Pallets are the foundation of any supply chain operation, no matter what product is being shipped or how that product may be transported. Yet, for those unexperienced in logistics management or new to the business of transporting goods, choosing the appropriate pallet for their business may appear as a simple decision between different materials—a significant reason why many retailers choose to utilize Prime’s pallet management services. Although material selection is an ever-important first step in the process, determining your ideal pallet goes far deeper than the wood or plastic surface. Once a fitting pallet material has been selected, the next order of business is determining the design and style best suited to your needs.
Defining Pallet Requirements
For business owners fresh to pallet management, even beginning to determine the requirements and features of their ideal pallet can be challenging. The following is a quick reference for the most important factors to consider when narrowing these down, many of which intermingle:
- Product: What is your product? Does it require any specific accommodations to be properly transported and/or stored, such as temperature control or antibacterial coatings? How much does it weigh? How must it be packaged? How and how long will it be stored?
- Materials: Between wood, plastic, metal, and paper, there is a variety of materials available to construct a pallet. This decision is heavily influenced by product type, load capacity and biohazard avoidance requirements, and desired durability.
- Cost: For most business owners, this is the foremost concern when purchasing pallets. Materials, design, durability— these factors and more influence how much a pallet will cost, both initially and over time. What price point will be agreeable and sustainable for your business?
- Safety: Risk avoidance is always an important factor. Material choice, durability, packaging, product type, and transportation and storage methods may all have significant influence on the amount of risk associated with a particular pallet.
Considerations in Pallet Design
Design dictates the overall construction of the pallet and influences many of its most important aspects, including load capacity, durability, maneuverability, and more. Generally, this choice comes down to two main designs: block and stringer pallets.
America’s most commonly used pallet, the stringer pallet, is named for the stringers from which they are constructed. These beams, running along the center and edges of the pallet between the top and bottom decks, support the pallet’s load and ensure components are appropriately spaced.
From an initial cost perspective, stringer pallets are the more affordable of the two options, requiring fewer materials and having lower transport costs due to their lighter weight.
These advantages come at the cost of durability; generally, these pallets are only able to withstand a few trips through the supply chain, if that, before needing to be repaired or replaced entirely. Moreover, less durable pallets pose a greater risk of injury, with the potential for splintered wood and broken boards. Yet, their customizable nature makes them an attractive option when a particular size is needed to fit needs or standards. Stringer pallets are most used in the transport of groceries and consumer goods.
Sometimes known as deck board pallets, block pallets are known for the cylindrical, rectangular, or square spacers that separate the top and bottom decks. Most typical block pallets feature nine of these supports distributed throughout the pallet, providing far greater stability than a standard stringer. Utilizing heavy-duty screws and/or nails as well as more and sturdier wood, these pallets are also degrees more durable than stringer pallets, often enduring as many as twenty trips in their lifecycle. This construction means that block pallets cost more initially, and their increased weight results in higher transportation costs. However, these costs may balance depending on your product and specific supply chain; block pallets are especially suited to circular supply chains, in which pallets are used continuously within a closed loop. Additionally, their increased durability lowers the risk of broken boards, loosened fasteners, and other structural failures that pose opportunities for product damage and, more importantly, safety hazards that may result in injury. Their sturdy design makes them a solid choice when transporting particularly heavy loads such as canned goods.
When utilizing wood pallets, one often overlooked facet of design is the type of fastener used, whether they be screws, nails, or staples. Fasteners are important not only in the pallet’s durability and weight performance but can also have serious impact on safety when handling. What decides the appropriate fastener choice is the type of density of wood being used. Often, this is dictated by the base design of the pallet itself— stringer pallets are often made of softwood, while block pallets use hardwood. Thus, block pallets cannot be supported by staples and may perform poorly with screws and bolts. Meanwhile, utilizing nails in softwood stringer pallets presents the possibility of damage to the pallet or splintering of wood.
In both cases, improper fastener choice not only results in lost revenue, but jeopardizes the safety of staff handling the pallets in transit as well, something our pallet management service takes into account when improving efficiency in your supply chain.
Styles: Entry Points and Decks
Design is closely tied to the style of pallet you may select— particularly regarding entry points. Pallets may have two or four points of entry for forklifts and other transport tools, dependent on their construction. Because two-way pallets have fewer openings, they are generally more stable than four-ways and may support larger loads.
They are also cheaper than their four-way counterparts, requiring less wood for construction. That said, four-ways feature varying types of bottom decks, some of which offer even greater durability and strength than two-ways. Block pallets always have four entry points. Standard stringer pallets have two but may be notched to have four. What makes entry points an important aspect of pallet architecture is maneuverability and versatility; four entry points open a variety of possible storage methods that may be impossible with only two and are better suited for maximizing capacity in smaller spaces.
Deck styles are another important aspect to consider, referring to how the top and bottom surfaces of a pallet are constructed. Open deck pallets are the most recognizable, comprising of several deckboards which run perpendicular to the inner supports, with gaps separating each board. Solid decks, meanwhile, utilize a single, continuous piece of material to form a deck without openings of any kind. Product type is often the deciding factor in regard to deck style. Smaller products, such as cosmetics, may slip through the cracks of an open deck and thus are best transported on a solid deck. Solid decks are also more appropriate for products that require particular hygienic standards, as they are far easier to sanitize than open decks. Yet, durability and cost are always important considerations. While solid decks are easier to repair than open gap, they are often heavier and more expensive than their counterpart.
Further Deciding Factors
One aspect worth noting is that material choice has little to no impact on what design or style can be used. Pallets of any style or design can be constructed from the material that best serves your needs, and different materials may in some cases offer a different or more diverse set of constructions to choose from. At Prime360, we always suggest the best and most appropriate pallet selection for our customer’s needs, no matter the material or design chosen.
That said, wood continues to be the most commonly used material in North America, owing largely to two key factors. First, wood pallets are highly customizable, with programs like the Pallet Design System (PDS) allowing customers to design wood pallets for their specific requirements, down to the most minute detail. Second, wood is extremely environmentally friendly, arguably the most sustainable of material choices. Not only are wood pallets easily repaired and reused, they have numerous methods of recycling and repurposing that have nearly eradicated their presence in landfills.
Of all material types, wood requires the least amount of energy to produce, translating to huge reductions in carbon emissions.
Although cost, durability, load capacity, and products being transported are all obvious and crucial factors to consider when selecting pallet designs and styles, it is equally important to consider the standards within your industry and the countries in which your business operates. Generally speaking, different industries have precedents and, in some cases, regulations set which dictate the type of pallet that may be used. For example, an industry may require that block pallets be used to conform with particular transportation methods. Meanwhile, although stringer pallets are the most used design in the United States, this is not the case internationally. In fact, most other countries consider block pallets the standard. If products are being shipped overseas, pallets must conform to the standards of their destination countries, whether they be in style, design, or size requirements. Hence, examining every facet of your supply chain operation is a necessary step to selecting the perfect pallet for your needs.
Prime 360’s Pallet Management Services
Who would have thought so much consideration went into your humble pallet? Prime 360 is a national leader in offering sustainable pallet solutions. The pallet is the barest element of a supply chain’s efficiency, and so putting the proper investment into making your supply chain run at optimal efficiency relies on optimizing the use of your existing pallets.
Prime 360’s Total Pallet Management is a comprehensive solution to retailers who are looking to:
- Optimize their workflow
- Make the most of their warehouse space
- Improve efficiency and safety
- Optimize labor while improving safety through maintaining pallet integrity
And much more!
Contact Prime 360 today to consult with our supply chain experts who can help you improve your operational efficiency and bolster revenue.
We look forward to speaking with you soon.