Most people have seen, or are aware of, pallets. They have been used for decades in the logistics industry to move goods and raw materials around the world and although they are basically something that you put other things on top of, there is more to them than might be suspected.
At first glance a pallet is created by nailing bits of wood together to create a rectangular shaped platform, for use as its primary function to move goods by forklift into storage or on to a truck for onward transport. It is surprising to learn that there is a whole nomenclature that is pallet related and covers different aspects of a pallet’s construction and configuration. For instance the top surface of the pallet is known as the deck, made up of slats of wood (deckboards) and the distance between the slats is known as the deck spacing. It might be argued that this is as interesting as watching paint dry but, if the slats of wood are not of the right thickness or the deck spacing is too wide the pallet may not be strong enough for the load it is required to take. Another abstruse term used in the pallet world is the bearer, the piece of wood that supports the deck and provides the clearance for fork lift entry. The height and thickness of the bearer varies according to the duty required of the pallet.
So it goes on with the constituent parts of a pallet, some may be mounted on blocks with wide deck space for lighter loads and on some the deckboards may have no space between slats to give a solid foundation. Transport and storage costs are an important factor in any businesses balance sheet and the pallet needs to be sized appropriately for the goods it is carrying. It would not be sensible to use a heavy, and therefore expensive, pallet to carry a light load and equally it would be inadvisable to use an insubstantial pallet to carry a weighty cargo. The pallet industry looks to find the optimum sized pallet for its customers, one which can perform its duty without being oversized and therefore adding to the cost of transport. As one might expect in the 21st Century computer software has been developed to bring the appliance of science to a seemingly simple, but ultimately quite complex problem.
The Pallet Design System calculates the size and configuration of a pallet to carry a specific load and it will even offer choices between different wood species to enable the best pallet design to be determined. The system also produces drawings, both 2 dimensional and 3D to show all the dimensions and construction of the pallet to enable it to be manufactured. Before this system was designed, if a stronger pallet was required then the obvious answer was use more wood but using the pallet design software it is possible that by reconfiguring the pallet, it can be made stronger without necessarily being made heavier and therefore more expensive.
The pallet is a ubiquitous part of the transport industry, but simple it isn’t. As businesses search for more and more ways to control costs the spotlight has fallen on the logistics industry and now sophisticated computer programs are used to design and build the humble pallet. Next time you see one, you will see that there is more to it than planks of timber nailed together.