Packaging is such a broad term that covers everything from a metal crate for a train battery to a gusseted pouch for pancake mix. One variable that the majority of packaging has in common is nearly all packages are stored or ship on a pallet at some point in the supply chain. Coincidently, a pallet is also often the most mis-understood type of packaging! In this article, we will be completing a deep dive into pallets including a few secret tricks we use to drive out costs associated with pallets.
What is a pallet?
A pallet is a horizontal platform that is used as a base to unitize goods during transportation and storage. Pallets are typically handled in the supply chain by fork lifts, fork trucks and conveyer systems. Most commonly a pallet is made of wood but can also be constructed of other materials such as metal, plastic, corrugated and hexacomb.
Why is a pallet used?
Pallets are used as the most common method of unitizing product to safely and effectively move and store goods through the supply chain. Pallets also allow for stacking goods in racking or multiple pallets stacked on top of each other.
Once it is determined if a returnable or expendable solution is the route to explore, the next logical step is to determine the material type. If returnable, common materials include plastic, metal and wood. If expendable, common materials include wood, hexacomb and corrugated. Wood is the most commonly used material given its performance, cost and existing supplier base.
There are a variety of pallet types commonly used such as a stringer, wing and block style pallet to name a few. The type of pallet needs to be selected that provides the features required for your specific product size, weight and supply chain. Selecting the incorrect pallet type can result in wasted money, product/packaging damage.
There are standard and custom pallet sizes. The standard sizes vary based on location. The standard size in the US is a 48”x40” platform. With that being said, the 48”x40” platform is not always the correct size depending on variables such as supply chain and size of packaging. Having the incorrect pallet size not only potentially increases the pallet cost but also costs associated with freight and damage.
Interested in learning more if your pallets are optimized to your packaging and supply chain? Click the below link to learn more about what BoldtSmith Packaging does!
Expendable or Returnable
The first variable to explore when selecting a pallet is whether it should be an expendable or returnable solution. A returnable pallet is most often used in a closed loop supply chain. For example, an automobile company is receiving headlights from a local manufacturer on a dedicated truck. In this scenario, a returnable pallet is a solution that should be explored.
On the other hand, if a manufacturer is shipping their finished goods from China to the United States on an ocean container and LTL once it arrives domestically, a returnable solution likely will not be applicable.
To reference the earlier example for a product manufacturer shipping product from China to the US, fitting the most amount of product into the ocean container is critical. The average height of a pallet is 5” and when double stacked into the ocean container, that is 10” of air being shipped. Popular alternatives to pallets include floor loading and slip-sheets. Both alternative methods require modified unloading techniques when received domestically. Does it make financial sense to eliminate pallets for oversea shipments? Potentially, a financial analysis needs to be completed to allow for the data to provide the evidence needed to determine the best method of unitizing the product.
It’s so critical when selecting the pallet type, material and size to consider the entire packaging system. The referenced packaging system includes the packaging going on the pallet, method of securing product to pallet, storage methods (racking vs stacking), etc. For example, what package is being put on the pallet? If an engine is going on the pallet, plastic banding would be a reasonable material to use to secure the product to the pallet. If box goods are going on the pallet, stretch film may be a better material used to tie the product to the pallet.
What Does BoldtSmith Packaging do?
BoldtSmith Packaging Consultants is a recognized leader in packaging design, testing and optimization for retail and e-commerce packaging, shipping crates and displays. We do not manufacture or broker packaging, we sell a service filling in as a temporary packaging engineer for companies requiring specialized packaging expertise. Click here to learn more about BoldtSmith Packaging and the services that we offer.