milk pallets

Milk Roll Pallets – A Milk Trolley Buying Guide

Dairy Industry Transport Equipment in the Spotlight

For those of you reading that may be responsible for the acquisition of Milk Roll Cages/Pallets, or just ‘Milk Trolleys’ as they are sometimes called, you could be forgiven for thinking that all Milk Roll Pallets are the same!

They look the same, they move the same, they essentially operate the same or so you thought!

Milk Roll Pallets, like anything in life, are a deeply intricate and complicated product and can prove a real feat of engineering if done correctly!

This article sets out to explain what to look for in a Milk Roll Pallet. Essentially what “they” are not telling you. In this article, we delve into the pits of the cages looking at the production, the quality of steel used, the plating, the wheels and all things associated with, well, a Milk Roll Pallet!

Firstly the most important thing you need to consider is, who is making them? “Why” you might ask!? Well, the answer lies in the “Supply Chain”.

The supply chain has been defined by Professor Edward Sweeney a renowned supply chain expert as “A product or service is delivered to the ultimate customer through a complex interaction of several companies on the way, i.e. through a supply chain”. (2002)

So what do we mean by this, and how does this affect the factory making them or even you as a buyer?


The Anatomy of a Milk Trolley

This means that you need to observe closely a range of factors either by asking or seeing for yourself the entire set up of the factory who are manufacturing these cages and asking yourself a number of key questions; everything from:

  • Where is the factory located?
  • Do they speak English as a native language?
  • Does the main point of contact speak English?
  • What is the communication structure like?
  • Are the staff full time or temporary?
  • Do they bring in outside agency staff with no experience for production only when they get an order, or are the staff full-time and well-versed in making trolleys?
  • Where do they source raw materials from and is there a backup?
  • Are they using welding robots or is it manual welding?
  • What is the general layout of the workshop and is it well organised?
  • Is the equipment modern?

The list of potential considerations when choosing a provider are endless.

Milk Trolley

Time after time, we hear of horror stories in the industry of 20,000 milk trolley units not fit for purpose, weld spatter on shelving ripping cartons, wheels falling off you name it, the issues are real and present.

This is why all of the above is relevant and needs to be considered. If the person you are speaking with doesn’t speak English or write English well then important criteria can be misinterpreted, misunderstanding can arise. Similarly, if the staff are temporary and only brought in for that “job” this can impact production as you have staff who are not adequately trained to operate on assembly lines.

Manual welding can reveal inconsistencies and human error can be a real threat, not to mention a man is more expensive than a machine per item vs automated welding robots that are faster, consistent, and therefore cheaper! Welding robots can cost up to 100, 000, so you can easily gauge the factories capabilities and resources by how many robots they have on-site.


Milk Pallet Materials

Next, let us talk about the material. As stated above, pretty much all Milk Roll Cage products look the same, but two different styles of cages together and you wouldn’t notice any difference to the naked eye, but put 200 litres of milk on them and roll them around a warehouse and on/off a truck and you soon notice the difference.

This is because Milk Roll Pallets are made from black mild steel, which like all-steel comes with different grades, diameters and gauges, or wall thickness. However, when the cage is rolled off the container how would you know what steel is used?

The answer is you wouldn’t know not only that, but the alarming fact is that most British organisations who purchase items such as these probably couldn’t tell you what steel is used on their trolleys either.

It’s like buying a PC or laptop but not knowing the capability of the machine. You just wouldn’t do it!

Steel grades in China have various “Q” grades (Q” is the first letter of Chinese spelling of “qu fu dian”, the translation is “Yield Point” or “Yield Strength”) that are the equivalent of EN standard for steel or put simply the strength.

In trolley-making, these Q grades range from Q195, Q235, Q345 all of which have a huge difference in the cost and quality of the cages. In areas where the weight is significant like the wheel plate or wheel box then the higher end of tensile strength is required to ensure the cage doesn’t collapse with 200 litres/200kg (1kg = 1L) of milk on an employee or a customer in the shop! in areas where the weight is less, you can use other strengths comfortably.

Generally speaking, milk cage containers should be made from Q235 steel with Q345 steel used for more specific areas that require higher strength.

One way to ensure that the “correct” steel is being used is to look for certificates from the factory who in turn receives them from the steel mill.

So, the next time you have a tender or order cages and you specify a quality of steel make sure the organisation you are dealing with supplies you with the appropriate certificates.


Operational and Procurement Considerations

If we’re quoting for a tender against the desired specification and another company wins the business at a much lower rate then we know the specification is not being met, as the true cost price to make the cage is only so much.

This is great news for the procurement department who is getting a “good deal”, but ultimately its bad news for Operations and the organisation as a whole when lack of pallet units for production becomes an issue cause they are in the yard broken or when maintenance costs go through the roof.

milk trolley

Trolley buying needs to become more of an Operational (Ops) focus instead of a Procurement focus. Ops directors need to understand the complexities of the cages and put forward a strong case to procurement based on their “recommendations” or experience on the ground as it were. Not the other way around!

We have encountered numerous Ops people throughout the years who again see the company that supplied sub-standard cages the previous year, which caused heartache and dismay back on the list for this year’s tender! Production of certificates should be a tender requirement.

The next items on the agenda for discussion and one of the most important are the wheels on the pallets. Again, look at any two wheels side by side and they both look the same, but like most things, they vary greatly.


Milk Trolley Wheels

Milk Roll Pallet wheels are recommended to be made from a Nylon Compound which is a harder plastic substance than it’s sister Polypropylene. This ensures decent shore hardness and longevity. Alternative wheels can be used depending on companies’ expectations, but none the less the conversation needs to be had.

Asides from the wheel material another crucial aspect is the bearings inside the wheels. Generally speaking for harsh conditions and heavy usage the wheels should have ball bearings or a cluster of little bearings pressed inside the wheel, again this is more expensive but this ensures longevity, and as the housing containing the bearings is sealed so dirt and grime are less likely to get in.

Recently, we viewed some cages that were fifteen years old and had never been used. They were lying in the same spot since the day they arrived on-site fifteen years ago and when moved for the first time in fifteen years, they moved like they were just off production for the first time. This is because the bearings did not gather grime or dirt during the fifteen years! We often see milk pallet products which are more than ten years in operation with the same wheels as originally supplied.

Quality wheels make all the difference, be sure to know what wheel spec you are getting on your milk pallets! The difference could only be a couple of quid, but it beats replacing them every few years!

The same goes for plating, they all look nice and shiny when they are new, but six months down the road how do they look?


Milk Pallet Plating

Plating is the secret ingredient to the Milk Roll Pallet products, rust on the packaging means a rejection and dumping of product. Plating makes the cages resilient to the harsh wet environments of the British Isles.

High-quality electro-zinc plating applied to a thickness of 8 to 12 µm with blue passivate finish giving a silver colour to the surface is the correct requirement for trolleys. After electro-zinc plating, the components are dip-lacquered with an acrylic lacquer approved for contact with food and drugs. When zinc plating and lacquer finish is completed it should resist a salt spray test (no red rust) according to ISO 9227 for at least 96 hours.

You might ask “well how would I know this is being done“? The answer is simply to ask for the certificates or better yet go and visit the plating factory and ask them to do a salt test.

While production can be fast-tracked using additional robotics and longer shifts, it’s the plating factory where you are likely to encounter the “bottleneck”. In China, for example, there has been a government crackdown on plating factories due to emissions, so there are fewer than there once were. In addition, automated plating vs hand-dipped plating is not only safer but also faster.

All factories in a province can link to the one plating factory creating weeks of delay. That’s why it is important to visit the plating factory and look for automation if sourcing from China. Also, you can see what the relationship is like between your production factory and the plating factory, and if needs be can your goods be fast-tracked or given priority.

Any organisation selling Milk Trolleys worth their salt “should” happily bring you to see not only the plating factory but production itself even if that is in the far east!

The Chinese people are exceptionally warm and welcoming and factory owners appreciate foreign agents or agents and customers visiting their beloved factory. They don’t forget and this endeavour builds a strong and lasting relationship with them.

All too often in life and in the cold, hard niche business of milk trolleys, there is a ‘race to the bottom’ mindset, adversarial relationships created to ensure the “cheapest” price possible. Supplier ‘A’ is 1-2 USD/EUR/GBP less than supplier ‘B’, therefore supplier ‘A’ wins.

But what does this £1-2 more actually mean? Does it mean that for an extra pound, there is extra thickness on the wheel box, ball bearings in your wheels and/or a harder wearing wheel, or does it mean quality plating or a full-time workforce?


Quality Vs Price – The Real Cost

In an article published in (2010), Professor Sweeney suggests that supply chains should not be a “zero-sum game” based on “adversarial relationships” but instead they should be a “win-win” game based on co-operation.

Taking the time to understand what to look for in the milk trolley, the strengths and weaknesses of the trolley, along with a comprehensive engagement with possible vendors, and checking to see has this detail been met post-delivery is paramount to the acquisition of Milk Trolleys. An Operational focus with a “crossflow communication” model is essential for any organization to ensure they are acquiring quality cages that are correctly placed at a price point in the market.

The proof is in “the pudding”, not in “the price”.

Next up, we examine the milk cage production and inspection in greater depth and the “challenges” that lie in the shipping, along with the lead times that you can expect from the factory to DC in the new world we now live in.

Having been a maintenance engineer on-site repairing milk trolleys for several years, way back when, our Sales Manager Rory has seen first-hand the difference between how they once were and how they are now. The weight difference between then and now is flabbergasting.

Multiple companies seemingly selling the “same” product mass-produced annually, it truly has become a race to the “bottom”. A vast amount of weight has been taken from the cages over the years to keep the price low and in turn, has resulted in a vicious circle.

But what does all this mean? Well, it means that the life expectancy on milk trolleys has been lowered considerably and in essence, they damage easier.

You would be astonished how a simple plastic hinge “weakness” can drive your maintenance costs through the roof.

Cages are predominantly moved empty in the DC in large rows, using the length of the door to allow you to keep the back end of the row secure. This inevitably puts pressure on the plastic hinge holding bolts for the door in place. Multiply this by the number of cages moved per day and throw in bad plastic, you have a potential problem on your hands.

Although not an ideal way to move cages it is a common way that is not going to change anytime soon, so for a few cents more per hinge to use a better grade of plastic can save you replacing doors on most of the cages. Again bringing us back to the quality factor.


Experience in the Field

During Rory’s time as an engineer, and as an engineering supervisor, he’s seen almost seen every possible thing go wrong with Milk Trolleys one could imagine and states:

Quality control is one of the most important aspects of the process. Visiting the factory and showing them that you are paying attention to the detail when inspecting cages bound for customers pays dividends and keeps everyone “honest” and is good for relationship.

Going through each milk unit meticulously piece by piece, carefully examining all the elements is a time-consuming job but it is the final check before dispatch.

Rory Comerford RollPallet UK

While the factory will have its own internal checks this element is the last chance you have to raise issues before the goods are shipped and offloaded on the customer site. It is a necessary and crucial step.

If time is an issue, several independent reputable testing organisations exist that can verify the cage has been produced to specification.

We have encountered basic issues like the length of the base being 25 mm too short therefore the milk falls off or more serious issues such as low gauge wheel plates made with substandard grade steel collapsing on staff. This latter example is a real threat as I mentioned in my previous article but one that keeps popping up. A full milk cage collapsing on a child in a store could prove fatal!

Again, the race to the bottom means essential corners are being cut!

For those of you that acquire milk cages, why not check the cages as they come off the container to ensure you are happy that they meet the specification. If you cant come at that moment put the cages off to the side so you can visit when you have the time.

Take the calipers out and check the cages at various intervals as they come off the container and at the wheel plates, then you have a certain “peace of mind” that you are not going to face an issue of trying to extract problem cages that are already in the system or worse!

Next let’s talk about lead times; lead times from a verbal order and lead times from a received PO are two very different matters.


Lead Times

The factory will only start producing cages once the deposit has been received into their bank. This is only possible once the PO has been received by the organisation you have been dealing with, as they (your trolley provider) are not going to hand over monies to the factory for an order that is not confirmed unless the relationship between dairy and supplier is “tried and tested” then in certain circumstances allowances can be made on a verbal order, which will inevitably speed things up, hence the need again to have a lasting and worthwhile relationship with your trolley provider.

Many factories do not only produce Milk Trolleys so, it’s a good idea to understand what space the factory has for production at any given time. If you order annually the factories can keep space in their production as they know to expect a certain order at a certain time of the year, this is where the benefits of the relationship will bear fruit.

Lead times can vary, and vary they do. Generally, if the production runs smoothly and the goods get through the plating factory in good time and onto the vessel then the lead time pre-COVID was generally circa 12 weeks +/- 1 week. Any glitches in the “supply chain” and this could push lead times out significantly.

That leads us to Ocean Freight, Ocean Freight is the most cost-effective way of transporting high volume goods across the globe. As with anything it takes time, but how much time it takes depends on whom you use but more importantly what “rate” has been used in booking your goods.

With COVID firmly upon us and global supply chains in meltdown, world trade is being paralysed as 95% of the world’s trade is carried by containerized freight resulting in drastically increased lead times, especially so for goods coming from the far east. Heavy congestion at many of the ports in China at the moment is a real issue, due to an increased supply of PPE equipment and the world, in general, bouncing back, resulting in a lack of space on ships not to mention lack of containers!

It is now more important than ever for dairies to understand and strategise their operational need well in advance and to get CAPEX approved in good stead to ensure you can give yourself plenty of time to order to avoid being disappointed. Leaving the order too late will result in severe challenges, especially now that we are living in a different world than we did even a few months back.

The international freight industry is highly competitive with over 10,000 freight forwarders in Shanghai alone, all bidding for space on the many different vessels sailing the high seas from China to Europe. Prices range from incredibly cheap to stupidly expensive and all things in between. This can have a significant impact on the transit time of your goods and also the cost of your goods!

Trolleys that are seemingly “inexpensive” are not only down to potentially less than “adequate” material being used but are also a combination of using the less reputable forwarder that is punting extremely low prices.

In Ocean Freight, there are primarily four different rates that can be obtained, they are essentially booking classes similar to how it works for air travel, these are;

1)     BCO (Beneficial Cargo Owners)

2)     Named Account

3)     FAK (Freight All Kinds)

4)     Pre Paid

From these, FAK and Prepaid are the least favourable options as the chance of “rollovers” or over capacity resulting in your container not getting on are high, however, for those inclined “good deals” are there to be had.

Shipping lines can book anything up to 120% capacity with an average of 103% – 106% that means that the “rollover” or bump rate can vary considerably.

So what does this mean to you the customer? Well, this means that depending on the “rate” your trolley supplier is using will determine if your container makes the cut or not.


A Proven Track Record Matters

Using reputable brokers, who are again “tried and tested” is usually your safest bet when it comes to fulfilling global supply chain demand for your dairy business as they are skilled in navigating the minefield of agents on the ground overseas and generally have good insight into whom to use. Not only that but they can handle a lot of the paperwork (and there is a lot)

None the less there are circumstances you just can’t control such as the weather as we saw recently with Typhoon Hagupit.


Let’s now talk about “Incoterms”. Incoterms are terms that are a set of pre-defined commercial terms used every day to help all parties understand the costs associated with transport. Without them, it would be very difficult to understand who delivers/pays what and when. Some examples of abbreviations are DDU, DDP, FOB, COB, EXW.

We have seen occasions where companies have purchased goods, only to be hit with additional charges that they were unaware of a week or two later, as they unknowingly agreed to incoterms they knew nothing about but the overall “price” was good so that’s all that mattered, until they received a call from some poor unfortunate looking for his money!

Know your Incoterms, specify them on the tender and find out what vessel your goods are on. As the old military adage goes “Time spent on Reconnaissance is seldom wasted”!

The time of year the order is placed is another critical factor. Around seasonal holidays such as Golden Week, Christmas or Chinese New Year can pose a significant problem in getting availability on the ships as everyone wants their items for the seasonal rush. During Chinese new year factories close down and thousands of people head home to celebrate the festive occasion with their loved ones. This means no business is being done for up to 3 weeks!

Planning your requirements to avoid these times can not only ensure your goods are delivered in a timely fashion but can also potentially save you money, as ocean freight costs can vary depending on the time of year.

You can bet your bottom dollar that when the “rush” is on and the cages are needed quickly the laws that dictate life will provide an issue somewhere along the line.


Milk Trolleys – The Verdict

Like anything in life, it is important to plan or “speculate to accumulate” as we like to call it. Planning can not only save you money but it can also make everything run smoothly so no mistakes are made. This ensures your milk trolleys are arriving just before you need them, not when you need them, giving you that bit of breathing space in case any unforeseen circumstances arise.

Traditional lead times are no longer, we are living in a new world and we need to readjust our timelines and expectations.

Quality makes all the difference and as one of the commenter’s on my previous article eloquently put it “the devil is in the detail”.

Quality, however, needn’t come at exorbitant cost, sometimes just a few quid more, depending on your expectations.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you now have come to a place where you have a deeper understanding of the milk trolley itself and know what to look for in terms of specification and shipping along with what questions to ask your potential trolley supplier!

As mentioned at the outset, milk trolleys are a “feat of engineering” if done correctly but done “correctly” they must be!

About RollPallet UK

Capcon PSS, trading as RollPallet UK has been in the trolley game since 2003 when the company was first founded specifically to source quality cages for the UK and Irish market place.

Since that time, the organisation has developed and refined its Roll Pallet offerings by working closely with a number of high-quality manufacturers directly in the UK, the EU and the Far East alike, enabling us to guarantee the UK’s lowest prices and provide full warranty on our ISO-compliant products.

RollPallet UK is current suppliers to “big name” dairies across the UK and Ireland and thrives on comprehensive engagement and customer satisfaction.



Sweeney, E.: “The Four Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management“.Logistics Solutions, the Journal of the National Institute for Transport and Logistics, Vol. 5, No. 1, February 2002.

Sweeney, E.: “Supply Chain Change Management: an Internal and B2B Relationship Perspective”. Supply Chain Perspectives, the Journal of the National Institute for Transport and Logistics, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 2010, p. 18-21.


A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse, authored by our Sales Director, Rory Comerford.

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