Material handling continues to evolve as new technologies emerge, but the humble pallet remains a constant fixture in warehouses around the world. That’s not to say that pallets haven’t changed over the years. Due to specific industry needs and the desire to be sustainable, companies have developed a number of new strategies in regards to pallets, which standardized just about everything into easy-to-handle parcels.
While Ancient Egyptians used skids as far back as 1,000 B.C., modern paletts came into existence as a result of the gas-powered forklift and Word War II. The U.S. used tens of millions of pallets to supply troops on both fronts. Innovations like the four-way pallet, which allowed forklifts to pick up pallets from any direction, greatly increased America’s handling productivity.
Pallet Basics for Material Handling
In the ensuing 70 years, there were many minor (but important) changes to the pallet industry. Perhaps the biggest is the shift from one-way to block pallets. One-way pallets are essentially disposable and only used to ship one load before being tossed. Four-way block pallets are more durable in addition to being more versatile since forklifts can fork them from any direction.
Another big change is the rise of pooling companies. These specialists maintain large pools of pallets and lease them to companies around the country. Because they are focusing entirely on pallets, they can ensure that high-quality pallets are used enough times to pay for the extra cost associated with building stronger pallets.
These companies can provide new or used pallets to companies, depending on their preference. Repairing and reusing pallets has led to a much smaller environmental footprint for the industry.
The Benefits of Aluminum Pallets vs. Plastic Pallets
When you think of a pallet, odds are you picture the classic wooden construction. Wooden pallets have a lot of advantages; they’re cheap, easy to repair, and plentiful. On the other hand, they add a lot of weight to shipments, and they can cause injuries with loose nails and splinters. Today, shipping companies may choose pallets made of plastic or metal instead of or in addition to wooden pallets.
Plastic pallets are gaining ground, but because of their high initial cost, warehouses have been slow to accept them. Plastic pallets offer a few big advantages over their wooden counterparts. They are lighter and more durable. Food and pharmaceutical companies prefer them because they can be easily sterilized before use.
Plastic pallets are considered more environmentally friendly than wooden pallets. They can be reused many times, and once they’re retired, they can be shredded and recycled into other products.
Aluminum also offers many benefits as a pallet material. It is sturdy, non-corrosive, fireproof, and it can be cleaned easily. The main drawbacks are that aluminum pallets are expensive and heavy to transport compared to plastic.
Producers of large industrial goods often use aluminum pallets because they can withstand heavier-than-average loads. Food industries also favor aluminum because it is easy to clean and not susceptible to pests that may target wooden pallets.
Ergonomic Equipment for Pallet Building and Unloading
No matter what type of pallet a warehouse uses, every company can improve productivity and prevent injuries by providing ergonomic pallet-building equipment. Powered lift tables like the Pallet Carousel & Skid Positioner can improve productivity and protect staff from injuries.
These ergonomic tables do several things to help workers more easily load and unload pallets. The lift mechanism positions the pallet at an optimal height. The turntable top lets staff rotate a pallet to reduce reaching (which can be as harmful as bending and lifting). Finally, the small base allows staff to stand close to the pallet and keep the products they are lifting close to their core.
The Freedonia Group estimates that the U.S. has over 2 billion pallets in circulation, and they expect that number to grow through 2019. Pallets will no doubt continue their slow evolution, but they will remain the backbone of the logistics industry for the foreseeable future.
“Industry Study 3033: Pallets.” FreedoniaGroup. The Freedonia Group, May 2013. Web. 26 June 2017.
“The Mighty Pallet: A Supply Chain Powerhouse.” InboundLogistics. Thomas Publishing Company, 4 May 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
“The Power of Pallets.” InboundLogistics. Thomas Publishing Company, 15 May 2012. Web. 26 June 2017.