Food Distribution Using Slipsheets

Although General Foods Corporation in the U.S. has traditionally been using palletised shipping successfully in the early years of their introduction, it was found that the quality of the wooden pallets began to deteriorate as shipping volumes grew and the pallet exchange pool expanded to include more and more of other shippers and customers. According to C. W. Ebeling [*], it also became more and more difficult to obtain good hardwood pallets to the original specifications established for the program and it became virtually impossible to keep up with pallet repairs.

By the end of 1976, the need to overcome the problems posed by wooden pallets was becoming apparent. Both the cost of new pallets and the cost of repair had doubled. Durability of the pallets were not satisfactory and their transportation costs had risen sharply. There were no improvements in the overall quality of the pallets and the deterioration in quality caused problems relating to sanitation and damage to the products.

General Foods then evaluated the use of the disposable slipsheet in place of the wooden pallets. However, a number of concerns had to be addressed:

Handling efficiency in relation to pallets ‐ In spite of their problems, pallets are a simple handling device and therefore some productivity losses were anticipated by converting to slipsheets. However, by proper training of the operators in the areas of handling techniques, efficiency was achieved.

High stacking on slipsheets on warehouse floors appeared to be difficult ‐ High stacking using slipsheets was achieved by a number of techniques. Training in the proper technique and stabilisation of the slipsheeted loads by shrink or stretch film wrapping were found to be especially effective. In addition, the use of palletising adhesives also helped by providing beneficial shear resistance to help achieve stability.

Customers appeared not ready to accept loads on slipsheets. The reluctance of the customers was not unexpected because at that time suitable handling equipment to extract and remove the slipsheeted loads from the trailers was not readily available. The strategy adopted involved minimising the use of pallets as best as possible while suitable handling equipment was developed and built. A substantial capital investment was expected ‐ Investment was anticipated to convert automatic palletisers to slipsheet unitising and to provide slipsheet attachments for the lift trucks. However, the extra investment can be balanced against the reduction of pallet costs, and the benefits from higher density storage and shipping of many of the products.

By implementing the slipsheet program, General Foods found that the number of pallets eliminated from the system exceeded their original projections of 350,000. That was approximately 16,000 tonnes of wood that are no longer needed.

General Foods concluded that disposable slipsheets are better suited to current needs and conditions and they also believed that a substantial part of unitised shipping volume must be converted to slipsheets if the food industry is to continue to receive the benefits of unitised handling in the future.

Reference: * Ebeling, C. W., "Why General Foods Converted to Slipsheets", Grocery Distribution, USA.