The pallet market has remained static and relatively low-tech for many years, avers Corsten Diekman, MD of George Utz, but that is now beginning to change. What will not change, however, is the need to consider the applications carefully before deciding on the pallet material choice.

chazFor many years the timber pallet has dominated the market but that is beginning to crumble as innovations in composite materials make headway and legislative changes also make life more difficult for timber. In certain industries, like food and drugs, timber pallets would be anathema owing to hygiene issues, and if exporting timber pallets along with their loads they must meet international regulations like ISP15. Timber is also often excluded from automated warehouses owing to many reasons, like dimensional instability, splinters and exposed nails and lack of guaranteed loading capacities. Some automated warehouses have a rejection rate of nearly 30%, posing a costly problem if many thousands of pallets are involved.

So what are these pallet innovations and are certain materials making a comeback? George Utz, well known for its plastic containers, could be making waves next year with the launch of its iPal plastic pallet, its first entry into the pallet market, because of its additional durability, adaptability and green credentials. It will be recyclable and made largely from recycled materials in any choice of colour the buyers want. Tagable, they also offer the choice of steel reinforcement to make them even more stronger.

Another recent innovation that could be a game changer is RM2’s composite Blockpal that offers significant benefits over plastic and wood. It is a multi-trip, heavy duty pallet with a high strength to weight ratio. Resistant to moisture and easy to clean, it is ISP15 exempt and meets UL 2335 standard for fire retardancy. Rack load capacity is 1,540 kg and users can buy them or rent for closed loop operations.

To the uninitiated the thought of using paper pallets might seem a tad laughable but they can be a better choice than wood. They have been around for decades but have made little significant impact on the market. Consider, however, their advantages. Cost wise, they are competitive with timber but very much lighter, bug, splinter and nail-free, and ISPM15 compliant. Suitably treated, they are water-resistant and according to one producer, The Alternative Pallet Company, four of them could support an 8-tonne tractor.

Metal pallets have been around much longer than paper but rarely feature in the news. That, too, could change because PZ Pallets, makers of steel and aluminium pallets, have got their prices significantly lower owing to their unique construction. This means, claims the company, that metal pallets are a cost-effective alternative to timber. Obvious advantages are a much longer life, much greater strength, more hygienic, easily cleaned, bug, water and moisture-free and have a zero fire risk. If aluminium is chosen it can be half the weight of wood. Not least, perhaps, is that they are dimensionally stable and so wellsuited to automated warehouses.

Given the interesting innovations the pallet supplier market now faces the outlook can only favour the buyers.