One solution comes in the form of the Yellow Jacket 110 stretch-wrap machine by Yellow Jacket LLC, Marion, Ind. Instead of awkwardly securing pallets with straps and banding, irregular-shaped loads can be effortlessly wrapped with the company's patented orbital stretch-wrap equipment.
Stephanie Traylor, sales manager at Yellow Jacket, explains that anything on a pallet can be tightly wrapped for shipping without ever having to leave the forks of a forklift, all the while keeping the palletized items--and employees' backs--intact.
"Depending on how a company goes about hand wrapping, there are a lot of safety issues," Traylor explains. "It could be twisting and turning and bending over that can create safety issues as far as your back is concerned. We see some bizarre things with some of the wrapping methods that companies dream up."
To counter problematic wrapping techniques, the Yellow Jacket design is pretty straightforward. The base of the machine has forklift pockets for easy placement in a company's facility and after plugging it into a 110-volt outlet and minimal training, the equipment and its operator are ready to go.
To prepare products for shipment, a forklift will pull up to the Yellow Jacket stretch wrapper with a loaded pallet and place it in the center of the machine. Never leaving the forks, film--think industrial-strength Saran Wrap--orbits around the pallet, traversing back and forth along a carriage that is either manually operated or in semi-automatic mode. Once sufficiently wrapped, the forklift backs away from the Yellow Jacket machine and can then take the pallet to a shipping dock to be easily loaded onto a truck.
"The problem with banding or strapping is that it shifts and stretches the band so it doesn't go back to its original shape and then the product becomes loose," explains Traylor. "But the film can conform to any shape while the pallet becomes the backbone of the entire load. As the tacky film is applied layer by layer, it sticks to itself and becomes like one big solid rubber band. And just like a rubber band, it always snaps right back into place even if it does pull out a little bit."
Lending a helping hand
Jeff Amos, operations manager at Precision Steel Mfg. Corp., Roanoke, Va., says that he's surprised that more companies aren't using the Yellow Jacket technology. Precision is a job shop, or perhaps more precisely put, Amos describes the company as, "a contract manufacturer or a steel fabricator," that produces a multitude of small odd-shaped parts every day.
"When we looked at it, we were surprised that more people didn't have them, to tell you the truth," says Amos. "I don't know how we found out about it, but when we ran across some information about Yellow Jacket, we got them in for a demo pretty fast. It didn't take us long to buy one, either."
Before purchasing the Yellow Jacket machine, Precision had two employees dedicated to the job of manually strapping packages. Although the company hadn't experienced any work-related injuries with the task, Amos admits that it was physically wearing on workers who had to perform that type of function every day. "Manually strapping 50 packages in one day is a lot of work. It runs your guys pretty hard," he says.
Yellow Jacket's ability to keep Precision's small, odd-shaped parts tightly secured on a pallet is only part of the reason that the company invested in the stretch-wrap equipment. Amos says that Precision has realized most of its savings in the time saved preparing packages. Most loads can be stretch wrapped in a mere 3 minutes or less.
"The overall principle behind the machine is great," says Amos. "We've had it for two years now and it does such a good job for us. We've had a good experience with it."
The Yellow Jacket machines are best suited for small, odd-shaped products, but that certainly doesn't mean that metals service centers can't benefit from the equipment, as well. Tom Traylor, regional sales representative for Yellow Jacket and president of T. T. Packaging Equipment and Supplies LLC, a distributor for the stretch-wrap machines, says that value-added services, such as cutting to length, are a trend sweeping the service center industry.
"Rather than just being in the steel-warehousing business, service centers are also doing some fabricating," Tom says. "Customers don't want to have to do it. Instead of sending the steel to a fabricator and having a fabricator do it, it makes sense for the steel centers to buy the laser and do it right there. Actually it's kind of ideal because then you don't have the freight cost."
So this leaves service centers having to handle smaller items, but smaller doesn't necessarily mean tiny. Yellow Jacket machines can wrap up to 11-foot bundles, which are especially ideal for cut-to-length bars, rods, tubes and pipes.
"We have a customer who sells a lot of product to Lowe's and Home Depot, and they do some long threaded rod," Tom explains. "They needed about 9 feet, so we made them a base that was 9 feet long and therefore, we could wrap the length of the pallet and also the rod that was hanging over the ends so we could cocoon it, as well."
As the former national sales representative for Yellow Jacket, Tom has seen a lot of steel and warehousing companies that are reluctant to modify the way they've been packaging their product. He stresses, however, that a return on the investment will happen shortly after bringing a Yellow Jacket in-house.
"Sometimes they have to change the configurations of their pallets or they might not trust the film that's going to hold it together," he says. "But believe me, it will do it. We've done it in too many places. Companies need to constantly find new ways to stay competitive, from making the products to shipping them out." MM
By Abbe Miller, from the January 2007 issue of Modern Metals.