by Bryan Salvage
Meat or poultry plant layouts play a key role in how well pallets of supplies and finished products are moved efficiently. Floor conditions, aisle widths, floor slope, drain placement, station location, rack position, door sizes, water, soap, animal parts and even temperatures in the areas like coolers (32° F) or blast freezers (-30°F ) affect efficiencies. This also affects equipment breakdowns and operator comfort of those who move pallets using pallet jacks or electric powered forklift trucks.
When it comes to moving pallet loads of products and materials in plants, dependable forklift trucks – the workhorse of any meat/poultry packing or processing plant – are required. Moving pallet loads quickly, efficiently and safely is key for production facilities of all sizes.
Cargill Inc. meat plants primarily utilize wooden pallets but also some plastic pallets in load-out areas. However, pallets can be used throughout the plant to move product or supplies around, says Mike Kennedy, business strategic sourcing manager for Cargill’s Wichita, Kan.-based animal-protein businesses. Multiple-boxed product (20 boxes-per-pallet depending on weight) combos and boxes of bags are stacked the most on pallets within Cargill meat plants, he adds.
“Using pallets is the most efficient way to move product around our plants outside of our conveyor systems,” he says.
There are always opportunities to design meat and poultry plants to ensure efficient movement of pallets, as well as pallet storage, but new designs generally are taking the pallet out of the equation, he adds.
When shopping for forklift trucks, Cargill’s “must” features include lifts with adjustable forks and high-mast capabilities to stack more than 10-ft. high of racking. Because worker safety is a priority in all Cargill meat plants, certified forklift operators only are allowed on material-handling equipment, Kennedy says.
Dakota Provisions, Huron, SD, uses pallets throughout its 150,000-sq.-ft. processing plant to move product and dry goods, says Chet Coolbaugh, director of operations. Being able to quickly and safely move pallets is vital.
“Food safety and people safety is priority No. 1,” he says. “When we were designing the facility, we put a lot of thought into the flow to be able to move our materials efficiently and safely.”
Dakota Provisions’ $120 million processing plant began production in 2006. It harvests, debones and cooks turkey and has the capacity to process 8 million live turkeys per year. It also produces a complete line of fully cooked turkey, pork, beef and chicken products. All products are made for foodservice, co-manufacturing and niche market customers.
Using both wooden and plastic pallets, the company uses pallet jacks and forklift trucks to move pallets. Forklift trucks that are purchased for use at Dakota Provisions must be dependable, safe, durable and user-friendly, Coolbaugh insists.
Nate Delaney, account representative for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Nissan Forklift of Michigan, says operations and areas within a meat or poultry plant where forklift trucks are used most to move pallets include shipping, receiving, coolers, freezers and processing stations.
When shopping for forklift trucks, he says meat and poultry companies should demand the following:
Wash-down packages – Units must be sanitized every day or between shifts and a forklift’s structure must also protect electrical components against detergents and water, which can damage them. Units should have a minimum IP rating to prevent water from entering the vehicle.
Stainless-steel package – This reduces corrosion in the linkages, pivots and bearings so grease can still penetrate critical wear points on the units. It greatly reduces the possibility of premature component failure, lowers downtime and keeps cost of ownership down.
Bacteria-proof paint – This helps reduce the chance bacteria might grow in hard-to-clean points on the forklift.
Auto lift – This is key for the unit as it automatically lifts 2-3 inches off the ground. It’s one less function the operator must perform and a more efficient way to move pallets.
Accessible grease points – Maintenance should be able to reach/grease without removing panels or having to lift the unit. This feature helps keep costs down. This is also a major advantage of Nissan’s Walkie/Rider pallet truck versus competitive machines, the company says.
Nissan Forklift of Michigan is receiving requests from its meat and poultry customers for forklifts with more stable castors, which provides greater stability for operators driving at higher speeds.
The company’s newest offering for the meat and poultry industry is its Nissan RPX Walkie Rider. Features include an A/C drive, adjustability of speed and acceleration. “The standard sealed handle is already rated as a freezer package, which eliminates the need for a heated handle. This results in less downtime and costs,” Delaney says.
Nissan also offers a custom pallet truck specifically engineered to withstand the harsh environments of meat plants. Features include an anti-bacterial finish; grease points accessible from the top of the truck; stainless-steel linkage pins and axles; spring-loaded caster wheels; a large floorboard; sealed switches, controller and PC board; and freezer protection to -20°F.
For packers and processors designing new plants, Delaney’s dealership can set up rack drawings and give the plant’s engineers all the information on the lift specs, right-angle stack, turning radius, width, length and overall height needed for their material-handling needs.
Looking toward the future design of forklifts, Delaney says they will likely evolve to be lighter, more efficient, feature longer run-times and contain sealed batteries.