Pallets move the world, proclaims Mark White, a professor at Virginia Tech University and a director of the schools associated pallet and container research laboratory. Almost every object in the world has, at some point, been carried or transported via this simple combination of wooden planks and beams, usually in conjunction with a pallet truck. Pallets are the most basic of inventions but they’ve stood the test of time and are still used in countless factories, warehouses, freight companies, building sites and an innumerable amount of industries across the globe.
Arguably as important to the idea of globalisation as shipping containers, the humble pallet is said to carry up to 80% of all US commerce, with similar figures across the rest of the industrial world. The raw and basic design was so revolutionary, it even inspired alterations to existing products to ensure they would function with a pallet: Ikea redesigned their ‘Bang’ mug three times to ensure that it would be possible to fit more of their final product to a pallet, thus lowering transportation costs.
Pallets haven’t come without their issues to overcome; pallet overhang (which reduces carton strength), pallet gaps (creating too much space between the boards) and pallet cube optimisation are all subjects which have been heavily researched in order to get the very best out of the lifting and transportation aids. The question of how to efficiently stack pallets to fit the most into a box, container or truck has been a common one for businesses for decades.
Nowadays, many businesses have learned how to get the best out of their pallets and have utilised fleets of pallet trucks and lifting aids to guarantee they are using the simple wooden resources to their full advantage. Alterations have been made, to ensure that they are the most efficient of tools; US warehouse company Costco recently switched to ‘block’ pallets, commonly used in Europe, which are easier for pallet trucks and pallet jacks to lift from different angles rather than one open end. This slight change in the construction of a pallet has made it much easier for Costco to unload pallets from the million trucks which arrive at their depots and stores each year, and has resulted in vast profits for the company. The assertion that pallets ‘move the world’ is a strong claim, but their associated products, including pallet trucks, scissor lifts and stacker trucks, are undoubtedly the driving force behind industry’s perpetual reliance on them.