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Material handling specialist Excel Automation complete pallet inspection and repair system for CHEP

CHEP, the global leader in pallet pooling, sub-contracts a number of its UK pallet conditioning facilities to partners such as Unit Pallets Ltd (UPL). Working together CHEP and UPL have recently completed the build of a brand new 1500m2 facility in Grangemouth, Scotland.

The Grangemouth plant, which opened in June 2009, is the first CHEP plant in Scotland operated by UPL with capacity for processing 4.3 million pallets per year.

Excel Automation, the UK’s leading conveying and material handling specialist, was the principle contractor appointed for the entire project – from design and build, procurement of all new equipment, to installation and commissioning.

Commenting for CHEP, Technical Systems Manager Nick Fisher says: "This is the first time we have awarded a turnkey construction design management contract to an equipment supplier for a new plant. Having Excel manage all aspects of the project, including all the different contractors, the equipment being installed, controls, and site safety, has worked well for us."

The total cost of the plant, including equipment outside Excel’s remit, is around £2 million. The project started in November 2008, with a very challenging schedule that Nick Fisher admits was tighter than Excel would have liked. However, he says Excel’s commitment and the fact that they worked all hours during the initial design phase and during the installation, ensured that they maintained the schedule and met the timetable for the plant’s June 2009 start date.

The specification for the plant required Excel’s design and manufacture to be sufficiently robust to withstand the combination of a harsh environment and the high-volume throughput. Nick Fisher confirms that this has been achieved. "The build quality of the equipment supplied by Excel is impressive. We are delighted to be working with Excel on what has proved to be a very successful new venture. We are equally impressed with the delivery of the controls system by MacDonald Humfrey, who worked in partnership with Excel."

Nick Fisher is also proud of the fact that everything for the plant has been sourced in the UK and the majority through Excel. "A lot of the components for the conveying and handling systems that we would normally order from outside the UK have been manufactured in-house by Excel or locally through its sub-contractors. That is good for us, because it makes the project easier to manage and we have local support post-installation.

He is also complimentary about Excel’s engineering and design capabilities, saying that the engineering department had proposed some innovative solutions to what have been traditional pallet handling problems. "We are pleased with the outcome," he says, "some of the machines Excel has installed are very different to what we are used to; and have proven to work well during the first 6 months of throughput"

The Grangemouth plant will run 24 hours per day, inspecting and conditioning around 750 pallets per hour. The new pallet repair facility at Grangemouth receives stacks of pallets from trailers, which are loaded by forklift truck onto a singulating conveyor for transport to the inspection area. Every pallet is inspected to ensure the quality standard is maintained and pallets not requiring repair are diverted through a pallet stacker to a painting, drying and stencilling facility, before being reloaded onto transport for despatch.

Pallets that need to be repaired are removed from the conveyor system for maintenance, before being readied for despatch. Scrap wood is transported on a third tier of the repair conveyor and, via a series of belt conveyors, is delivered to a shredding unit which chips the timber for recycling into materials such as Chipboard, etc.

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