There's more to these warehouse workhorses than meets the eye. Companies that use pallet systems strategically can reduce transport costs and promote supply chain efficiency.
Pallets aren't glamorous. More often than not, these workhorses of the warehouse are taken for granted, used and abused, dropped, thrown, and cast aside.
Yet pallets play a critical support role in moving many types of goods. They are the glue that connects retailers, distributors, manufacturers, growers, and transportation and logistics service providers across numerous industries. Without pallets, the supply chain could not function.
And while they may represent the lowest cost consideration in the product lifecycle, managing pallet systems effectively can improve efficiencies and economies in a manufacturer's supply chain.
"Pallet type and quality have an enormous impact on many factors, including loading and unloading time, safety, product quality, and cost," says Curt Most, global sales manager for Oconomowoc, Wisc.-based reusable packaging company Orbis Corporation.
Pallets come in several shapes, sizes, and materials. Choosing wisely is critical. The right choice can mean a smoothly running process; the wrong choice can mean a major headache.
"The wrong pallet can translate to distribution and delivery slowdowns," says Most. "In the worst cases, the wrong pallet choice can result in the loss of product and profit."
In some industries, pallet choice simply depends on the end product. For example, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and electronics industries often have specific shipping requirements. In those cases, companies often elect to operate closed-loop pallet networks, pooling equipment that meets their specific needs.
MAKING A SMART CHOICE
For other companies, pallet choice comes down to the storage and retrieval systems a customer employs. Some systems require specific pallets that won't jam warehouse equipment.
In still other cases, end users weigh the pros and cons of different types of pallets to determine the best type for their needs. Wood is the most traditional type of pallet, and remains the most popular. Durable, strong, and well-suited for heavy loads, wood pallets are also less expensive than plastic or aluminum. The downside is they require fumigation and fire-retardant applications for certain shipment types or for international transportation.