It’s easy to take the humble pallet for granted, but as we celebrate 75 years after D Day we should remember pallets played a major part in helping the Allies win the War, allowing unit loads to be moved by machine and significantly reducing the requirement for manual labour at the docks and releasing more men for military service abroad.
As James Brindley writes in his excellent book “A History of Automated Handling,”** pallets and engine-powered counterbalance trucks were used during our supply agreements with America to load vast quantities of goods on wagons then onto ships for transportation to Britain. When America entered the War, they used pallets extensively to supply their own troops in the Pacific war zones. With the D-Day landings and after, pallet usage stepped up further and after the war pallets and forklifts were the heroes of the rebuilding of the economies of the free world.
Today there is a broad choice of pallets on the market to suit every need. Timber pallets are the most commonly used pallets today, many of them made from solid timber gained from sustainable sources. Presswood pallets are nestable, making them cheaper to transport and easier to handle than timber ones. Made from reclaimed and recycled wood, they are durable and reusable, but cost effective enough to be disposable if damaged. Plastic pallets are reusable, long-lasting and durable. Their low unladen weight means they are cheaper to transport and they also nest to help save storage space. Lastly, pallet boxes combine the functionality of pallets and containers.
The other part of the pallet story is the rise of the pallet pools. The CHEP story begins in Australia after World War II, when the US Army left behind a wealth of materials handling equipment at their military bases. The Australian government combined this asset base with their existing infrastructure to form the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, or ‘CHEP.’ After Brambles bought CHEP in 1958, the business experienced rapid growth and, within a few years, was operating the largest pool of pallets and containers in the Southern Hemisphere and the largest hiring fleet of forklift trucks in Australia. CHEP is now Europe’s widest collection network and biggest, quality-assured equipment pool with over 120 million pallets and 220 service centres across Europe.
Finally, going back to 1944, it was also the year UKWA started, when the British warehousing companies formed a Committee to discuss the storage and distribution of food and materials in wartime Britain. UKWA has moved on since then, and so have pallets. At the recent UKWA Awards lunch, the Innovation Award went to a new development in pallet technology. PIX is a paperbased shelving and storage system from PALLITE, the Northamptonshire transit packaging experts. PIX is a range of lightweight, yet strong storage and shelving systems made from 100% recyclable materials, designed to consolidate pick-faces and free up warehouse space. Combining multiple pick-faces into one single pallet footprint, PALLITE PIX increases pick efficiency by reducing pick times and walk sequences. It will be interesting to see where this technology goes next.
**James Brindley’s “A History of Automated Handling” is available from the author c/o firstname.lastname@example.org