For nearly a century, the humble pallet has been the lifeblood of the supply chain. With the rise of the pallet, patented in 1939 by George Ramond, Sr. and Bill House, came the concept of the unit load, the ubiquity of lift trucks, warehouses lined with pallet racking, and many other familiar features of today’s supply chain industries.
But what if there were another way?
For all their advantages, pallets aren’t always compatible with today’s fast-paced, just-in-time fulfillment world. There’s the size, for instance: 48 inches by 40 inches, at a time when retail stores are only getting smaller.
Smaller Retail Footprints Require New Material Handling Solutions
Big box stores may become yet another victim of e-commerce’s indomitable rise. Leading brands like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Target, and Walmart have all experimented with small-footprint locations with a more focused, limited range of goods. Some analysts expect sales at small retail locations to grow 3.9 percent every year through 2021; they expect large-format stores to grow by less than 1 percent annually in the same period.
Online shopping has led to another blow against the pallet’s centrality. Less-than-unit loads, mixed loads, and unconventional loads are on the rise as sellers struggle to make two-day deliveries across the nation.
These factors have all created a changing landscape at distribution centers, many of which were built primarily for handling pallets. As pickers handle more unconventional loads, at the carton- and even the item-level, they’ll need new material handling solutions to prevent ergonomic injuries and maintain productivity. Ironically, that will require using technologies that are even older than the pallet, but updated and designed for today’s busy material handling environment.
Flat Deck Carts and Turntables for Today’s Order Pickers
Flat Deck Carts from BHS provide this versatile material handling for pallet-free order picking. Because they’re so simple — steel decks with smooth-rolling casters — order pickers can stack just about anything, and any shape, onto them to transport them to packing stations.
But BHS Flat Deck Carts also feature innovations that place them far above the wooden carts of ages past. These include integrated fork pockets that enable handling via forklift, an impact-resistant powder coating, and quick-engaging wheel brakes for safer loading and unloading.
For shorter distances, a Lift Table with a rotating turntable surface can simplify picking, packing, and work-positioning tasks. These ergonomic solutions maintain a comfortable height for all workers, while the turntable gives users 360-degree access to items right where they stand.
The greatest solutions are often the simplest. That’s certainly the case for material handling at warehouses and distribution centers as use of pallets declines.
Bhattarai, Abha. “Will the rapidly shrinking store save retail?” WashingtonPost. The Washington Post, 25 Dec. 2017. Web. 22 Oct. 2019.
McMahon, Jim. “Supply Chain Evolution from Unit Loads to Mini-Loads.” MHLNews. Informa USA, 11 Sept. 2017. Web. 22 Oct. 2019.
“Pallets: Backbone of the Warehouse.” InboundLogistics. Thomas Publishing Company, 17 May 2018. Web. 22 Oct. 2019.