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Wooden Pallets

New technology to help material handlers

Ninety-five percent of all U.S. packaging products are shipped on pallets, 92 percent of which are made from wood. It benefits those in the material handling equipment industry to understand some of the reasons wooden pallets continue to dominate the market. First, let me test your knowledge about the pallet industry generally.

True or False? Wood pallets cannot be used for exporting purposes because they contain quarantine pests.

The answer is false. Lumber may become infested with pests, but there are effective treatment methods that have been recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization. The wood packaging industry routinely applies these methods to assure the safety of their products with regard to the elimination of invasive species of pests.

True or False? The wood pallet industry cuts down trees to make their products.

That answer, too, is false. Pallet-grade material is lumber that cannot be used for furniture or construction, a residual grade that would be discarded were it not used in the production of wood packaging products.

True or False? The wood packaging industry produces one of the most environmentally friendly products available.

Consideration of the pallet design and its required performance when designing or selecting material handling systems can lead to reduced costs, increased material handling efficiency and safety improvements.

That is true. Not only do wood pallets round out the utilization of lumber production, but most are reclaimed, repaired (if needed) and resold. Pallets that cannot be reused or repaired are generally recycled and turned into new products such as landscape mulch.

From a practical standpoint, wood pallets will continue to be the dominant transportation and storage platform because they are strong and durable at a very competitive cost. As important, wood can be customized for a specific unit load using the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association Pallet Design System (PDS). Customization using this computer-aided design (CAD) program can reduce costs because it can eliminate over-engineering of the pallet. (Why build a pallet for a 3,500-pound load if the actual load is 1,200 pounds?)

Considerations for Material Handling
What does PDS offer to the material handling equipment industry? Through 20 years of engineering design enhancements that are based on test results at the Virginia Tech pallet lab, PDS has empirically demonstrated its ability to help assure improved protection of the load and worker safety throughout the material handling process.

For example, to safely carry their intended loads while being supported by material handling equipment (including forklifts, straddle cars, rack systems, conveyors, etc.), pallets must have adequate strength. Lacking adequate strength to support the load, pallet failures may result in product damage and, worse, in serious injury or death to material handling personnel or bystanders.

But strength is merely one factor to consider. Even if a pallet is strong enough to support the intended load, improperly designed pallets that lack sufficient stiffness can interfere with material handling equipment. Common examples of potential problems include:

  • Pallets that deflect too much in automated storage and retrieval systems can “hang up” the en-tire system. That system must then be shut down in order to manually unload and dislodge the pallet.
  • Deflection can also create compression stresses within the supported load that can lead to product damage.
  • On warehouse rack systems, excessive deflection can create difficulty for forklift drivers trying to enter and safely lift the pallet, particularly when pallets are stored high overhead. This can result in loaded pallets being knocked out of racks, crashing to the floor and possibly knocking other pallets out of racks.
  • If pallet decks deflect too much under load, pallet trucks cannot enter and lift the pallet or properly convey on some conveyor systems.
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Consideration of the pallet design and its required performance when designing or selecting material handling systems can lead to reduced costs, increased material handling efficiency and safety improvements.

More efficiencies can be realized if all stakeholders in the supply chain come out of our bunkers and work together on innovations. We need to communicate and coordinate regularly from pallet producers, unit load stabilization product makers, forklift manufacturers, warehouse managers, truckers, and material handling equipment manufacturers and distributors.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Bruce Scholnick Meet the Author
Bruce Scholnick is president and CEO of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, located in Alexandria, Virginia, and on the Web at www.palletcentral.com.

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