Woolworths Group’s Primary Connect, together with innovative materials handling manufacturer Ozkor, have designed and rolled out a game-changing new pallet across the country. MHD spoke with Woolworths Group’s Brad Fraser, Head of Supply Chain Development – Ambient/Automation, and Stephen Macpherson, Store Solutions Manager, to learn more.
For more than 70 years Woolworths Group has delivered stock on Australian standard pallets to stores. Primary Connect – which is Woolworths Group’s internal supply chain function – operates a sophisticated national distribution centre and transport network, including servicing Woolworths supermarkets, BIG W stores, and Endeavour Drinks stores and outlets to ensure maximum efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Brad Fraser, Head of Supply Chain Development – Ambient/Automation at Woolworths Group, says that Woolworths has long been looking for a solution that overcame the shortcomings of traditional Australian pallets.
“The main challenge with traditional pallets is that goods received couldn’t go out onto the shop floor, as they were too large for supermarket aisles,” Brad says. “They would disrupt customers’ ease of movement through the aisles and our team’s effectiveness. That meant we had to break down those pallets in the back of our stores, sorting and splitting products off the pallets and into roll cages that would then be taken onto the shop floor for shelf replenishment. It was inefficient and increased our manual handling.”
With a clear focus on making things better for our customers and store teams, Brad says, it became essential that a new solution be devised that would allow store teams to be more efficient – cutting down on the time spent sorting and breaking down pallets, making the process safer for their teams and improving customer service.
“We came to the view that we should progress towards a one-touch solution in order to reduce manual handling for our store teams,” he says.
That search for an innovative alternative ULD (Unit Load Device) began in 2014, and by 2019 the new ULD was being rolled out in stores and DCs across the country.
The new ULD in question is the 2/3 Pallet, developed by Primary Connect in concert with Ozkor – a leading designer and manufacturer of plastic storage and warehouse equipment – and now implemented in almost all Woolworths supermarkets as well as Woolworths Metro fleet convenience option. To date, more than 3.3 billion kilograms of lifting has been saved in stores across Australia, and internal surveys conducted demonstrate that customer and team member experiences have dramatically improved.
Breaking Down the 2/3 Pallet Benefits
The 2/3 pallet is two-thirds the size of a standard Australian pallet – 1165mm by 775mm, compared with 1165mm by 1165mm – which allows for no loss of cube utilisation, and sometimes gains, Brad says. Because it is as wide as a standard pallet but only as deep as a roll cage, it can be taken directly out into shopfloor aisles while the store is trading – just as roll cages would be used.
Additionally, the 2/3 pallet is safer and more suitable to handle than standard Australian pallets, he says. They’re 10-30 kilograms lighter and more consistent in size than current Australian standard pallets, making them easier to handle by warehouse, transport, and store teams.
While the primary benefit of the 2/3 Pallet is the elimination of double-handling – 2/3 Pallets are delivered to stores and then rolled straight into the aisles, eliminating the intermediary step of first breaking down a pallet into a shop-floor friendly roll cage – Brad adds that 2/3 Pallets have another advantage over roll cages in practice.
Unlike roll cages, which are 1.8 metres high, the 2/3 pallet economises on space and doesn’t impede worker and customer vision when stacking shelves on the floor.
“Roll cages are 1.8 metres high and have shelves within them where you place products to take out onto the floor,” he says. “Not only is the height of the roll cage a visual impediment to our team members and customers, but because they are not designed for tightly packed stacking, it means there’s a lot of wasted cubic utilisation. With the 2/3 Pallet you don’t waste space, and as you replenish shelves the visual impediment lowers as goods are unstacked.
“Store nightfill teams are often considered the backbone of the store, working nightly to ensure the products we all buy are filled on the shelf ready for customers to purchase. It is a physical job and the change to pallets has meant store teams are reporting feeling better and more energised after their shifts due to the reduced manual handling.”
The OZKOR Difference
Because of the scale and importance of this innovation, Primary Connect had to ensure it was getting the design right as it worked towards the new ULD solution that would eventually culminate in the 2/3 Pallet.
Stephen Macpherson, Store Solutions Manager at Woolworths Group, says that after Primary Connect had developed its precise requirements for a new ULD, the proposal was tendered to the market, with five initial successful respondents. Those initial five were whittled down to two, and then to one: Ozkor.
“The overall development was a three-stage approach: proof of concept, pilot, and rollout,” Stephen says. “As part of the proof of concept, we wanted to do a fair bit of testing, and it was Ozkor that managed to pass the testing process, as well as effectively react and adapt to some changes we needed along the way.”
To be sure, the development and rollout of the 2/3 Pallet was a tandem effort by Primary Connect and Ozkor, but Stephen couldn’t be more effusive in his praise for Ozkor’s work in bringing the 2/3 Pallet to fruition.
“Ozkor’s commitment to rigorous testing and attention to detail was superb,” he says. “The Ozkor team really zeroed in on the right questions, always asking, ‘Why does it need to be designed that way? How can we help you get the right outcome and fulfil your precise requirements?’ They didn’t just jump at the easiest solution that would fit.
“During testing and design, we would have the Ozkor team – up to and including Ozkor’s owners themselves – present and taking an active interest. If something failed, they wanted to know why, figure it out, and take it back to their design team to devise a fix.”
And the dedication didn’t stop at the design process, Stephen says. When it came time to ramp up production, Ozkor didn’t miss a beat in rising to the challenge.
“They have absolutely bent over backwards to help us to deliver in the timelines that Woolworths expects,” Stephen says. “And that’s not an easy challenge to meet, given Woolworths’ size and preference for swift and effective action in solving problems to serve its customers. When we find a good thing, we want to go hard, and we want to go fast. Ozkor’s production facility was initially operating five days a week, but they ramped up to seven days a week and 24 hours a day to deliver on the timelines we wanted. And they certainly did deliver.”
Stephen points out that Woolworths Group is only at the start of the journey, and they’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities and innovations that could be enabled by the 2/3 Pallet. Already, he says, stores are finding innovative uses for laying out their cool rooms with 2/3 Pallets; and that there are myriad possibilities in terms of stock presentation, online orders, as well as expanding utilisation of the 2/3 Pallet to further and further reaches of the transportation and supply chain process.
For Primary Connect, Woolworths Group, and Ozkor – the work has just begun.