The pallet may seem like a simple, inconspicuous object, but, since its introduction in the twentieth century, the pallet revolutionized the way goods were shipped. The use of pallets has dramatically supplanted older forms of crating, like the wooden box and the wooden barrel, as it works well with modern packaging like cardboard boxes, corrugated boxes, and intermodal containers, commonly used for bulk shipping.
For an invisible object, they are everywhere: There are said to be billions circulating through the global supply chain, with two billion in the United States alone. Some 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. So widespread is their use that they account for, according to one estimate, more than 46 percent of total U.S. hardwood lumber production.
Needless to say, they are a critical part of the supply chain. They serve as a base for assembling, handling, sorting, storing, and transporting goods as a unit load.
Pallets: The Basics
A pallet is a piece of equipment that facilitates mechanical handling of stacked goods for fork-lift trucks. The flat design structure and openings make it ideal to support goods in a stable fashion. Pallets can be lifted by a variety of machines, including forklifts, pallet jacks, front loaders, work savers, or other jacking devices, or cranes.
Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet, secured with strapping, stretch wrap, or shrink wrap, and shipped. The pallet not only facilities the handling of goods; it also acts as a storage device. If you’ve ever been to Sam’s Club or Costco, then you’ve probably seen pallets line the aisles.
Job specific pallets come in different designs, dimensions, and materials. Most pallets are wooden, but they can also be made of plastic, metal, paper, and recycled materials. Wooden pallets typically consist of three or four stringers that support several deckboards, on top of which goods are placed.
Types of Pallets
Although pallets come in all manner of sizes and configurations, all pallets fall into two very broad categories: “stringer” pallets and “block” pallets.
Stringer pallets, or ‘stringers’, use a frame of three or more parallel pieces of timber material. Stringer pallets inherently are 2-way platforms, meaning they can be fork-handled from opposing ends at the width dimension, though they can have a notch cut into them allowing “four-way” entry, which allows forklifts to lift a stringer pallet from all four directions.
Block pallets, also known as “four-way” pallets, are the stronger counterpart to stringer pallets. Due to block pallet’s design with both parallel and perpendicular stringers, they are used to increase handling efficiency. These pallets are usually heavier, bigger, and more durable than two-way pallets.
There are pros and cons to using either a stringer or block pallet, and it is often hotly debated by many organizations around the world.
No universally accepted standards for pallet dimensions exist. Companies and organizations utilize hundreds of different pallet sizes around the globe. While no single dimensional standard governs pallet production, a few different sizes are widely used. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sanctions six pallet dimensions, as seen in the table below. In a pallet measurement, the first number is the stringer length and the second is the deckboard length.
|Dimensions (W x L) Inches||Region most used in|
|40.00 x 48.00||North America|
|39.37 x 47.24||Europe, Asia|
|45.9 x 45.9||Australia|
|42.00 x 42.00||North America, Europe, Asia|
|43.30 x 43.30||Asia|
|31.50 x 47.24||Europe|
Table credit: Wikipedia
For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the most common measurements in North America. All dimensions mentioned are in inches.
The standard North American pallet, or GMA pallet, has stringers of 48 inches and deckboards of 40 inches. The GMA pallet accounts for about 30% of all new wood pallets produced in the United States. It is most commonly used in the grocery sector but is used by many other industries.
The second most common pallet dimension is 42 x 42, with the square design working to help a load resist tipping. It is mainly used in the telecommunications and paint industries.
Rounding out the top three is the 48 x 48 pallet size, which is widely used to transport shipping barrels and drums.
Pallets are an integral part of global commerce, enabling goods to be moved and stored around the world. While not one standard pallet size exists, there are calls for countries to work together to develop a universal solution. Until that time comes, the wood pallet in 48 x 40 size remains the most common size in North America.