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Today I Learned-Wood Stringer Pallets-Part 1

For those in the wood pallet industry, pallet types, pallet parts, and vocabulary are second nature. The terms and topics are a part of doing business everyday.

For those outside of the pallet industry that may be tasked with buying pallets, these terms and topics can be difficult to understand or there may be some gaps in understanding.

So today, we at Nature’s Packaging want to help you (the pallet buyer) with a short and simple guide about the most common wood stringer pallet in the supply chain and some of the terminology around it, the 48×40 wooden stringer pallet (shown above as the featured image).

The 48×40 Wooden Stringer Pallet

While there a certainly a whole range of wood pallets sizes in the the supply chain, the standard 48″x40″ wood pallet is by far the most common and utilized for transporting goods. The 48″x40″ is also sometimes called a “GMA” pallet. GMA stands for, “Grocery Manufacturers Association” and the GMA pallet is a guideline developed by that association to help streamline transportation of products within the food industry.

As seen in the image above, the standard 48″x40″ pallet is usually composed of a few different components:

  • stringers
  • deck-boards
  • fasteners (nails)

Stringers – also known as “runners”, are a continuous length-wise beam component that acts as support for deckboards and allows the deckboards to be spaced apart according to the needs of the pallet user. On a typical 48×40 pallet you will find 3 stringers spaced evenly apart with a center stringer and two at the edges.

Notice the notches in the stringers in the image above. A standard 48×40 stringer pallet is also known as partial 4-way pallet. This means that a forklift or pallet jack can enter from the front or back of the pallet to move the load, but only a forklift can lift a 48×40 pallet by coming in from the side using the notches. Most pallet jacks will not fit in the space.

Deck-boards – wooden components typically nailed perpendicular across the top and bottom of the pallet to the stringers. Deck-boards are spaced according to the needs of the pallet user and their unit load. The top and bottom deck-boards that sit on the front and back edge are commonly known as the lead boards and the others are the interior deck-boards. Typical configurations for the number of top and bottom deckboards on a 48″x40″ pallet are 7 top deck-boards and 5 bottom deck-boards. Many times you will find the lead boards are wider than the interior deck-boards, this aids in stability and can help lower the repair rate due to forklifts running into the edge frequently.

Sometimes the bottom deck-boards will be “chamfered”, this a beveled cut along part or the full width of the deck-board to help with the passage of the pallet jack forks into the pallet.

Fasteners – or “nails” are almost always threaded, rather than a common nail used in carpentry, as the threading will help with the pallet durability and strength. Usually 2-3 nails are used per deckboard to secure it to the stringer. Here is a sample below for better understanding.

Fasteners or nails

Pallet Size

When discussing a wood stringer pallet with your supplier, the pallet length and width are based on the stringer length and deck-board width respectively. So a 48″x40″ stringer pallet has 48″ length stringers at full length and 40″ deck-boards across. Pallet size for a stringer pallet ALWAYS starts with the stringer length. Remember that.

Pallet Build Types

A 48×40 wood pallet can be built several different ways. What this refers to is the components used for building the pallet. The following are different build types:

  • New
  • Combo
  • Remand
  • Recycled

New – A wood pallet built with all new components

Combo – A wood pallet built with a combination of new and recycled components. Typically the stringers would be new and the deck-boards would be recycled. Often a more cost effective alternative to completely new pallets.

Remand – A wood pallet “re-manufactured” from recycled components entirely (except for the nails used). Often, these will be a smaller size than a 48×40 pallet as the components are recycled from the larger pallet size. 36×36 pallets are a common size for remand pallet.

Recycled – A wood pallet that has components repaired so that it can be re-used. Typically, this will be some number of damaged deck-board components that are removed and a “new” recycled deck-board is nailed back into place. There can also be a companion stringer, otherwise known as a “plug” or “crutch” that is nailed alongside the interior of a stringer to act as support when the original stringer is cracked or partially broken.

Wood pallets have a 95% recycle rate which makes the industry one of the most environmentally friendly in the supply chain services. We at Nature’s Packaging hope that this quick guide will help you when making decisions to purchase pallets. Always work with your pallet services provider to help you find the solution to your pallet needs.

 

*The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association has an excellent resource library that contains documents like the Uniform Standard for Wooden Pallets that provide an in-depth review of  the subject matter. Please use the links to visit the library and learn more.

 

Small Pallets Can Carry Huge Benefits

When it comes to the efficient handling of pallets, it makes sense that bigger should be better. Why move 100 cartons at a time when you can do 125? A larger pallet translates into more productive forklift handling. In the case of pallet selection, however, other factors can skew decision-makers toward smaller footprint pallets.

What is a Pallet Footprint?

To take a step back, the footprint of a pallet refers to its length and width. The pallet’s length is determined by the length of the stringer, or in the case of a block pallet, the length of the stringer board. The width of a pallet refers to the deck board length.

For a 48×40” stringer pallet, for example, the stringers are 48,” and the deck boards are 40”. In a 48×40” block pallet, the stringer boards, which lie between the deck boards and the blocks, are 48” and the deck boards are 40”.

What is a Fractional Pallet?

Small pallets can be fractional pallets such as half pallets and quarter pallets. They are fractional in the sense that they combine to become the equivalent of a full-size pallet. In North America, where the most popular pallet size is 48×40”, a half pallet is typically half of that measure.

To envision a half pallet, think of a full pallet that has been cut in half – either to 48×20” or 24×40”. Likewise, a quarter pallet is often 24×20” or 20×24”.  Because fractional pallets can be combined to fill a standard pallet footprint, they readily integrate into supply chain transport and handling systems designed for standard full-size pallets.

What are the Benefits of Small Pallets?

Less touch labor at the warehouse and at retail. Half and quarter pallets permit the benefits of unit load shipping in smaller order quantities. Unit load shipment from a distribution center to the retailer translates into less touch labor for order pickers, resulting in improved productivity. Likewise, where the small pallet is displayed on the floor or positioned in-aisle, retail stocking activities can be largely eliminated.

Less product damages. According to one study, 80% of product damage in the FMCG supply chain takes place between the distribution center and retail. Because half or quarter pallet displays remain intact until they arrive at retail, the product damage associated with case picking, stacking and shelf stocking activities is avoided.

Sales boost on the retail floor. Evidence suggests that shoppers are drawn to floor displays, and as a result, they help boost sales. Small pallets can further enhance sales enabling more SKUs to be available to shoppers. Because small pallets take up less space, it is possible to increase the number of displays at a given time. Smaller pallets are also more shopper-friendly, eliminating the need to stretch across a full-size pallet to grab an item.

Easier navigation for shoppers and material handlers. Small pallets are better suited for delivering product through narrow doorways or in and out of backroom coolers with small openings. For deliveries to convenience stores, for example, the use of small pallets has been found to help reduce driver time at each stop. Small pallets also provide retailers with the opportunity to create displays that take up less space and therefore are more pedestrian-friendly.

Where they better fit product requirements. Small pallets also provide value where they conform to a particular product being shipped, thereby avoiding pallet underhang and wasted space (the product not utilizing the complete deck of the pallet).

More facings at the warehouse or assembly line. Because small pallets are not as wide as full pallets, more pallet facings can be created in the same distance, thus reducing travel time for assemblers.

What are the Disadvantages of Small Pallets?

Smaller payload. As mentioned above, half pallets hold only half as much product as full-size pallets. As a result, twice as many pallets are required, and twice as many unit loads must be handled to deal with the same amount of product.

Small pallets can add complexity. Small footprint unit loads can also pose challenges for material handlers. Some configurations may be more unstable than full pallets, requiring attention to mobile equipment operator training. Once emptied, small pallets must be sorted for return or otherwise recycled. Small pallets, especially non-fractional sizes, may be less desirable to pallet recyclers.

Benefits of small pallets aren’t applicable. While small pallets are becoming increasingly popular for retail display, they may not be applicable for many other supply chains.

The bottom line is that in some applications, such as retail, small pallet displays are helping retailers to boost sales and reduce stocking labor. No matter what size of pallet best meets your needs now or in the future, however, the good news is that pallet manufacturers can readily fabricate wood to produce the optimal size for your supply chain.

Santa Claus driving a forklift

Four Essential Tips to Manage Pallets During this Holiday Season

Santa and his helpers always practice safe pallet handling

It is definitely not the season to be jolly if your supply chain grinds to a halt for lack of pallets. If the order picking crews are scrambling to find pallets to build orders, then shipments can quickly get delayed and complicate the delivery schedule. Here are four essential tips for making sure that customers are happy and workers stay safe throughout the holiday season.

Plan ahead for the need

Based on previous experience and projections, make sure to have the pallets on hand needed to fulfill orders. This year (2020) presents a unique challenge in projecting demand, so it makes sense to be nimble in terms of finetuning pallet requirements. Clear communication and an ongoing dialogue with your pallet suppliers are critical.

A best practice tip is to have the supplier hold an inventory of ready-to-ship pallets, so they will available when you need them. Do not be left in a position where you run out of pallets and must start cold calling pallet vendors for an emergency delivery.

Train the seasonal workers

Peak season volumes and seasonal employee support go hand and hand. By taking the time to train new team members in safe manual pallet handling and the efficient forklift handling of pallets, you can reduce the risk of injury and damage to products and pallets alike.

Remember other seasonal team members who make pallet-related decisions, such as new delivery drivers and temps hired to sort pallets. Do they have the necessary knowledge to ensure that damaged pallets are consistently removed from use and that drivers fulfill their responsibility regarding empty pallet return or other duties related to pallet management?

Don’t neglect to bring pallets back

When logistics systems reach peak and delivery driver capacity is stretched to the limit, one shortcut that companies take is to delay bringing back distribution residuals such as cardboard, reusable trays, and, of course, empty pallets. With trucks focused on keeping up with outbound shipments, retail locations are faced with stockpiling pallet accumulations either in the back room or in the parking lot.

Unwanted buildups of pallets can impede store operations and result in those pallets not being returned to the warehouse, where they might be urgently needed. Also, consider that the unprotected outdoor storage of pallets and reusable packaging at retail dramatically increases the risk of pallet theft.

Consider outsourcing to your pallet provider

It can be a scenario of all hands on deck for retail distribution during the holiday season. With labor urgently needed for filling and delivering orders, roles such as pallet sorting are often viewed as secondary. Unsorted stacks of pallets can back up in warehouse corners or fill up trailers desperately needed for outbound shipments.

The other alternative, the introduction of unsorted pallets into your system, can result in other inefficiencies. And as mentioned above, driver and road equipment limitations can impede your reverse logistics process.

Retailers can avoid this seasonal strain by working with their pallet company partners to provide pickup of pallets and other distribution residuals. The result is pallet and residual processing capacity that does not strain your labor availability and provides ‘ready to go’ pallets as needed for the distribution center.

When it comes to the holiday season and pallets, it can be a time of extremes – too few for order picking or too many to return and sort. Attention to planning, training, and pallet supplier coordination can make a big difference.

Workplace Safety and Wood Pallet Handling

Companies recognize the importance of wood pallets and the imperative for working safely around them. With 80% of U.S. commerce transported under pallets, their role is crucial in warehouse and supply chain operations. While each workplace will have a unique risk profile that will ultimately inform its approach to working safely with pallets, it is essential to consider worker interactions with pallets in health & safety programs. In this post, we look at safe work practices regarding the handling of wood pallets and working in their proximity.

Pallet safety in operational health and safety programs

The Ontario Province Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) recommends that companies incorporate a pallet safety program, including pallet inspection, removing damaged pallets from use, and properly handling and storing pallets. Consider the best practices listed below when incorporating pallet safety into your organization’s health & safety approach:

  • Train supervisors and workers on all safe practices and procedures – Workers who handle pallets and work around them are exposed to strains and sprains, cuts and abrasions, as well as other risks. Employees can minimize risk by exercising best practices, introduced through training, and reinforced daily by effective supervision.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – Glove and safety shoe usage are often a requirement for personnel who handle wood pallets. Gloves protect against cuts and puncture wounds, while safety shoes guard against the impact of a dropped pallet or stepping on a protruding nail from a broken pallet.
  • Implement a process to identify and remove damaged pallets from service, and restock loads on undamaged pallets – WSPS stresses the importance of establishing a routine of inspecting pallets and removing damaged ones from service for return to your pallet provider. Without a formal process for removing damaged pallets, they can easily get mixed up and find their way back into service. The use of broken pallets can increase injury risk to workers.
  • Eliminate trip & fall hazards: pallets in pedestrian walkways and pallet debris – Avoid setting pallets in pedestrian walkways, even temporarily, where they can result in trip & fall hazards. Also, clear wood pallet debris from the floor as frequently as needed to minimize the risk of twisted ankles or falls. In the warehouse, dock locations and order picker start and staging points often generate the most debris.
  • Eliminate trip & fall hazards: walking on top of pallets and between them – You can lose balance and fall when walking on the top deck of wood pallets and between closely placed pallets. Engineering your process to eliminate the need to walk on pallets or between them can pay dividends. A straightforward way to eliminate the need to step onto a pallet deck to reach a box at the far end of it is through using a picking hook to extend the warehouse worker’s reach.
  • Utilize a team lift approach to manually handling heavier, larger pallets – While mechanized solutions such as the forklift or pallet dispenser are generally preferred for lifting or positioning pallets, manual handling is a fact of life in many warehouses. Facilities may encourage a team lift of empty pallets by two employees, particularly for heavier or large pallets. When lifting a pallet solo, keeping it in proximity to the torso helps to maintain a close center of gravity.
  • Never use pallets as a lift platform – Only use approved, engineered lift platforms for elevating workers, and only after having received and signed off on necessary training. Pallets are engineered to support uniformly distributed loads, not people. A pallet should never be used as a man lift.
  • Never Stand Empty Pallets on End – While it might seem convenient, avoid resting empty pallets standing on end. Pallets standing on end are highly unstable. If they tip, they can cause lower-body injuries.

Ultimately, wood pallets are a crucial component in the safe and efficient function of warehouses and supply chains. Take time to understand the hazards and exercise best practices. Make wood pallet safety a part of your health & safety conversation.

The Peculiar Pricing of Wood Pallets

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

In explaining why wood pallet prices vary, let us look at gas prices as a comparison. Consumers reluctantly accept the upward and downward shifts in prices paid at the gas pump. People understand that gas prices are largely dependent upon the price of crude oil, and so changes in the cost of crude are quickly reflected in the retail price of gasoline. Wood pallets are similar in that much of their cost is also related to another commodity – timber.

Consider that as much as 65% of the cost of a new pallet is directly related to the wood and fasteners used to build it. And given that pallet industry margins are generally very low, it is hard to avoid passing along cost increases. As such, pallet prices are extremely sensitive to the cost of material inputs. Other factors can influence wood pallet prices, including supply and demand, weather, government policies, and more.

Regional Variability for new wood pallets

National pallet buyers quickly come to understand that pallet prices vary across North America. Chances are that the price you pay for a new wooden 48×40 pallet will be different in Arkansas than in East Texas. Variables such as lumber, labor, and real estate availability all play a role.

A quick scan of a recent pallet market report revealed more than an 8% spread in pricing across the country for a new 48×40 wood pallet. Given that material costs are such an important component of wood pallet prices, it stands to reason that geographic regions enjoying access to cheaper wood will be able to produce pallets at a lower cost than in other areas. Regions with proximity to local timber supply can avoid significant transportation costs.

Regional variability for recycled pallets

As for recycled wood pallets of good usable quality (sometimes known, a recent market report showed that they varied almost 25% from the lowest pricing in New England to the highest in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike new pallets, however, the cost of new lumber is not a primary determinant of price.

The regional availability of recycled wood pallets and the demand for them, shape the market. In strong produce industry markets (read: fruits and vegetables), demand for recycled pallets may be very high. The supply of recycled pallets, however, is in large part generated from the consumption of consumer goods.

In larger metropolitan markets, more recycled pallets are generated. In markets where demand is very high, but where population and pallet generation are low, the price can be expected to be higher. On the flip side, a populous region that creates a lot of recycled pallets, but without a strong local demand, can be expected to experience lower pricing.

Seasons and Weather

Predictable wet seasons and extreme events can impact timber and pallet prices. Seasonal wet weather, or events such as hurricanes, floods, or forest fires, can limit access to timberlands, imposing significant challenges to loggers.

Mill investment and optimization

Pallets are made from low-grade or industrial lumber, which is a byproduct of grade lumber production by sawmills. Mills make more money from grade lumber than industrial, so they try to recover as much grade as they can. New softwood mills, featuring technologies such as computer laser scanning, offer significantly improved grade yield. Even though overall production is increasing in the U.S. South, total industrial lumber generation is declining, thus adversely affecting pallet lumber supply, resulting in higher priced material.

Competing and complementary markets for wood

Increased competition for industrial lumber from other sectors such as rail ties or flooring can also result in higher prices. There can also be complementary effects. Stronger demand for grade lumber and increased production can lead to the generation of more industrial lumber, and thus favorable pricing. Conversely, reduced consumption can lead to less industrial lumber in the market, as was the case after Chinese hardwood tariffs contributed to hardwood production curtailments in the Eastern United States.

External shocks: Policy and Pandemic

2020 provides great examples of how government policies and exogenous shocks can impact lumber supply, and ultimately, wood pallet prices. The UK’s decision to leave the EU demonstrates the influence that policy can have on the pallet market. Departure from the EU will mean that all wood pallets moving between the two markets will be required to be ISPM 15 compliant. Many companies have cautiously chosen to build product and material inventories prior to the effective date, thus resulting in increased short-term demand and higher pallet prices in the face of tight lumber supply internationally.

In North America, as industries such as construction ground to a halt during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many mills curtailed production. By summer, however, construction returned, and the new housing market boomed. Due to the mill closures, lumber availability was tight, resulting in historic high lumber prices in the months that followed, until the supply could catch up.

In the final analysis, a new wood pallet, as a timber-based product, is subject to price fluctuation. The good news is that despite price movements, wood remains the most cost-effective and sustainable material available for pallet construction.

Checklist

Avoid These 6 Mistakes When Buying Wood Pallets

When it comes to buying wood pallets, there are several factors to consider. Modern Materials Handling Magazine’s 2018 annual survey found that purchase price was the most important factor in the selection process for 57% of respondents, although this was down from 59% and 60% in the two preceding years. Other criteria registering high scores included strength, durability, reusability, availability, meeting customer requirements, and cost-per-use. Here are some missteps to avoid.

Relying on outdated wood pallet specifications

Supply chains evolve over time. Companies acquire other companies that have different equipment and processes. Even at existing plants, investments in material handling equipment, evolving product offerings, and a changing customer base may all present new challenges in transporting the unit load on a legacy pallet.

A periodic review of the pallet specification with your pallet supplier can achieve continued unit load optimization, even as the supply chain transforms.

Approved pallet supplier cannot perform a site visit

As a busy pallet buyer, it can seem inconvenient to allow approved bidders on site to review pallet conditions and processes, especially considering COVID-19 precautions. It is an essential part of the process that will pay dividends.

A site visit allows the bidder to accurately capture important information about the pallet application, and in a timely manner. This approach can help expedite the bidding process. A site visit can also help pallet suppliers identify cost savings opportunities or other insights that can provide value to pallet users.

Inflexible on hardwood vs softwood pallet types

In the United States, the West and the South are more commonly associated with softwood, while the East is typically oriented to hardwood production. Pallet specifications can propose either hardwood or softwood in their build.

However, if a new plant begins operations in a different part of the country, or if comparative prices of hardwood and softwood change due to market conditions, it makes sense to revisit the pallet specification with regards to available lumber supply.

When market volatility increases the spread between hardwood and softwood prices, it can make sense to explore pallet redesign options with a pallet supplier.

ISPM-15 Heat treatment and mold on wood pallets

There is a common conception that the heat-treatment required for ISPM 15 compliance will help to prevent the occurrence of mold on pallets.

While heat treatment will initially kill surface mold on pallets, mold can easily re-colonize wood pallets that have a moisture content of more than 19%. A better approach to mold prevention is assuring that pallets arrive in a dry condition from the pallet supplier and that they are kept dry when received and put into storage prior to use.

Overlooking transportation opportunities

Products such as pallets have a relatively low value in comparison to their weight and volume. Such products are referred to as having a low value density.

Given the low value density of pallets, transportation can quickly become a significant portion of pallet cost. At the same time, the number of trucks running empty is significant, estimated at 20% or higher. By working with pallet suppliers to examine carrier and route information, possible synergies can be identified to help reduce costs and transportation miles.

Underestimating the value of customer service

When buying pallets, there is more to consider than price. Do not underweight the importance of customer service. Your company will have expectations about reliable quality and availability, delivery schedule, type of delivery vehicle, whether pallets are banded, and more.

Shortcomings in customer service can result in costly downtime, double handling, and customer dissatisfaction. The result can be increased production and distribution costs, and potentially lost revenue. The direct savings in pallet purchases can become overwhelmed by increases in indirect cost.

The list of false steps mentioned above provides a useful starting point in addressing the blind spots that pallet buyers can encounter. The common thread in these cautions is the importance of keeping an open line of communication with your pallet supplier. Communication and trust are critical to optimizing the purchase of new pallets for your supply chain.

Identifying and Mitigating Mold on Wood Pallets

As we pass through the hot summer months in North America, an increasing number of Nature’s Packaging readers are entering search queries regarding pallet mold. Whether you are a pallet supplier, a pallet user, or even as a hobbyist, there are practical steps that can be taken to prevent or mitigate mold. This blog post provides a quick starting point to better understand the problem of mold on wood pallets and the options for managing it.

What is pallet mold and what are the concerns?

Mold (or mould in other English-speaking countries) is a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments.


Mold filaments

Mold spores are found everywhere in the environment, and they are more likely to colonize wood surfaces that have a moisture content greater than 19%.

On wood pallets, mold may produce pigmented spores on the wood surface. They may appear in various colors, while some might not be visible to the naked eye.

There has been an increasing demand for mold-free wood packaging from the food and pharmaceutical sectors in recent years. The primary concern with mold relates to spore transmission. Airborne spores may land on nearby surfaces, potentially contaminating or growing on nearby materials.

Spores may also colonize other adjacent wood packaging or pallets, thereby increasing the extent of the problem. Secondary health concerns include asthma and toxin production. Like other airborne particles, spores can induce asthma. The more spores that are present, the higher is the risk. As one researcher notes, some mold fungi are also capable of producing toxins, but while high levels of toxins can have health effects, the levels produced by fungi on wood tend to be low.

Not all wood discoloration is a concern

Before flagging or rejecting a pallet for mold, consider that the discoloration you see might be something else. By taking the time to understand the different types of stain that can occur in wood, you can avoid wasting time, money, and potential disruption to your supply chain.

For example, bluestain creates black discoloration but does not cause human health concerns. Additional sources of non-harmful discoloration that might be present on pallets include iron stain, brown stain (or zebra stain), natural weathering, and others. NWPCA has a helpful brochure that can be downloaded at this link.

Mold remediation

Although labor-intensive, a simple solution of water with bleach (10 to 1 ratio) or 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide can remove mold. Scrub or pressure wash clean the affected cants or wood packaging. Proper drying is needed to ensure that the mold does not return.

Mold prevention tips

Mold prevention starts with understanding the recipe that mold requires to flourish. There are four essential ingredients needed. This list includes:

  • oxygen,
  • adequate temperature,
  • a food source (the wood),
  • free or liquid water.

The variable most easily controlled is water. By limiting the exposure of wood pallets to moisture, you can mostly avoid mold problems.

Keep stock fresh and remove moldy material.

At the sawmill or pallet manufacturing plant, one expert advises against storing wet lumber in solid piles for no longer than three days, especially in warm conditions.

Create good airflow to accelerate surface drying, and avoid accumulations of older, moldy material. Such lumber can increase the risk of fungi spreading to freshly milled material.

Unload pallets quickly and protect them from the elements.

Pallet users can benefit by thinking of a trailer full of pallets as an incubator. While logistics professionals often rely on trailers for temporary storage, leaving pallets on trailers during warm weather, even for a brief period, can quickly turn into an unintended science experiment.

Also, avoid staging pallets outside in moist conditions. If pallets do become wet, dry them immediately.

Store pallets in a dry, well-lit, and ventilated location.

Do not store pallets in a far dark corner of your building. Look for a dry area that is well lit and ventilated. For stringer pallets, leave a space on the stringer side of the stacks to ensure good airflow.

For the same reason, orient the end openings in the direction of air movement. Also, elevating pallet stacks at least 6 or 8 inches above the floor helps prevent pallets from coming into contact with water puddles.

Chemical treatment for mold prevention might be an option.

Several registered chemicals can be applied to prevent mold, subject to those treatments being permitted for your application. A dialogue between pallet suppliers, customers and other supply chain stakeholders can pinpoint the best option for a particular use case.

Do not rely on ISPM 15 heat treatment as a preventive measure.

One common misunderstanding is that heat treatment can be an effective course of action to prevent mold. This belief is not valid. The heat treatment of wood packaging is undertaken to kill wood born insects.

While heat treatment can kill surface mold already present during the process, it does not prevent the recolonization of mold after treatment. It is true that when kiln-dried lumber is used for pallets, the low moisture content of the wood does help prevent the colonization of mold, but only if the pallets continue to be kept dry.

The bottom line is that keeping your wood pallets and packaging at 19% moisture content or lower can help prevent mold. Rotating stock, attention to unloading pallets from trailers quickly, ensuring adequate airflow in a well-lit storage location, and removing any moldy material can all help. Consider chemical treatments, if permitted in your supply chain, to increase your level of protection. Attention to keeping pallets dry in your material handling operations can make a critical difference.

warehouse racks with pallets of goods

COVID-19, Supply Chain Trends, and Pallet Selection-What’s Important Now!

warehouse racks with pallets of goods

COVID-19, Supply Chain Trends, and Pallet Selection-What’s Important Now!

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted supply chains and consumer behaviors worldwide. It has heightened the awareness of sanitation and is accelerating shifts involving shopper format preference and palletized handling automation. Here are three changes to consider from the pallet usage perspective.

Sanitized Wood Pallets

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, concern about pallet sanitation and cross-contamination briefly became a talking point during initial concerns about contact surfaces as a means of spreading the infection.

While that conversation has somewhat faded, sanitation remains an ongoing item of interest for savvy shippers. According to the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, the design and maintenance of transportation equipment, including pallets, must “…ensure that it does not cause the food that it transports to become unsafe.”

As such, pallet users should ensure that pallets used for food shipments are clean, dry, and sound.

Wood pallets compare favorably to pallets made from other materials. Recently released research undertaken by Institut für Holztechnologie in Dresden on behalf of the European Pallet Association (EPAL) in Germany compared the microbial properties of wood and plastic pallets. It found that bacteria had a lower survival rate on the wooden surface than on plastic.

The wooden pallets are suitable for use in hygiene sensitive areas, including food processing and transport. As stated in the report, wood has natural antibacterial properties that prevent microorganisms from spreading. It reported that wooden pallets have an antibacterial activity that is more than 13x higher than that of comparable plastic pallets.

Consumer Behavior and Wood Pallets

Consider that in April 2020, online retail sales grew by 120%, accounting for almost 10% of everything sold. COVID-19 has acted to change shopper behavior, with more people moving to online ordering and frequenting smaller footprint retail locations.

Likewise, there has been a significant shift away from the food service sector to online and grocery retail as restaurants struggled with closures during the pandemic. Online shopping and the retail formats favored by customers could influence pallet selection in the future.

Smaller pallets can provide easier handling in the narrow aisles of convenience stores and help speed up delivery. An increase in small format retailing would suggest a greater opportunity for smaller wooden pallets.

However, a decrease in supermarket shopper traffic and more home delivery or curbside pick-up would suggest less demand for display pallets for floor and in-aisle placement. The influx of new technologies, such as automated micro-fulfillment systems at retail, increases the efficiency of ecommerce and will help accelerate this trend. Such a shopper behavior shift could dampen the anticipated growth of half and quarter size pallets, as well as point of sale displays.

Current and future consumer behavior shifts add a layer of uncertainty to optimal pallet selection in the food sector. Wood pallets, which can be easily customized to a specified size, as opposed to plastic pallets that require costly molds, provide much greater flexibility and a much quicker response to possible shifts in the wake of the pandemic.

COVID-19 and Supply Chain Automation

Another area of uncertainty is how the pandemic will influence the uptake of automation. A report from McKinsey suggests that in the short term, COVID-19 has negatively impacted capital investment. Several observers, however, feel that the pandemic will escalate interest in automated solutions.

“Automation that shields workers from sickness while ensuring the delivery of critical goods and services could initially be welcomed by workers and the public at large,” one expert observed recently. He observed that companies that invest in automation are “likely to come out faster – and perhaps stronger – as the economy rebounds.”

Automation can affect pallet requirements. Typically, automation requires a quality-controlled and uniform pallet. Issues such as poor-quality or missing bottom boards, missing or damaged components, and excessive deflection can impact pallet performance in automated systems.

If we do witness a rush to automation, pallets must be considered an element of the project design process. And after installation, a robust quality assurance program will help ensure that wood pallets will continue to perform at a high level.

The pandemic has resulted in several uncertainties for supply chain participants, and changes may impact pallet selection. Luckily, the flexibility offered by wood pallets and the industry’s professionalism will enable operators to keep pace with any shifts in customer demand as we transition into the future.

Recycling and Re-usable products

Combo and Re-manufactured Pallets: A pathway to sustainability and value

Photo by Shirley810–9355

If you haven’t heard about combo and re-manufactured wood pallets, you just might be missing out on an important opportunity. Re-manufactured custom and standard wood pallets can provide great value and enhance the sustainability of your supply chain. They can be more cost effective than new pallets, and provide consistency as well as the opportunity for customization. As circular economy supporters have noted, refurbishing and re-manufacturing existing materials are more sustainable options than end of life recycling. The construction of re-manufactured pallets from recycled components is a green solution that can enhance corporate sustainability performance and improve the bottom line.

Combination pallet (Combo) – a wood pallet that is manufactured from a combination of new and recycled wood components. 

Remanufactured pallet (Remand) – a wood pallet that is manufactured completely from recycled wood components. Some pallet companies use other terminology, so be sure to check with your pallet provider.

Re-manufactured pallets present a new opportunity

Since it’s beginning, the wood pallet recycling industry has been responsive to new ideas and opportunities. It is hard to believe today, but back in the 1980’s many companies did not reuse pallets. As stockpiles of empty used pallets accumulated at plants and warehouses across the country, a light bulb clicked on. Entrepreneurs recognized that they could refurbish and sell them. All it took was customer acceptance that more affordable used pallets could fill their needs. With that buy-in, the recycled pallet market began to boom.

But what happens when wood pallets can no longer be economically repaired? One way that pallet recyclers address this situation is to dismantle them. The usable boards and stringers (components) can be used to repair other pallets. But over time, pallet recyclers found themselves with excess pallet material and not enough recycled pallets to meet all the demand in the marketplace. Then in the 1990s, a few companies began to build combo pallets, a practice that allowed them to best utilize surplus pallet parts. And more recently, re-manufactured pallets have emerged as an outlet for the excess material recovered from unrepairable pallets. The re-manufactured pallet represents a new stage in the evolution of the pallet recycling industry.

What are the advantages of re-manufactured pallets?

As recycled pallets can accumulate from a wide variety of sources, they can vary somewhat in deck board thickness and placement, pallet height and other details. Remanufactured pallets, on the other hand, offer the opportunity for greater consistency. Recyclers typically sort recovered deck boards as “thins” (generally boards ⅜” – ½”) or “thicks” (typically boards 5/8″ – ¾”). Some recyclers also resize recovered stringers to provide uniform height. As a result, re-manufactured wood pallets can provide a more consistent product than recycled.

There are additional benefits. Remanufactured pallets are not limited to standard sizes. Remanufactured pallets can also be built to custom sizes – although they are typically limited to sizes the same or smaller than the recovered material. With remanufacturing, the buyer also has much more control over the specification regarding board count and placement as well as regarding nailing. To be clear, the degree of precision does not match that of new pallets but can be a step up from recycled pallets. 

One of the challenges for re-manufacturing pallets is that it is still often a manual process, with pallets nailed together by workers using nail guns. However, the landscape is changing. Automated nailing equipment designed for re-manufactured pallets is increasingly available, a development that should make them more widely available in the future. 

In the right application, re-manufactured pallets can deliver solid value and a sustainably superior solution. Talk to your pallet provider to see if re-manufactured pallets could be a fit for your supply chain.

recycled pallet stacks

The Sustainable Supply Chain – Forest Products (Part 1)

recycled pallet stacks
“Palletive Care” by tempophage is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As supply chain decision-makers urgently turn their focus toward sustainability, they are looking at opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions through initiatives such as renewable energy, transportation optimization, IoT (internet of Things), and more. But have you considered how wood pallet and packaging recycling can make a difference for your sustainability aspirations?

The funny thing about pallets, like other things in life, is that if you aren’t aware of them, they are easy to overlook. In the United States, there are 2 billion of them hiding in plain sight. If we assume 50 lbs of wood per pallet, that amount translates into 100 billion pounds of wood, which sequesters roughly 45 to 50 billion pounds of carbon. We will return to the CO2 reduction benefits of wood pallet and container reuse and recycling in the next post.

Once people become aware of pallets, however, some folks are surprised to realize that pallets are on the job almost everywhere in supply chains from inbound material at the production plant to supporting unit loads arriving at the retail outlet.

As the National Wood Pallet & Container Association states, “Pallets Move the World®”. According to one report, around 94% of industrial and consumer goods in the United States travel on a pallet at some point in their supply chain journey from producer to distribution location to end customer.

Wood Packaging in the Supply Chain

The MH1-2016 standard defines the pallet as a “portable, horizontal, rigid, composite platform used as (a) base for assembling, storing, stacking, handling and transporting goods as a unit load; often equipped with (a) superstructure.” When products are stacked on top of a pallet, the combination of goods and a pallet is known as a unit load.

The mechanized handling of materials in unit loads offers many benefits versus the manual handling of goods. This practice helps protect sensitive products from damage associated with “touch labor” or manually repositioning each box, for example. The pallet also protects products during interaction with material handling equipment such as forklifts, conveyors, pallet storage racks and automated storage and retrieval systems. Palletized unit loads can be stored more efficiently than unpalletized goods in most storage systems or through the stacking of unit loads. Palletization also dramatically increases the speed of loading and unloading versus floor loaded or unpalletized goods, and through the avoidance of manual handling, improves workplace safety.

Pallets or wood packaging may be used for a single supply chain link or to move goods through multiple links. For example, plywood orchard bins move fresh tree fruit to the packing shed where it is packed and palletized onto a wood pallet. The bin is reused in the orchard, while the pallet is employed for delivery of packaged fruit to a grocery distribution center, and then perhaps as the base for a full unit load or a mixed pallet load assembled for delivery to the retail outlet. In a mainframe computer supply chain, on the other hand, components may arrive palletized, with the sensitive finished product then shipped in a custom wood container to the customer location.

In part 2, we will take a look at the life cycle and recycling of wood packaging and the positive impact that recycling has on carbon emissions.

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