The decision of how to secure palletized material for shipments is one that is tying many producers' hands. Along with the increasing demand for more deliveries of greater quantities and varieties of masonry products on pallets, there's an environmental concern about the zinc-plated steel straps that have been the industry-standard securing method. Before too long, zinc-plated straps will be completely eliminated. That's because more and more construction-material landfill managers are banning the snipped pieces in lugger-box debris. Many constuction-material landfills aren't equipped to process the wide range of chemicals that can contaminate their discharge water, such as the zinc that eventually dissolves from the standard steel straps.

For Don Jones Jr., Willamette-Graystone Inc. President, the decision to purchase a special automated stretch-wrapping system at the same time the Portland, Ore., plant added a new cuber was based on safety.

The automatic stretch-wrapping process reduces employees' exposure to dangers inherent in hand banding: abrasions, cuts, and repetitive motions.

Stretch wrapping has also helped in the product transportation process. If the pavers shift during handling, the film's inherent elastic tendency to retract to its original shape actually pulls units into their places. Along with a greater surface-area contact, stretch film helps retain the load's original shape. "While it's more efficient to wrap pallets with our new setup, we feel our best return on the investment is that we are shipping out better-stabilized loads," says Jones.

"Customers stacking our pallets with forklifts find the new packaging safer, and there's less onsite product loss," says Jones.

Since masonry pallet sizes vary due to unit style and cubing arrangement, producers would be better off choosing a wrapping system that uses a tower or overhead arm that can be programmed to encircle the pallet. This wrapping style is referred to as a film-tail method.

The stretch-wrapping system at Willamette-Graystone is unique and represents a truly automated system. It was specially designed and built for the masonry producer.

Producers can use a wide selection of films with various stretching properties. Depending on the film's chemical composition, producers can select a composition that can be stretched from 250% to 400% of its original length, as dispensed from the spool. Willamette-Graystone uses a film rated with a 200 stretch level. This means 1 inch of film stored on the dispensing roller yields more than 3 inches of film on the pallet. The heavier film helps the pallet retain its cubed shape. The manufacturer's engineer who designed the Willamette-Graystone setup estimates that the material cost of stretch wrapping is slightly lower than conventional steel banding.