Selecting Material Handling Pallets

March 1, 2003
Sound unitization starts with a solid base namely the pallet. While wooden pallets continue to hold more than 90 percent of the market share, the use

Sound unitization starts with a solid base — namely the pallet. While wooden pallets continue to hold more than 90 percent of the market share, the use of plastic pallets, along with special pallets made of metal, corrugated and other material, is on the increase.

Depending on your source of information, a plastic pallet is said to serve six to 10 years while an average wood pallet will last three to four years. Plastic pallet manufacturers claim users realize additional return on investment from reduced repair expenses, less product damage, streamlined operating efficiencies, improved use of warehouse space, elimination of wood disposal costs, and a safer, cleaner work environment. Since plastic pallets don't absorb moisture, their weight is constant, making them easier to handle and allowing for outside storage.

Automation requires consistency and the injection molding process produces consistent product dimensions, one of the major advantages plastic pallets have over wood. In addition, plastic pallets do not break or splinter easily. With no protruding metal fasteners, there is less possibility of damage to the product or employee.

The role of plastic pallets is expected to increase significantly over time, however wood will remain the pallet of choice in the immediate future. A major barrier to plastic pallets has been the control of pallet inventory. It takes commitment and financial investment to track and control these assets. Numerous vendors of radio frequency identification and data collection programs, tags and scanners were addressing this problem at the recently held Frontlines Solutions 2002 show and conference.

Always sensitive to environmental concerns, wood pallet users are increasingly having damaged wood pallets repaired. According to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), 53 percent fewer pallet users are sending damaged pallets to landfills, compared to previous studies. In 1993, 59 percent of pallets were sent to landfills versus 28 percent in the most recent study, for example. Only 10 percent of damaged pallets were repaired in 1993 compared to 29 percent now, says the association.

Shippers should be familiar with the general requirements for palletizing commodities to meet the transportation, distribution, and storage system needs of large procurement organizations having distribution warehouses, such as:

• The packaged and packed items shall be placed on new commercial multiple-use pallets capable of supporting 2,500-lb loads (or more, if necessary to meet the stacking test). The unit load must be strapped and/or wrapped to provide a shipping load acceptable to common carriers and capable of delivery to the destination identified in the contract. Environmental concerns mandate the reuse and repair of the multiple-use type pallets.

• The palletized load shall be capable of multiple handling, all modes of delivery, and storage without damage to the products or injury to the personnel handling it.

• Unless otherwise specified, the pallets shall be 48- x 40-in. to accommodate warehouse rack systems. The load plus the pallet shall have a maximum height of 53 inches, and shall not exceed 2,500 lb.

• The containers or items shall be placed in a suitable pattern to form a stable and balanced load. Vertical, horizontal, or filler reinforcement shall be added as necessary to meet the stacking strength requirement.

• The pallet plus load shall be capable of supporting the weight of three additional like loads without product damage and without the load or the pallet collapsing. A palletized load, ready for shipment, shall be tested for stack ability as follows: The test load shall be placed on a flat rigid surface with three additional like loads stacked on top for 24 hours. The three additional loads may be simulated by a like pallet and weight equal to the three like loads. Personnel conducting the test are responsible for testing in compliance with any applicable safety regulations. Testing need not be repeated as long as the palletized load design and materials do not change. Less than one-half pallet loads do not require the stack testing.

Guidance concerning good packaging practices may be found in the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) publication, D3951, available from ASTM, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshocken, PA 19428-2959, phone: (610) 832-9585, or visit

The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association's (NWPCA) Web site, features a continuously updated roster of pallet, container, and reel providers including contact information, specific products and services offered, and hotlinks to company Web sites. Pallet and container users can use the site to locate suppliers in their area offering the products they need -- including new and repaired pallets and containers. Also look for services such as retrieval/recovery systems or disposal solutions.

The Web site also contains information about pallet design and construction standards and quality assurance programs. There's a pallet audit posted on the site designed to help users accurately determine their pallet performance requirements. Visitors to the site also will find information on how to comply with USDA requirements on solid wood packaging imported or exported into or out of the US and a list of publications and services available from NWPCA.

NWPCA offers a brochure illustrating that wood is reusable, repairable, recyclable, and comes from a renewable resource. Pallets and the Environment describes how the pallet and container industry is committed to sound environmental practices, including proper forest management and aggressive reuse and recycling efforts. For a free copy, visit the Web site.

Engineered Wood Might Be the Answer

The Engineered Wood Association argues a good case that its plywood pallets don’t get the respect they deserve. Here’s part of its story. For the rest of the story, visit

The best way to recycle is to reuse. Conserve your budget; conserve your resources. Long-life engineered wood pallets are constructed for years and years of trouble-free, dependable use. They help reduce waste by decreasing disposal costs and product damage. Wood is a renewable, recyclable, biodegradable resource that is easily manufactured into a variety of viable products. The fabrication requires far less energy than that of other raw materials and generates fewer pollutants. The supply of wood fiber is both plentiful and sustainable.

The phytosanitary restrictions on coniferous solid wood packaging material originating from China, Japan, Canada, and the United States are limited to nonmanufactured softwood lumber. In engineered wood, the destruction of organisms is assured by a number of severe environments that the raw materials experience during manufacture– most notably, the high heat of the process in which the panels are formed. Therefore, engineered wood products, including plywood and OSB pallets, are exempt from the phytosanitary restrictions. Phytosanitary limitations are expected to expand around the globe — encompassing both softwood and hardwood lumber in the near future.

More than 30 years of on-the-job experience have proven solid-deck engineered wood pallets to be longer lasting, making them more cost-effective over time than traditional board-deck wood pallets or expensive plastic pallets.

In finely tuned automated handling systems, every component must perform seamlessly, and engineered wood pallets boast a remarkable track record for rising to this challenge. Wood structural panels enable the pallet to conserve space, retain a consistent size and shape, eliminate protruding nails, flow smoothly over any type of conveyor, and meet the modern demands of increasingly automated materials handling systems.

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