It is impossible to think of high-volume logistics without one of the most universal tools that make pallet tracking and accurate shipping possible.
Made from planks of wood with a smooth level surface, wooden pallets have been widely used in logistics for well over a century and became ubiquitous around the same time the forklift truck and the shipping container did.
The vast majority are made from a mix of hard and soft woods of sufficient quality for a luthier to make a guitar from, but despite most people’s assumptions that wooden pallets are as standardised and uniform as other parts of the logistic process, this is not always the case.
Unlike shipping containers which have an ISO standard, there are no universally accepted standards for the dimensions of pallets nor even a universal material that should be used.
Why Are Pallets Not Standardised?
There are hundreds of different pallet standards that are used in the world, with only three coming close to being a universal standard.
There are the six ISO dimensions standards, as well as the North American Grocery Manufacturers Association Pallet standards, the UIC European standards or Euro-pallet, as well as the rarely used outside of Oceania Australian standard pallets.
The simple reason why there are so many different standards is that the more national standards are designed around the particular needs a country’s logistic systems have and typically account for different measurement systems.
The Australian pallet, for example, is designed to fit in Australian Railway containers perfectly and many logistics companies are reluctant to change from it because alternative standards leave more space.
Similarly, the EUR 1 Pallet, which is one of the dimensions recognised by the ISO standards, is designed to fit through smaller door frames and be compatible with forklifts and pallet jacks across the continent.
Pallets need to pass through doorways, fit in standard containers and make the various supply chain jobs as easy as possible, which means that unless the industry changes in such a way that the cost of a universal switch is more beneficial than adjusting to slight changes, pallets will continue to be different sizes
Why Would You Not Use A Wooden Pallet?
Wooden pallets are ideal for use in logistics because they are relatively cheap, easily reused in the case of hardwood pallets and recycled in the case of softwood ones.
However, there are a lot of other materials that are used in pallets, albeit often with specialised purposes in mind.
The second most common material for pallets is plastic, typically made from recycled plastic bottles. In instances where corrosion or contamination is a worry, plastic pallets are more commonly used because they are far easier to sanitise and are exempt from biosafety inspections.
However because they cost ten times the cost of a hardwood pallet, typically they will be constantly reused, often over a hundred times.
Paper pallets made from corrugated cardboard are sometimes used when easy recycling is the most important factor, particularly as improved construction techniques have made them increasingly viable for heavier loads.
Finally, steel pallets are used for long-term dry storage as well as closed-loop logistics, and can carry much heavier and higher stacking loads due to their intense durability and weight capacity compared to wood.
However, because they cost so much more than wood, there needs to be a specific use to justify them.