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Solving the pallet problem

Mar 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Cox NC Publications’ Greenville, NC, printing facility used to rely on plastic and wood pallets as an intermediate step in its commercial printing process. But the company found that using pallets for storage and transfer of freshly printed sheets of paper was messy and difficult to work with, as well as a contributor to product damage.

Sorry-looking signatures
Cox’s 100,000-sq.-ft. facility produces conventional full-color weekly and monthly magazines, bulk mail advertising wraps and newspapers. Jobs run on a Harris M-110 half-web press. During the monthly “busy” period, the 100 operators (in press, bindery, shipping and receiving departments) handle up to 500,000 signatures a day.

Once the eight-page signatures exited the press, operators stacked them onto plastic or wood pallets. Some were staged into short-term storage for further processing in the bindery, others were further secured with hand-applied stretch wrap and strapping for shipment to other Cox NC facilities in Tarboro and Charlotte.

Stacking on pallets proved to be “very messy and unstable,” explains Rick LaBrune, narrow web manager. “The products that were coming off the press could not be run through the saddlestitch equipment easily, due to dimensional instability and warping problems.”

Also, the commercially printed signatures use thin, glossy paper that tends to be slick and difficult to stack, making it difficult for operators to square up the loads of pages. Further, the signatures on the pallets would sometimes fall over, especially in transit, and often were rammed by forklifts or other pallets in the warehouse or on the docks. This resulted in costly reprints that wasted time, materials and labor, as well as cramping floor space.

It was time to make a change.

Pallets are passé
LaBrune had used ROPAK reusable, collapsible containers from LINPAC Materials Handling (Birmingham, England) while working with another company. “I knew that ROPAK containers were the correct solution for the problems we were having,” he says. “They were the most economical choice and offered the most versatility of any other system.”

LaBrune replaced all the plastic and wood pallets in the Greenville facility with approximately 100 ROPAK Industry Standard reusable, collapsible containers in 25- and 34-inch heights. ROPAK containers feature a 45 x 48-inch footprint, and offer a maximum capacity of 1,500 lbs.

“For our internal operations, the footprint matched the standard pallet size we used previously, which made it easy for us to integrate the containers throughout the plant,” LaBrune explains. “Additionally, we had existing pallet elevators that were designed for the same profile—the ROPAK containers fit perfectly, eliminating the need to buy any additional handling equipment for our bindery process.”

Built on a four-way fork-entry base, ROPAK Industry Standard containers feature sidewalls that securely protect contents and allow Cox employees to stack the signatures in the containers in even, predictable patterns.

“The ROPAKs have become extremely valuable to the bindery staff,” notes LaBrune. “The containers are easy to use for feeding signatures into the saddlestitcher, and the operators love them because the product inside is flat, even and stable.”

The ROPAK containers specified by LaBrune feature two drop doors, one on each 48-inch side, providing easy access to contents and reducing ergonomic stress for workers as they load and unload signatures.

Once full, the 25-inch-tall containers may be stacked up to four-high, while the 34-inch containers may be stacked up to three-high. Plus, once the containers are empty, they can be collapsed and stacked out of the way up to six-high. “They’re very neat and efficient,” LaBrune adds.

Cox now ships ROPAKs full of printed bulk mail advertising wraps to the Tarboro and Charlotte facilities without any further packaging or handling, eliminating both labor and materials previously required to stretch wrap and strap pallet loads.

Once on the trucks, full containers can be double-stacked to maximize vertical space and create fewer trips between facilities. “In light of the higher fuel costs that all businesses are experiencing these days,” notes LaBrune, “this alone was worth the price of the containers!”

Once the containers are emptied at their destination, they’re collapsed, stacked and shipped back to the Greenville plant.

ROPAK rocks!
By replacing pallets with the ROPAK reusable container system, commercial printing signature handling at Cox’s Greenville facility has been tremendously improved, says LaBrune. “The ROPAKs have reduced stress on our operators by 50 percent.”

Also, LaBrune estimates that by using the ROPAKs to ship product between facilities, the company has saved thousands of dollars in shipping and labor for palletizing, stretch wrapping and banding previously required to prepare each pallet.

“In terms of materials and labor used for shipping, we have cut 100 percent of those costs.” LaBrune expects that the ROPAK system will pay for itself by the end of its first year in use, based on savings in the shipping area alone.

“Not only have our pre-shipping and packaging costs decreased dramatically, but damaged goods have virtually disappeared and our efficiency levels have increased substantially. The ROPAKs have enabled our shipping personnel to devote more time to other tasks, resulting in much lower overtime in their department.”

According to LaBrune, the ROPAK container system has been one of the most positive changes Cox has made.

Read all about it
In addition to direct mail work, Cox NC Publications’ Greenville facility produces 10 weekly and three daily newspapers. The Daily Reflector covers Pitt County in the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina. Cox Newspapers produces 18 daily and 30 weekly newspapers and is the newspaper division of Cox Enterprises, a national media company.

For a brief history of the The Daily Reflector, including recent Cox acquisitions, see “Pressing for Progress” at

About LINPAC Materials Handling
LINPAC Materials Handling manufactures ROPAK reusable bulk containers, totes and pallets. These products are used in warehousing, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and merchandising to replace single-trip paper, cardboard and metal packaging. Made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and copolymer polypropylene (CPP) for durability, LINPAC products are available in a wide variety of configurations and weight capacities.

A new eight-page brochure features the reusable container systems in a variety of applications. For more information, see or contact Kim Stone, marketing specialist, at