Charles-New-GreyThe pros and cons of materials used in pallets, such as wood, plastic, metal, paper and composites have been debated so much that they should be well known but far less well-known are how a change in pallet usage through adoption of different designs can seriously cut both freight and handling costs.

Businesses may also be losing out over their reluctance to use pallet pools or closed loop systems, the main barrier to entry being the fact that change is required and there is reluctance to introduce new processes, says Jim Hardisty, MD of Goplasticpallets, who have helped different businesses improve supply chain efficiencies by using plastic pallets in a closed loop system.

As an example, he cites a UK maker of bulky furniture receiving unpalletised goods from its Chinese supplier in 30 sea containers per day which required two shifts of 30 personnel to unload and palletise goods to be stored in their 50,000 pallet positions racking system. To improve savings in both labour and time, Goplasticpallets trialled sending plastic rackable pallets to China where the goods were palletised before being shipped to Britain. Despite the added cost of shipping pallets to China and a small reduction in container fill these cost points were far outweighed by the fall in 30 unloading/storage operators to just five.

There are, however, other means of cutting freight costs that have existed for decades but which seem underused. Shippers from overseas are not avid users of the slip sheet, a slim, tough plastic sheet that would save considerable weight and cost compared with wood or plastic pallets and allow more storage in sea containers. There would need to be investment at both ends of the shipping line in a forklift slip sheet attachment and pallet inverter but the elimination of freight pallets would quickly recoup the costs. Another palletless system is the Moellers shrinkwrap system suited to sacked materials which allows two voids at the base of the load to take a lift truck’s forks.

Supply chain efficiencies can also be enhanced when pallet pools operators like Chep listen to their customers and come up with new designs, a recent example being Chep Automotive and Industrial Solutions’ foldable large container (FLC) with a 1200mm x 1000mm footprint. Its enhanced folding ratio saves up to 30% space when empty, and by raising load capacity from 500 kg to 650 kg it means that there will be fewer trucks on the road, saving costs and cutting CO2 emissions. The FLC’s large drop down doors improve access, creating operational efficiencies designed for single operator use. Lidded, the new FLC is RFID tagged to allow tracking throughout the supply chain.

The traditional stalwarts of the pallet world, wood and plastic, may be in for interesting times, as the old Chinese curse goes, as newcomers enter the field with composite materials. Last year, for example, RM2 entered the arena with their composite, multi-trip, heavy duty Blockpal that offers big advantages over wood and plastic.

Resistant to moisture and easy to clean, it is ISP15 exempt and meets the UL 2335 standard for fire retardantcy. Users can buy them or rent for closed loop operations.

Judged by the Alternative Pallet Company’s impressive growth in recent years, corrugated paper pallets could also shake up the market. On a par with timber pallet prices, they are very much lighter, bug, splinter and nail-free and ISPM15 compliant. Prices of metal pallets are also coming down to match timber prices, but over the long-term they are very much cheaper because of their far greater longevity.

With such a growing choice in pallet materials and designs, the future for pallet users can only improve.