November 2009 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Selecting Pallet Types: One Size Does Not Fit All

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At any given time, nearly 1.5 billion pallets transport products of all shapes and sizes throughout the United States. The majority are wood pallets, which have remained popular with supply chain and logistics managers for decades because they cost less than alternative pallets made of plastic or steel.

Because pallets are used across several diverse industries with varied specifications, it is important for logistics managers to avoid falling into the one-size-fits-all mentality. To ensure they are making the best pallet choice, logistics managers should evaluate whether the alternatives could help improve efficiency and reduce costs for their companies' specific applications.

Having a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each material is critical to choosing the right pallet for the job.

Wood Pallets: Why Knot?

Wood is still the most common pallet material and is used in many open-loop warehouse environments. Following are some characteristics of wood pallets:

  • Low upfront costs: Wood pallets are easily prototyped and relatively inexpensive and quick to build.
  • Continual reordering costs: Because wood is an organic material, it easily splinters and can quickly warp or weaken. These characteristics can significantly increase reordering costs.

Plastic Pallets: Stay Flexible

Eight million plastic pallets are manufactured in the United States annually, comprising nearly two percent of all new pallet production. They are often used in the automotive, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. Here are some advantages of plastic pallets:

  • Absence of contamination: Unlike wood, plastic is not easily contaminated by toxic liquids or other chemicals. Because plastic pallets can be cleaned and disinfected, they save shippers time and costs associated with reordering additional pallets.
  • Weather resistant: Plastic pallets do not absorb moisture, which often leads to mold growth and increases the pallet's total weight.

Steel Pallets: tough stuff

Steel pallets comprise less than one percent of the current pallets in distribution, and are commonly found in the automotive, food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. When considering steel pallets, factor in the following attributes:

  • Lower insurance costs: Because steel is not flammable, and its wood and plastic counterparts can fuel existing fires, using steel pallets can reduce insurance costs.
  • Lower replacement costs: Steel is exceptionally durable and will not break or warp under pressure. This overall durability cuts down on costs, because steel pallets need to be replaced less frequently than wood or plastic pallets.
  • Lower costs associated with large-scale problems: Like plastic, steel pallets require no treatments for bugs or other infestations. Additionally, some chemicals that can burn or penetrate through plastic will not affect steel pallets.

Picking the best solution

Pallets are a large part of today's materials handling operations, so choosing the proper pallet design and material is crucial to any distribution system. Once logistics managers begin strategically choosing pallet types on a case-by-case basis, they'll benefit from reduced expenses and optimized workflow.

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