips the MU Pallet and slows it to a controllable speed as it travels down the dynamic storage lane.

These special rollers can be installed into existing dynamic storage systems – the special rollers are simply inserted between existing speed controllers.

Once Interroll had completed installation of the upgraded dynamic storage system Coca-Cola Enterprises carried out a test to simulate five years’ of system operation. The trial showed not one failure or runaway pallet. Coca-Cola Enterprises now successfully delivers bottles of soft drink on the MU Pallets to supermarkets through the modified flow storage lanes.

Rob Baxter, of Coca-Cola Enterprises, says: “Working collaboratively with Interroll we developed a solution for handling the MU Pallet in our flow storage systems. There are over 15,000 pallet positions of flow storage in our supply chain. The MU Pallet potentially could pass through any position. Interroll’s innovative solution has achieved all our requirements. We are very happy with the results.”

Adams says: “Interroll Dynamic Storage Systems are all about saving time, space and money. The MU pallet can also do all of this by solving the problems retail supply chains face with dollies and roll cages, which is why the MU Pallet will have a major impact on the retail sector.”

The MU Pallet system is suitable for most FMCGs such as drinks, bread, sugar, milk, fruit and vegetables, tissue paper, crisps and many others. nCreating Coca-Cola’s famous brands starts in the process department, where the quality of ingredients are checked and blended – as required by the recipe – using an automated ICT process called Tritec. CCE uses British suppliers for most of the ingredients and packaging – it spends more than £300M a year buying ingredients from suppliers nationwide.

Once prepared, each batch is conveyed from the process department to the filling machines on ten manufacturing lines, along stainless steel pipes. Prior to reaching the filler, the batch goes through a carbonator which is pressurised to force carbon dioxide into the water.

To ensure its products have the right level of filling, ingredient and fizz, there are regular quality control and testing. CCE uses the Total Quality Coca-Cola Management System (TQCCMS) for this process, which entails 2,000 quality checks being carried out from the delivery of raw material to the filled can or bottle reaching the warehouse. Many of the checks are automated, although these are backed up by technicians.

Coca-Cola’s carbonated products are packaged in either glass, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles or cans. The Wakefield facility uses PET bottles, ranging from 500ml to two-litres and cans.

The Rexam-produced cans are made next door to the Wakefield plant and are delivered by conveyor to the manufacturing lines – both factories are joined by a hole in the wall. The cans are open topped – the can ends arrive separately. CCE makes or “blows” its own PET bottles. The bottles are delivered to the plant as pre forms, which are heated to 180°C and blown into a bottle shaped mould.

The canning line processes 2,000 cans per minute, for instance.

The production processes are automated and monitored by teams of engineer technicians with both IT and engineering skills. The teams use an ICT system which provides an online view of what each part of the process is doing.

The final process sees the cans being multi-packed and shrink-wrapped on a tray before going to the warehouse to be palletised. The bottles are packed into the relevant pack size and are then taken to the warehouse to be palletised and despatched. nPET linesCANNING LINES

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