Digitalisation of the Euro pallet is not a sprint but a marathon - Inkjet printing as a compromise between feasibility, costs, and benefits?
The aim of the EPAL Enterprise Lab is to transform the EPAL Euro pallet into the digital world. Using the load carrier as a physical connection in the entire supply chain is not new but using it as a digital object will be. To achieve this objective, tests with different technologies, trackers, sensors, and the like have been carried out in the iPAL project team and by partners over the past three years.
One of the key findings was that the added value of one tracker in each EPAL Euro pallet - which is exchanged in the open pool - does not justify the cost of implementing and operating this technology. Furthermore, the communication networks for this use case were not yet available across Europe. There are only a few companies that, due to the value of their products or their complex requirements, e.g., for temperature-controlled logistics, have an added value from a tracker in each Euro pallet.
However, the desire for digital services, transparency and traceability is great across all sectors. To meet these demands and to be able to offer a "Tracker as a Service" as EPAL in the future, a unique pallet identification number (ID) is required on the EPAL Euro pallet. The variety of stapled and glued labels, which are mostly used for internal business applications, confirm the importance of affixing a unique and standardised pallet ID. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned paper labels nowadays lead to huge problems in the open exchange pool rather than to the desired transparency in the supply chain. The unique pallet ID not only enables the use as a digital load carrier but also enables EPAL to prevent counterfeiting in the market and to improve the quality of the exchange pallet pool.
After the successful approval to produce EPAL Euro pallets with inkjet printing, the iPAL project team has been pursuing the serialisation of the EPAL Euro pallet with this technology for approximately 1.5 years. In the last few weeks, however, it has become clear that this project cannot be completed overnight. Although at the end of a production process a standardised EPAL Euro pallet is produced, each EPAL production line has its own individual character and manufacturing process. The layout and process configuration are also different, as in many cases other wooden load carriers are also produced on the machine. Printing a durable, readable QR code is anything but easy. Further steps are required in the pilot production lines to ensure a reliable system. In the end, it must be guaranteed that no "unreadable" or insufficiently printed pallets are released to the market.
In the market, the QR code should be durable and readable for a long time. As often mentioned in the last months, the handling of the iPAL pallets by the customers and especially by the forklift drivers is crucial. Another test in the next few weeks will provide additional insights regarding the logistical durability of the QR Code and will highlight further recommendations for EPAL.
In summary, we are taking small steps towards the aim of the serialised EPAL Euro pallet. However, we also must make compromises in the process. The challenges we face every day are based on the objective of producing a serialised EPAL Euro pallet with the existing systems and specifications. This means production lines and processes, people and machines, technology, costs, efficiency, and technical and legal regulations. In other words, we develop a product based on compromises.
But what would the ideal product serialised EPAL Euro pallet look like if we had no constraints from production, repair, regulations, materials or simply the interests of different users? A 100% solution, i.e., one that meets all requirements and wishes, cannot and will not exist. However, as the iPAL project team, we are already asking ourselves how much deviation there is between our developments with inkjet printing of QR codes and the desired ideal product and what compromises we still must make regarding feasibility, costs, and benefits.
If you also have ideas, customer requests or simply have an interest in participating in the project, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Please keep this information confidential.
© Michael Brandt - EPAL