Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things…yet pallets are arguably as integral to globalization as containers. For an invisible object, they are everywhere. (Vanderbilt, 2012)

The above snippet is from an article published a while back in Slate, The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy, by Tom Vanderbilt. I happened to catch the story when it was fist published several years ago, and I was immediately drawn by the title. With all these years in the material handling industry, I truly hadn’t given the humble pallet much thought, other than to order them whenever we needed more. When it really sank in that a pallet is something “upon which most every object in the world, at some time or another, is carried,” I had new respect for the critical role pallets play in the global supply chain. In a world without pallets, the supply chain really could not function!

A Brief Pallet History

The precursor to the wooden pallet was the skid, basically a pallet without bottom boards. In the late 1800s skids were used in factories along with with a primitive low lift truck that could hoist the load a few inches. With the advent of the first high lift fork trucks in the 1910s, skids evolved until eventually a bottom deck was added, resulting in the modern pallet. But prior to the second World War, there still weren ‘t that many forklifts or pallets in use. During the war, however, the forklift and pallet were huge players in military logistics with tens of millions of pallets used in the supply lines. It was during this war that a Navy Supply officer invented the four-way pallet so that forklifts could pick up pallets from any side. In the United States today, it is estimated that over 500,000 pallets are manufactured each year, with over 2,000,000 in use.

Types of Pallets

Wood is the most traditional type of pallet, and it’s the most popular. Wood pallets are strong, economical, and green (if built from sustainably harvested lumber). Plastic pallets are gaining in popularity, however, for a number of reasons. Plastic pallets are less likely to equipment damage and employee injury, they’re more durable and lighter than wood, plus they water repellent, fire resistant, and recyclable. Aluminum pallets are another option. They are light, durable, non-corrosive, fireproof, and they can be easily cleaned and sanitized. Choosing a pallet type really comes down to weighing the pros and cons of different types of pallets to determine the best type for your needs.
Next Level understands the impact of operational costs on any size business, and we are committed to helping our customers increase efficiency and profitability through lower material expenditures and cost efficient design solutions. Contact us any time with your material handling and warehousing questions – we ‘re here for you!