Webster’s Dictionary defines a pallet as a “device for supporting freight.” That’s a basic description for an invention used for over a hundred years and a mainstay in the warehouse and freight delivery industries. The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association’s slogan goes, “Pallets Move the World®” — and they’re right. Currently, in the United States, it’s estimated that approximately 1.4 billion pallets are actively circulating about the nation. That’s a lot of inventory to secure. Loading a pallet is a physical process that works with the laws of gravity and friction. Heavier items should be placed on the bottom with the lighter ones gradually stacked on top until the load is complete or the pallet’s capacity is achieved. Once the pallet is full, it’s ready to be shipped.
Unfortunately, pallet loading best practices are not always followed correctly. Insecure pallet loads are responsible for many workplace injuries, and can even lead to death. Improper loading also causes untold amounts of product damage. These pallet loading accidents can easily be prevented with extra precaution, the right training and the proper equipment to help in securing warehouse goods. Knowing the best tips for properly securing large loads is part of accident prevention and contributes to overall pallet safety.There are two main components in how pallets are safely readied for shipping. One part is ensuring the goods are properly placed on the pallet. The other component is effectively securing those placed goods to the pallet itself. It sounds like straightforward load securing advice but, in practice, mistakes are made all the time. This results in load capsizing, load disintegration and
There are two main components in how pallets are safely readied for shipping. One part is ensuring the goods are properly placed on the pallet. The other component is effectively securing those placed goods to the pallet itself. It sounds like straightforward load securing advice but, in practice, mistakes are made all the time. This results in load capsizing, load disintegration and even catastrophic collapse of the pallet frame itself.
Improper Pallet Loading and Securing
Improper pallet loading and securing happens everywhere. Companies that don’t properly secure big loads suffer from expensive damage, loss of goods and employee injuries. They also lose customer satisfaction because deliveries aren’t presented intact or in a professional manner.
But leading packaging and shipping companies that master the art of pallet loading and securing experience few lost or damaged goods. They also have few, if any, accidents. They don’t lose time due to employee injuries like musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and cut hands or crushed feet that are commonly associated with improperly secured loads. These preventable incidents cause unnecessary increases in downtime and worker compensation claims. They also contribute to poor workplace morale that spirals into more accidents.
Even companies that have safe loading and securing practices can still improve. They can benefit from investing in equipment that lets workers stack and hold goods onto pallets in easier and faster methods. One excellent investment is a stretch wrapper machine that quickly bonds even the most difficult goods to a standard pallet. This machine safely readies packages for shipping far better than any worker can do by hand.
Stretch Wrapping for Safe and Secure Large Loads
Plastic stretch wrapping is now the most common form of properly and safely securing big loads onto pallets. Stretch wrapping is often used instead of old securing methods like metal or fiberglass banding. It’s because stretch wrapping has an amazing ability to form itself around every imaginable shape and size. Stretch wrap is easy to use, cheap to purchase and simple to apply. It’s also incredibly strong and resilient.
Stretch wrap is known by a few different names like stretch film and pallet wrap, but its real title is Linear Low-Density Polyethylene, or LLDPE. It’s a complex plastic chemical that’s been in use for a few decades and is considered the wonder product when used for securing shipped goods. LLDPE gets the stretch name honestly. It’s a highly stretchable plastic film with an elastic recovery that keeps items tightly bound without actually binding to the products themselves.
There are two different types of LLDPE stretch wrap:
- • Cast Stretch Wrap is the most common LLDPE plastic film used for pallet wrapping. Cast wrap is produced by mixing liquid plastic and extruding it through a slot in a die and then passing it over cooling rollers. The thickness is controlled by the size of the slot as is the overall width of the finished product. Casting is a quick and economical process that lends well to light- and medium-duty wrapping. The disadvantage to using cast stretch wrap is that it’s limited in strength.
- • Blown Stretch Wrap is less common due to its price. Blown wrap is also formed through a die where liquid resin is rolled out. However, an injection of hot air is blown into the liquid plastic. This boosts the product’s strength and changes its elastic properties, which makes blown LLDPE more suitable for heavy-duty jobs. Besides the cost, a disadvantage to blown stretch wrap is that crystallization occurs in the process making blown wrap cloudier and less transparent.
There are other plastic stretch wrap properties to consider when purchasing stretch wrap or a stretch wrapping machine:
- • Break Strength refers to the amount of tension that can be placed on the film before it snaps or breaks. This depends on the type of material such as cast or blown as well as on the thickness or gauge.
- • Gauge is the film’s thickness. It’s given a numeric value based upon the measurement in microns. One gauge equals .254 microns. Stretch wrap thicknesses start at 37 gauges, which is very thin and proportionally weak. Gauges then increase to 47, 60, 63, 70, 80, 90, 100, 115 and 150.
- • Width is how wide the roll of stretch wrap is. Hand-dispensed wraps are called bandings and vary from 2 to 12 inches. Machine grade stretch wraps are generally 20 inches wide, which is a universal standard.
- • Length is the lineal amount of wrap in the roll. This varies between manufacturer and supplier. Economies of scale apply to stretch wrap just like other commodities, so the larger or longer the roll, the lower the lineal cost.
- • Cling is an important factor in stretch wrap. This is the stickiness factor and is crucial in LLDPE performance. The beauty of stretch wrap is that it clings to itself and the boxes or packages it’s supporting. LLDPE comes in one-side and two-side cling designs and each has a particular application.
- • Clarity can be a deciding issue when selecting stretch wrap. Most wrap is translucent, meaning that there’s a certain amount of see-through. This can be an advantage when the goods are meant to be displayed or easily identified. Colored stretch wrap is readily available when pallet contents need to be discreet or where ultraviolet concerns exist in shipments destined for outdoors. Color-coding is also used to easily identify pallets that are stretch wrapped.
- • Tear Resistance is different from break strength. Resistance to tear is important for stretch wrapped pallets. Poking hole in the wrap greatly reduces its holding power and can cause a pallet to be unbound, sending its contents askew and defeating the purpose of wrapping. To a great degree, the thicker the gauge of stretch wrap, the more tear resistant it is.
Differences Between Stretch Wrap and Shrink Wrap
Don’t confuse plastic stretch wrap with shrink wrap. They’re not the same. Shrink wrap is a different product with different processes and applications. Shrink wrap is also a plastic film that is rolled around goods to protect or bind them. However, shrink wrap relies on having heat applied to reduce or shrink the film so it clamps around and encloses the product. Shrink wrap is rarely used with pallet shipping. It’s more often found in individual product protection like around glass or electronics.
Stretch wrap is the plastic binding you’re used to seeing in almost all warehouse facilities. Its chemical composition allows this film to expand or stretch to many times its static size. Depending on the thickness or gauge, stretch wrap can expand nearly five times its original length without snapping. In most warehouse applications, stretch wrap is expanded two to three times while remaining elastic. The force of stretch wrap’s elastic recovery is what gives this great product its holding power.
Elasticity Gives Stretch Wrap Its Holding Power
This elasticity comes from physical force being applied to the rolled-out LLDPE as it’s wrapped or stretched around the pallet and goods. Subsequently, the amount of force used in applying stretch wrap is proportionate to the amount of holding power the plastic film supplies. Hand-wrapping pallets with stretch film can only produce a limited amount of force. This makes hand-wrapped pallets relatively weak and not capable of strongly holding the contents together. Wrapping by hand also doesn’t allow for much force to secure the load directly to the pallet.
Wrapping a fully loaded pallet is a big and tiring job. Workers quickly experience fatigue from the physical exertion required to spin heavy rolls of stretch wrap many times around a bulky shipment. Common effects to employees doing constant, repetitive tasks like stretch wrapping are sore hands, arms and lower backs from bending over and reaching upward. These work-related injuries result in poor job performance and a lack of productivity.
Many companies that ship multiple pallets per day wisely invest in one or more of the mechanical devices available to mechanically apply stretch wrap rather than rely on hand wrapping. Mechanical stretch wrapping machines reduce risk, decrease injuries and save a significant amount of time in securing loads onto pallets. There are three main types of stretch wrappers and pallet wrappers:
- • Overhead Stretch Wrappers allow the loaded pallet to remain stationary while the stretch wrap is dispensed from above. The spool of plastic film is reeled from an overhead mast while the operator controls the exact placement of the stretch wrap and the number of turns around the bundle. With overhead stretch wrappers, tension on the plastic is also controlled by the operator who can adjust the force according to the nature of goods being packaged.
- • Turntable Stretch Wrappers take a different approach. With turntable stretch wrappers, the loaded pallet is placed on a revolving platform or turntable. The pallet is spun while the stretch wrap spool is stationary. The operator easily controls the rate of feed, tension and number of wraps according to their guidelines or experience in properly securing large loads. Once the pallet is sufficiently wrapped, it’s picked up by a forklift or lift truck and moved to the shipping bay.
- • Robotic/Automatic Stretch Wrappers are next-generation, portable machines that are designed and suited for large warehouses and distribution centers that need loads stretched after order picking is complete. Robotic stretch wrappers travel about the facility and are available as and when required. These automated pieces of equipment completely replace hand wrapping and do a far tighter job than any manual wrapping method.
Cherry’s Industrial Equipment is a leading supplier of all three types of stretch wrappers. Regardless if your application is best served by an overhead wrapper, a turntable wrapper or a robotic/automatic stretch wrapper, we have an assortment of models in each category. Trusted brands like Vestil, Lantech and Southworth are top quality stretch wrapping machines that serve small and large pallet handling needs.
Many of America’s top businesses have benefited from partnering with us for their material handling needs, and the right stretch wrappers play a large role in their day-to-day operations.
Benefits of Purchasing a Stretch Wrap Machine
Purchasing a stretch wrap machine to make your pallet loads safer and more secure is a big investment. However, using a stretch wrap machine to replace hand wrapping has significant benefits. Here are some to consider:
- • Uniform Application: There is little or no consistency in hand wrapped pallets. Each worker will have their own technique and strengths in applying stretch wrap from a hand dispenser. Individuals also vary within themselves from fatigue after many wraps.
Machine wrapping allows for a perfectly consistent package every time. Your operator doesn’t adjust the tension and overlaps. There’s always a uniform application.
- • Professional Packaging: A machine-wrapped pallet has a far better presentation than the erratic and crumpled look that a hand-wrapped parcel has. Machine wraps are clean and professional, and that reflects on the business image your customer forms when they receive your wrapped pallets. This speaks volumes about the care you place in protecting their property.
- • Consistent Operation: With a stretch wrap machine, there is only one way to operate it. That’s opposite of human hand wraps where each employee has their own way of doing things. Stretch wrappers are easy to operate and train workers on, which allows a completely consistent finished product every time.
- • Worker Safety: Hand wrapping pallets is a notorious job for causing worker injuries to hands and back muscles. Modern stretch wrappers remove the manual labor that strains and cuts. Safety devices built into machine wrappers greatly reduce the risk of employee injury and the expenses attached.
- • Load Integrity: Hand wrapping is not the most popular or desirable job. At some point, most workers will succumb to the “good enough” syndrome and the integrity of your load becomes compromised. Workers simply can’t put the tension onto stretch wrap like a machine can and will never be able to give the containment integrity that your wrapping machine will.
- • Controlling Damage: Another worker pitfall is wanting to do the job too fast so it can be sent out the door. Most damage in transit happens when not enough care and time is spent preparing the goods for shipment. A lot of that comes from poor hand wrapping. The consistency and integrity of a machine-wrapped pallet are excellent at controlling damage.
- • Satisfied Customers: Repeat customers is a crucial part of every business success. Having their shipments arrive safe and sound is just as important as on time. The clean, professional and protected condition of your wrapped shipment can’t help but satisfy customers and earn their repeat business
- • Material Savings: Wrapping machines use a consistent amount of plastic film, whereas hand wrapping often wastes large amounts due to overwrap as well as mistakes — such as when a worker must unwrap a botched job and start over. Hand rolls can also be left lying about where they are run over by equipment as well as lost or discarded. Wrapping machines dispense a consistent amount that’s not lost, damaged or otherwise wasted.
- • Quality Control: No matter how many operators or what type of pallet load, a wrapping machine is going to perform exactly the same way each and every time. You have total quality control over a stretch wrapper, unlike the various workers that come and go in the warehouse and shipping industry.
The benefits of investing in a stretch wrapper are significant. It’s no wonder that buying a stretch wrapping machine is one of the best load securing tips you can get. Giving tips for secured loads is something the professionals at Cherry’s Industrial Equipment take seriously. With that, here are a few more tips for properly securing large loads.
Tips on Properly Loading and Stretch Wrapping Pallet Loads
Insecure pallet loads are not just costly in having goods damaged or even in the time it takes to repack a pallet. They can be downright dangerous. Properly loading a pallet has a process, as does securely wrapping it for shipment. Here are tips about the steps on loading the pallet right:
- • Start with the proper pallet. Your pallet is the load’s foundation. It must be the right size and strength to support the intended load.
- • Make sure the pallet is in good condition. If not, set it aside and get a decent one. A load is only as sound as the base it’s placed on.
- • Use the right stacking method. Block stacking is using a cube method with one item on top of the next. Brick stacking is alternating each course 90 degrees for stability. Pinwheel stacking is intertwining each course within itself. Irregular stacking is where items have no consistency in size or shape and need creative fitting.
- • Put the heaviest items low and light items high. Make sure you’re tapering you pile inward as it goes up.
- • Limit your pallet to a safe stacking height. A rule of thumb is that no stacked height should be more than the longest width of your pallet.
When you’re ready to start wrapping your pallet:
- • Start your stretch wrapping by making the first few feet of wrap into a rope or cable and tie it to an outer corner of the pallet. Leave a tail of wrap exposed.
- • Begin wrapping in a circular motion by anchoring the lowest course of goods directly to the pallet base. This is vitally important for the load’s integrity.
- • Continue upward by overlapping stretch wrap courses by 50 percent. This builds strength to the web and leaves it free of weak gaps.
- • Work to the top and then continue in the same overlapping pattern until you’re back at the base, then form the stretch wrap back into a rope and tie it into the original tail at the pallet’s base.
Avoiding Mistakes in Securing Pallet Loads
There are three main mistakes workers make when loading and wrapping a pallet. These can easily be avoided by knowing how to properly secure a load and paying careful attention when doing so:
- • Not establishing the center of gravity. A high center leaves a loaded pallet tippy and susceptible to toppling over when being moved or even being placed. Always use the heavy-low/light/high rule.
- • Not putting enough tension on the stretch wrap. Stretching is the key to performance in plastic wrapping. There needs to be considerable tension or force applied to activate the plastic film’s elasticity. Some workers aren’t physically capable of putting enough tension on the load, but a wrapping machine certainly can.
- • Not sufficiently overlapping the stretch wrap courses. The 50 percent overlap is not a rule of thumb. It’s a must. Here again, a stretch wrapping machine will automatically give you the right and safe overlap.
Cherry’s Industrial Equipment has the right stretch wrapping machine for all your load securing needs. We carry numerous models of turntable, robotic/automated and overhead stretch wrapping machines and are sure to have exactly the right size and design to make your pallet wrapping more professional and safe for both your customers’ goods and your valued workers. Check out our inventory of pallet stretch wrapping machines today.