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Planned, Well-Organized Recycling Yard Contributes to Profitability
Yard maintenance is a lot more than just bringing pallets in and taking pallets out.
By By Clarence Leising
Date Posted: 4/1/2002
It’s Saturday morning. But instead of sleeping in or enjoying a day off and doing something fun, you and your workers are at your shop, cleaning up the yard.
Once again, your yard has gotten completely out of hand. You have 40-inch boards here, there and everywhere. You have a couple of hundred grade A pallets buried in a bunch of scrap wood, and you had completely forgotten about them. Your fork-lift driver knew where everything was in the yard, but he quit last week. Now you can't find anything.
Does this sound familiar?
Most of the pallet shops that I have seen have a very organized area where pallets are loaded and unloaded. This is usually in the front of the shop. Since this is the area that most visitors or customers may see, it is kept neat and clean. You walk around to the back of the shop, though, and it is a whole different story back there.
The fork-lift driver's job is to take pallets to the yard and bring pallets in from the yard. That's his job. So what does he do? He uses the ‘first open hole’ philosophy. He puts pallets wherever he has an open space. For example, he starts one spot for GMA pallets, and everybody knows where it is. When it gets full, he finds another open spot for GMAs, but only a few people know about it. When that hole gets full, he starts a third spot for GMAs, and this time he’s the only one who knows about it. See the problem?
Yard maintenance is a lot more than just bringing pallets in and taking pallets out. Proper yard maintenance is about having a plan, being organized, and rotating your stock. It takes a little longer to do it right the first time, but if you have to fix it later, it gets very costly. Remember your last Saturday in the yard?
It all starts with knowing how many pallets you will need, and when you will need them.
When making a plan for your yard, lay it out on paper. This will enable you to visualize the area you have and help you make maximize use of the space.
Make a map of the yard with designated areas for specific sizes of pallets. Keep the map posted on the wall where everyone can see it. Everyone should know what goes where.
Have you ever had a customer call to ask if you had ‘x’ number of a certain size pallet, and no one knows if you have them or not? Your fork-lift driver has gone home for the day, and he is the only one who knows where everything is. With an accurate map, anyone should be able to go out to the yard and quickly see how many pallets you have of any size.
Start with A pallets. For example, depending on the time of year, maybe you need between 10,000 and 15,000 A pallets. Lay out an area in the yard that could hold up to 15,000 pallets. Then you should lay out an area for the number of B pallets you may need. Then lay out an area for odd sizes. Finally, lay out your wood area. Mark the areas clearly so that everyone knows the 40-inch boards go in one place, 36-inch boards in another place, and so on. You may need to stake out the areas or otherwise identify them clearly.
Have a plan for taking pallets out of the yard and putting them in the yard. The simplest way is to split your A pallet area in the middle. Arrange your stock in rows. Put the oldest pallets in the last row in the back and work your way toward the front until the first row has the newest pallets. When you pull pallets, start from the back and work forward; when the last row has been emptied, begin to fill it again with new pallets. When you pull pallets, keep working toward the front; as you empty the rows, keep filling them with new stock. Arranging your inventory like this and working from front to back, the stock will be rotated.
Rotating stock in the yard is critical. Pallets that stay outside too long turn gray and fall apart. If they look bad, your customers will not want them, and you are stuck with them. Another problem is that animals sometimes take up residence in a stack of pallets. Once I shipped a cat and her three kittens in a load of pallets to a customer. Needless to say, the customer was not pleased.
When you hire new people, teach them the rules of the yard. For example, tell a new fork-lift driver to pull all the GMAs he needs from the area that contains pallets that have been on the yard the longest time. When it is empty, tell him to pull from the area that contains pallets that have been on the yard the next-longest amount of time. When he brings new GMAs into the yard, he should refill the first area. Following this method will guarantee your stock is properly rotated.
Keep boards you use the most often in a place where you walk frequently. This will allow you to keep a good count on these boards.
Most large companies take inventory monthly. It is the perfect time to make sure that everything is where it should be in the yard. You count everything anyway, so why not take a few extra minutes to ensure that everything is where it should be.
A lot of companies sort their pallets as they come into the shop. The scrap is then sent directly to the saw. Once cut, most of the wood is used, but excess wood has to be stored somewhere. If you are not careful, it will end up turning to dust in the yard.
If your yard is organized, it will also help with inventory control. If you can tell at a glance how many of any size pallets or boards you have, you are better able to control production of that size pallet or board. Poor inventory control can lead to two problems: running out of wood and over-production. Both are bad, but over-production is worse. If you run out, you can always make more. But if you have too many, your wood will turn to dust, and your yard will get out of control.
Most pallet shops that I have visited spend a lot of time deciding how to lay out their shop, and they spend a lot of money on equipment to improve production and lower costs. But all too many pay little or no attention to what goes on in the yard. Many shop owners do not seem to understand the cost of operating with a yard that is not organized. Believe me, it costs you plenty.
(Editor’s Note: Clarence Leising worked in management positions for pallet recycling companies in the Northeast for 25 years and currently is a recycling specialist and consultant for Fastening Technologies. He may be contacted at (877) 780-7799.)