Heineken Making the Move to Plastic Pallets
15 Sep 2014
The advantages of plastic pallets are well known: they are lighter, more durable and more hygienic than the wooden versions. Their only real problem is that they are more expensive than wooden pallets and could add significantly to a product’s costs — an outcome not welcomed by customers.
So it’s always a breakthrough when a major multinational opts to use plastic pallets to transport its goods. This has been the case with Netherlands-based brewer Heineken, which is replacing wooden pallets in its Mexican plants with plastic pallets specifically designed to be resistant to high-impact shocks.
The pallets have been designed and produced by Plasticos Tecnicos Mexicanos (PTM), a 37-year-old subsidiary of Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB (Femsa), the company that bottles for Heineken and Coca-Cola in the Latin American market.
Initially, PTM was founded as a subsidiary of Heineken in Mexico to manufacture plastic crates to transport beer. But then the Mexican brewer moved away from using plastic crates, leaving PTM to diversify into producing plastic chests, coolers and ice boxes. As a result, PTM expanded and now has production plants in the United States, Colombia and Brazil as well as Mexico.
In January 2010, Heineken agreed an equity exchange with Femsa. The Dutch company purchased Femsa’s beer operation in exchange for a 15 per cent shareholding in Heineken. Femsa is the parent company of the Coca-Coca bottling operation in Mexico, Coca-Cola Femsa.
PTM returned to the materials-handling sector about 10 years ago when it designed a new plastic crate for Coca-Cola. This is a very durable article and does not wear as the bottle moves around in the crate.
The next step was the design of a plastic pallet to be called the Ultra Pallet that Heineken will now use. This is manufactured using a combination of high and low pressures during injection-moulding processes, in a method called inside injection foaming.
The cover and the base of the pallet are first injected at a high pressure and then assembled using a snap-fitting mechanism. This is followed by the injection of structural foam at low pressure into eight of the nine blocks — a process that produces a single product whose components are inseparable and extremely durable.
Femsa says that the Ultra Pallet weighs 35 per cent less than a standard wooden pallet. It can also withstand 100 trips, making it twice as durable as a standard plastic pallet.
This new technology won the 2009 Handling & Packaging Materials Award during the international plastics industry showcase conference, the National Plastics Expo (NPE), in Chicago.
In addition to its use by Heineken and Coca-Cola, the Ultra Pallet has been sold to customers in the Mexican automotive industry. Now PTM and Femsa plan to increase their share of the materials-handling sector by branching out into plastic dunnage.