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A pallet //, sometimes inaccurately called a skid (a skid has no bottom deck boards), is a flat transport structure that supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, pallet jack, front loader, work saver or other jacking device. A pallet is the structural foundation of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies. Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped.
While most pallets are wooden, pallets can also be made of plastic, metal, paper, and recycled materials. Each material has advantages and disadvantages relative to the others. (See the sections "Phytosanitary compliance" and "Materials used" below.)
Containerization for transport has spurred the use of pallets because the shipping containers have the smooth, level surfaces needed for easy pallet movement. Most pallets can easily carry a load of 1,000 kg (2,205 lb). Today, over half a billion pallets are made each year and about two billion pallets are in use across the United States alone.
Pallets make it easier to move heavy stacks. Loads with pallets under them can be hauled by forklift trucks of different sizes, or even by hand-pumped and hand-drawn pallet jacks. Movement is easy on a wide, strong, flat floor: concrete is excellent. The greatest investment needed for economical pallet use is in the construction of commercial or industrial buildings. Passage through doors and buildings must be possible. To help this issue, some later pallet standards (the europallet and the U.S. Military 35 in × 45.5 in or 889 mm × 1,156 mm) are designed to pass through standard doorways.
Organizations using standard pallets for loading and unloading can have much lower costs for handling and storage, with faster material movement than businesses that do not. The exceptions are establishments that move small items such as jewelry or large items such as cars. But even they can be improved. For instance, the distributors of costume jewelry normally use pallets in their warehouses and car manufacturers use pallets to move components and spare parts.
The lack of a single international standard for pallets causes substantial continuing expense in international trade. A single standard is difficult because of the wide variety of needs a standard pallet would have to satisfy: passing doorways, fitting in standard containers, and bringing low labor costs. For example, organizations already handling large pallets often see no reason to pay the higher handling cost of using smaller pallets that can fit through doors.
Due to cost and a need to focus on core business, pallet pooling becomes more and more common. Some pallet suppliers supply users with reusable pallets, sometimes with integral tracking devices. A pallet management company can help supply, clean, repair, and reuse pallets.
Pallets should be seen as reusable packaging items. Every pallet that is built could potentially be used and used again until such a time when it will need to be replaced. In the UK, government legislation relating to the Waste Framework Directive requires the reuse of packaging items above recycling and disposal. If a pallet can be environmentally and economically recovered and reused then you will not only reduce your carbon footprint but could also save money on your packaging costs.
Wooden pallets typically consist of three or four stringers that support several deckboards, on top of which goods are placed. In a pallet measurement the first number is the stringer length and the second is the deckboard length. Square or nearly square pallets help a load resist tipping.
Two-way pallets are designed to be lifted by the deckboards. The standard North American pallet, or GMA pallet, has deckboards of 40 inches and stringers of 48 inches.
Four-way pallets, or pallets for heavy loads (or general-purpose systems that might have heavy loads) are best lifted by their more rigid stringers. These pallets are usually heavier, bigger and more durable than two-way pallets.
Pallet users want pallets to easily pass through buildings, to stack and fit in racks, to be accessible to forklifts and pallet jacks and to function in an automated warehouses. To avoid shipping air, pallets should also pack tightly inside intermodal containers and vans.
No universally accepted standards for pallet dimensions exist. Companies and organizations utilize hundreds of different pallet sizes around the globe. While no single dimensional standard governs pallet production, a few different sizes are widely used.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sanctions six pallet dimensions, detailed in ISO Standard 6780: Flat pallets for intercontinental materials handling—Principal dimensions and tolerances:
|Dimensions, mm (W × L)||Dimensions, in (W × L)||Wasted floor, ISO container||Region most used in|
|1016 × 1219||40.00 × 48.00||3.7% (20 pallets in 40 ft ISO)||North America|
|1000 × 1200||39.37 × 47.24||6.7%||Europe, Asia; similar to 40" × 48".|
|1165 × 1165||45.9 × 45.9||8.1%||Australia|
|1067 × 1067||42.00 × 42.00||11.5%||North America, Europe, Asia|
|1100 × 1100||43.30 × 43.30||14%||Asia|
|800 × 1200||31.50 × 47.24||15.2%||Europe; fits many doorways|
Of the top pallets used in North America, the most commonly used by far is the Grocery Manufacturers' Association (GMA) pallet, which accounts for 30% of all new wood pallets produced in the United States. The ISO also recognizes the GMA pallet footprint as one of its six standard sizes.
|Dimensions, mm (W × L)||Dimensions, in (W × L)||Production Rank||Industries Using|
|1219 × 1016||48 × 40||1||Grocery, many others|
|1067 ×1067||42 × 42||2||Telecommunications, Paint|
|1219 × 1219||48 × 48||3||Drums|
|1016 × 1219||40 × 48||4||Military, Cement|
|1219 × 1067||48 × 42||5||Chemical, Beverage|
|1016 × 1016||40 × 40||6||Dairy|
|1219 × 1143||48 × 45||7||Automotive|
|1118 × 1118||44 × 44||8||Drums, Chemical|
|914 × 914||36 × 36||9||Beverage|
|1219 × 914||48 × 36||10||Beverage, Shingles, Packaged Paper|
|889 × 1156||35 × 45.5||Unknown||Military 1/2 ISO container, fits 36" standard doors|
|1219 × 508||48 × 20||Unknown||Retail|
|EURO pallet type||Dimensions (W × L)||ISO pallet alternative|
|EUR, EUR 1||800 mm × 1,200 mm||31.50 in × 47.24 in||ISO1, same size as EUR|
|EUR 2||1,200 mm × 1,000 mm||47.24 in × 39.37 in||ISO2|
|EUR 3||1,000 mm × 1,200 mm||39.37 in × 47.24 in|
|EUR 6||800 mm × 600 mm||31.50 in × 23.62 in||ISO0, half the size of EUR|
|600 mm × 400 mm||23.62 in × 15.75 in||quarter the size of EUR|
|400 mm × 300 mm||15.75 in × 11.81 in||one-eighth the size of EUR|
The Australian Standard Pallet is a pallet size commonly found in Australia but found rarely elsewhere. It is a square pallet originally made of hardwood 1,165 by 1,165 mm (45.87 by 45.87 in) in size which fits perfectly in the RACE container of the Australian Railway. It is also well-suited to the width of the 20' and 40' ISO containers which have an internal width of 2.352m. Two Australian pallets will have a total clearance of 70mm spread between the walls and the two pallets. While this is a tight fit, it means there is less need for dunnage (stuffing) between the container walls and the pallets.
The Australian Standard Pallet dates back to World War II, while ISO containers date to the late 1950s. Although the pallet's dimensions pre-date the ISO containers, it requires less dunnage, is square, and leaves less wasted space than other pallets, including the GMA pallet. In 2010, Australia adopted the globally accepted ISPM 15 wood packaging material regulations (before this time it was hardwood and more expensive).
A number of different organizations and associations around the world work towards establishing and promulgating standards for pallets. Some strive to develop universal standards for pallet dimensions, types of material used in construction, performance standards, and testing procedures. Other organizations choose to focus on pallet standards for a specific industry (such as groceries) or type of material (such as wood).
ISO TC 51 states its scope of work entailing the "standardization of pallets in general use in the form of platforms or trays on which goods may be packed to form unit loads for handling by mechanical devices". The Technical Committee works in conjunction with other Technical Committees focused on transportation infrastructure to develop interrelated standards. TC 51 is responsible for developing ISO Standard 6780: Flat pallets for intercontinental materials handling—Principal dimensions and tolerances as well as sixteen other standards related to pallet construction and testing.
The National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) is a trade organization based in the United States devoted to representing the interests of wood pallet and container manufacturers. The NWPCA defines its mission as helping its membership create cost-effective, environmentally friendly solutions to customers' needs. Towards that end, the NWPCA developed a bevy of resources to assist its membership, including the Pallet Design System (PDS), which allows users to develop and analyze pallet designs.
DOD Unit loads generally use 40 in × 48 in (1,016 mm × 1,219 mm) pallets, are less than 4,000 lb (1,814 kg), weatherproof, and stack 16 ft (4.88 m) high. They often use steel pallets, steel straps with notched seals, outdoor plywood, and plastic film. The standard describes tests for stacking, transport, sling, forklift and pallet jack, impact, drop tests, tip, water-retention, and disassembly.
In addition to the other standards it publishes, the European Committee for Standardization, also known as the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN), produces standards for pallets. While the standards are voluntary in nature, many companies and organizations involved in transportation have adopted them. The major standard for pallets produced by CEN is ICS: 55.180.20 General purpose pallets
Due to the International Plant Protection Convention (abbreviated IPPC), most pallets shipped across national borders must be made of materials that are incapable of being a carrier of invasive species of insects and plant diseases. The standards for these pallets are specified in ISPM 15.
Pallets made of raw, untreated wood are not compliant with ISPM 15. To be compliant the pallets (or other wood packaging material) must meet debarked standards, and must be treated by either of the following means under the supervision of an approved agency:
Treated wood pallets must be stamped on two opposite sides indicating either HT for heat treated or MB for methyl bromide treatment.
Pallets made of non-wood materials such as steel, aluminum, plastic, or engineered wood products, such as plywood, oriented strand board, or corrugated fiberboard do not need IPPC approval, and are considered to be exempt from ISPM 15 regulations.
Although pallets come in all manner of sizes and configurations, all pallets fall into two very broad categories: "stringer" pallets and "block" pallets. Various software packages exist to assist the pallet maker in designing an appropriate pallet for a specific load, and to evaluate wood options to reduce costs.
Stringer pallets use a frame of three or more parallel pieces of timber (called stringers). The top deckboards are then affixed to the stringers to create the pallet structure. Stringer pallets can have a notch cut into them allowing "four-way" entry.
Block pallets (also referred to as Manoj pallets) are typically stronger than stringer pallets. Block pallets utilize both parallel and perpendicular stringers to better facilitate efficient handling. A block pallet is also known as a "four-way" pallet, since a pallet-jack may be used from any side to move it.
All stringer and some block pallets have "unidirectional bases," i.e. bottom boards oriented in one direction. While automated handling equipment can be designed for this, often it can operate faster and more effectively if the bottom edges of a pallet have bottom boards oriented in both directions. For example, it may not need to turn a pallet to rack it, and operation is less sensitive to pallet orientation.
The least expensive way to improve a pallet is usually to specify better nails. With non-wood pallets, a controlled coefficient of friction is often helpful to prevent the pallet from slipping from forks and racks. Stiffer pallets are more durable, and are handled more easily by automated equipment. If a pallet does not need to be lifted from all four sides, two-way pallets with unnotched stringers may be used, with the additional benefits of added rigidity and strength. Specifying tolerances on flatness and water content may help the supplier meet target requirements. Inspection of pallets, whether in person or by a third-party (such as "SPEQ" inspected pallets) offer additional assurance of quality.
The cheapest pallets are made of softwood and are often considered expendable, to be discarded as trash along with other wrapping elements, at the end of the trip. These pallets are simple stringer pallets, and liftable from two sides.
Slightly more complex hardwood block pallets, plastic pallets and metal pallets can be lifted from all four sides. These costlier pallets usually require a deposit and are returned to the sender or resold as used. Many "four way" pallets are color-coded according to the loads they can bear, and other attributes.
Wooden pallet construction specifications can depend on the pallet's intended use: general, FDA, storage, chemical, export; the expected load weight; type of wood desired: recycled, hard, soft, kiln dried or combo (new & recycle); and even the type of fasteners desired to hold the pallet together: staples or nails.
Paper pallets, also referred to as "ecopallets", are often used for light loads, but engineered paper pallets are increasingly used for loads that compare with wood. Paper pallets are also used where recycling and easy disposal is important. New designs of ecopallets have been made from just two flat pieces of corrugated board (no glue/staples) and weigh just 4.5kg (10lbs), offering dramatic freight savings. Ecopallets are also ISPM 15 exempt, negating fumigation and barrier "slip" sheets. They are cleaner, safer, and provide a cost-saving eco-friendly alternative to other pallet materials. Some engineered Corrugated pallets offer a significant reduced hight, providing substantial freight cost reduction. Low profile hand pallet trucks allow picking up pallets as low as 25 mm.
Plastic pallets are often made of new HDPE or recycled PET (drink bottles). They are usually extremely durable, lasting for a hundred trips or more, and resist weathering, rot, chemicals and corrosion. They often stack. Plastic pallets are exempt by inspection for biosafety concerns, and easily sanitize for international shipping. HDPE is impervious to most acids and toxic chemicals clean from them more easily. Some plastic pallets can collapse from plastic creep if used to store heavy loads for long periods. Plastic pallets cannot easily be repaired, and can be ten times as expensive as hardwood, so they are often used by logistics service providers who can profit from their durability and stackability. The large supply chains have increased the use of plastic pallets as many organisations seek to reduce costs through waste, transport and health & safety. Pallets and dolly combined for example the Pally eliminate pallet instability and the need for additional lifting equipment, but also create valuable space in busy operating environments and deliver significant time and cost savings by reducing supply chain handling.
Steel pallets are strong and are used for heavy loads, high-stacking loads, long term dry storage, and loads moved by abusive logistic systems. They are often used for military ammunition. Metal pallets make up less than 1% of the market. Materials include carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Of these, carbon steel offers excellent durability at the lowest cost. Stainless steel doesn’t require a paint coating, and is preferred for such applications as clean room environments. Aluminum offers the durability of steel at a lighter weight. Carbon steel units are expensive compared to wood, and stainless and aluminum cost about 2-3 times that of carbon steel. Long term costs, however, can be lower than wood. General advantages of metal pallets are high strength and stiffness, excellent durability, bug free, no splinters, sanitary, and recyclable. Disadvantages include a higher initial price, significant weight, low friction, and susceptibility to rusting (carbon steel). Metal is primarily used in captive or closed loop environments where durability and product protection are key performance requirements. Metal units today are increasingly price competitive and lighter in weight. Primary industries that use metal pallets include automotive, pharmaceutical, lawn tractors, motorcycles, and tires.
Aluminum pallets are stronger than wood or plastic, lighter than steel, and resist weather, rotting, plastic creep and corrosion. They are sometimes used for air-freight, long-term outdoor or at-sea storage, or military transport.
References to the eary pallets types are slim with a string of patents showing parts of the development. The earliest may be a U.S. patent on a skid from 1924 describing Hallowell's "Lift Truck Platform." In the late 1930s, pallets became more commonplace with the newer forklift types and a 1939 patent from Carl Clark shows a more modern pallet type with steel stringers. War time developments were often just patented after the war, so there is a patent from Robert Braun on a four-way palette in 1945, and a patent from Norman Cahners (a U.S. Navy Supply Officer) shows a disposable pallet type in 1949. The complete construction principle of a modern four-way pallet is described by Darling Graeme in 1949.
Old and discarded wooden pallets can be used in pallet crafts.
Discarded wooden pallets should not be used for firewood or crafts unless it has been determined that the wood in these pallets has not been treated with wood preservatives, fungicides and/or pesticides. Various pyrethrins and propiconazole are common treatments for wooden pallets. In addition, imported palletized goods are routinely fumigated with highly toxic pesticides. During use, harmful materials or chemicals also may spill on the pallet wood and be absorbed.
Craft publications have advised readers to use pallets to build a skateboarding obstacle called a manual pad, barricades during amateur paintball games, or other sport-related items. Other publications have suggested using pallet wood for small animal cages or fences. Pallet wood has been recycled for use as furniture wood by at least one company.
The acoustic guitar maker Taylor Guitars once produced a high quality "pallet guitar" made from pallet wood, in order to demonstrate the importance of construction technique versus expensive exotic woods.
I-Beam Design, an architecture and interior design firm based in New York, NY won an award in a 1999 competition sponsored by Architecture for Humanity for their submission of “The Pallet House”, a design solution to house the returning refugees of Kosovo. Full-scale prototypes of The Pallet House were featured in the "Casa per Tutti" Exhibit at the Milan Triennale and the Earth Awards in HRH Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens as part of The Prince’s Charities Foundation’s Conference on a Sustainable Future organized in collaboration with IBM and The Financial Times. The Pallet House is an affordable transitional home that can become permanent over time. It can be used as refugee housing or as affordable housing as well. Due to the nature of the Pallet module, the wall cavity can be insulated with a variety of materials that are accessible to the user.
The two Austrian students Andreas Claus Schnetzer and Gregor Pils from the University of Vienna created a home entitled Pallet house and as the name suggests, reused pallets to form a modular, energy efficient and affordable housing. The idea was born in 2008 during a competition and the Pallet house has been exhibited in several European cities including Venice, Vienna, Linz and Grenoble. It could become a clever approach to low income housing.
Items made from pallet wood are likely to be durable and demonstrate good weather resistance due to these treatments. However, close contact with pallet wood or inhalation of dusts from sanding or sawing can be a source of exposure to pesticide and fungicide chemicals. It is likely that the January, 2010 recall of Johnson and Johnson Tylenol[TM] and other drugs was due to their being stored on wooden pallets that had been treated with the fungicide/pesticide 2,4,6-tribromophenol. This chemical can be degraded by molds to produce 2,4,6-tribromoanisole whose strong, musty odor caused consumers to complain. There is no acute or chronic health data on 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, but it is believed that the contaminated drugs caused nausea and other health effects in some people.
Both wood and plastic pallets are possible fire hazards. The National Fire Protection Association requires that both types "shall be stored outside or in a detached structure" unless protected by fire sprinklers.
A release by the National Consumers League announced the testing of 70 wood pallets and 70 plastic pallets that have been loaded with perishable products and shipped to an end user was shipped overnight to an independent microbiology lab for testing. The results came back with 10 percent of the wood pallets positive for E. coli and 1.4 percent positive on the plastic pallets.
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