At first glance, a pallet looks like a benign, flat, wooden or plastic base that manufacturers use to ship inventory and warehousers use to store it. They may look basic on the surface, but upon further scratching, one realizes there are many features that contribute to the perfect pallet. Not so surprising, when you consider that upwards of 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. The estimated two billion pallets that are transported around the U.S. vary in size, design, materials, reusability and sustainability. In each category, the shipper must consider a number of factors that will directly affect the product’s bottom line. If the pallet fails in any of these areas, it can mean loss of revenue, loss of product, and loss of integrity. Here are five things to consider when choosing your pallet:
Size Matters: How do you know what size to select? The ISO (International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has six standard dimensions, to be used by all countries. In each industry, there is a standard size, so that everyone doing business in that market has the same size, making it easier to do business. For example, the Grocery Manufacturers Association uses a 40-inch by 48-inch standard size. If you’re shipping to a ShopRite or Giant supermarket warehouse, you’ll need to comply with their size stipulations. If you’re shipping paint, on the other hand, you’ll need a 42-inch by 42-inch square pallet. If your pallet doesn’t fit the forklift or the shelving system, you can lose valuable sales. Today’s retailers are also utilizing the streamlined-size pallet of 48-inches by 20-inches because the shorter, or half-size, pallet allows more efficient moves directly to the store floor, where they can be used for in-store merchandising or end-cap displays.
Designed to Lift: Pallets are designed to be moved by a forklift. So, if you want to provide the ultimate in customer service, find out your clients’ forklift configuration and ship inventory on complementary pallets. Though this may seem unrealistic, a quick survey of clients might yield some of the most common entry types of forklifts. Two-way, or “unnotched” pallets have openings on only two ends. Four-way have openings on all four sides. Partial four-way have larger openings on two ends and smaller openings on the sides. Stinger pallets are named after the 2 x 4 wood or plastic “stringers” that support the load. These usually go only one way and are not used for heavy inventory. Pallets that have crisscrossed 2 x 4 pieces of wood, or block pallets, are used for heavier loads because of their solid construction.
Materials Muster: Today’s technology has perfected the use of a variety of materials for pallets. Designs include wood, plywood and press-wood, as well as aluminum, plastic and cardboard. Traditionally, wood pallets have been used to carry the heaviest loads – they are durable, cost-effective and can be reused, repaired and recycled. More eco-friendly materials like plywood and press-wood have come into fashion because of their weight. It’s a double-edged sword, because a lighter pallet means a lighter load. These are simply not as sturdy as wood and they don’t stand up to the elements quite as staunchly. Metal or aluminum pallets are commonly used within the restaurant and catering industries due to the sanitation of the materials. Unlike wood, if a spill occurs, a metal or aluminum pallet can be easily wiped or cleaned and the material does not absorb the spill like a wooden pallet would. These pallets are also ideal for shipments by boat or shipments that will be exposed to nature’s elements. Plastic pallets are sturdy, reusable, cleanable and recyclable. Depending on their construction, they can be nearly as effective at carrying heavy loads as wood. Finally, corrugated cardboard has recently made a mark in the pallet industry. They are lightweight, sturdy and easy to move. They do require lighter loads, and their short life-span may be a drawback for people who like reusability.
Reusability and Sustainability: While these two terms are often interchanged, they actually complement each other and should work together. The ideal pallet is both reusable and sustainable. That pallet is probably a lightweight wood. Because of wood’s sturdiness and durability, we’ve already established it’s a great material for shipping and storing goods. In addition, because wood is a natural resource and can be recycled, it is sustainable for many industries. You can be both green and cost-effective with your pallet decisions. Even recyclable plastics can be included in reusable and sustainable categories, if handled properly. Consider used pallets if it would help your bottom line. They are cost-effective and customer-friendly. Be sure to inspect them carefully for any cracks, dents or splintering before committing to them. Ask what they transported prior to being put up for sale. You may not reap the benefits of reusability and sustainability directly from the price of the pallet itself. You’ll see it in fuel consumption, shipping and transport costs, as well as in a reduced carbon footprint. If you select a lighter-weight, sturdy wood pallet, you may see lower shipping rates due to weight, less pallet damage due to design, or less product damage due to packing technique.