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Half Pallet Revolution: Can This New Fastener Revolutionize Half Pallet Design?
Half Pallet Revolution: So will these smaller pallets take over the grocery supply chain? What is the best design to improve performance and reduce cost? Mike Miller thinks he has found the answer
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2015
Half Pallet Revolution:
So will these smaller pallets take over the grocery supply chain? What is the best design to improve performance and reduce cost? Mike Miller thinks he has found the answer
Mike Miller thinks he has found the next big thing in pallets, and it is actually an old technology that has a new twist.
Increasingly, half-size pallets are starting to gain some traction in the United States. You can see them used for end-cap displays and make good sense when it comes to creating pallet loads at retail distribution centers. Let’s face it, you don’t usually need full pallet loads of products, and if you deliver more half pallets, these are easier to handle at the retail level.
But most half pallets used in the United States today have one major drawback, they are only designed for two-way access. Mike Miller, president of Miller Dowel Company, has developed an innovative dowel and vertical grain block joint system, resulting in faster, more economical production of true four-way access half pallets without the use of metal brackets. The pallet design is patented.
Miller is not new to the pallet industry. He tried to launch an all-doweled pallet a number of years ago, but the price point was a major drawback. But he has solved that problem when it comes to a true four-way, half pallet. The major company offering such a design right now is CHEP USA, which launched a half pallet design in 2013.
The CHEP design uses metal brackets instead of blocks and carriage bolts and t-nuts compared to the Miller design which relies on dowels and wood blocks that can be produced from wood remnants or scraps. To reduce cost, Miller recommends nailing or stapling all interior joints and dowelling only the six exterior joints.
Miller estimated that his design is about 30% less expensive to build given the cost of the metal hardware in the CHEP design.
Having studied the CHEP design, Miller claimed, “Our patented design is cheaper and easier to manufacture as well as repair and weighs less than what CHEP is doing today.”
Miller’s real business is selling dowels, but he believes this design can help solve some of the technical issues that have made half pallets difficult to produce for retail environments. He envisions a number of potential customers including pallet poolers, pallet management firms, retailers with private fleets and white-wood pallet manufacturers with strong ties to retail accounts. This design could definitely solve problems for companies in Europe depending on the size of pallet jack popular in various regions.
Are Half Pallets Really Ideal for Retail Distribution?
Having conducted a thorough study of retail patterns, CHEP seems to believe so. It just appears that the production process and roll out has not been as efficient as some would have hoped. Retailers and supply chains have used half pallets in Europe for years. The Dusseldorf design has been widely adopted by pallet users even though it has some serious limitations.
Half pallets are lighter, which is a
major concern when you are talking about warehouse or retailer personnel handling a 65-70lb. full-sized pallet. CHEP’s half pallet weighs about
35 lbs., but with Miller’s blocks the weight is reduced by five lbs. This can help lower working injury and accident rates. Also, they are easier to maneuver in stores and are less likely to clutter aisles and be trip hazards for customers who are shopping.
Half pallets could be a bigger part of the future because they can help improve retail efficiency. Miller stated, “Sixty-five percent of the cost of delivery of a product is usually considered the last mile from the distribution center to the retail location, and the problem is that relatively few products really require a full pallet-load at a retail store.”
Miller added, “Retailers are also looking to restock shelf inventory faster while keeping backroom inventory to a minimum. Distributors are moving to smaller platforms to better address retailer interest in utilizing pallets in the store display but with smaller footprints. This reduces excessive re-loading pallets.”
Miller laughed, “Our half size pallet design puts the fast in fast moving consumer goods.”
With a focus on efficiency and managing inventory, a half pallet can aid in achieving better utilization of store space, distribution center labor and cutting the time it takes to build a pallet load at distribution center. It is clear though that for greater acceptance to occur, true four-way entry must become a reality.
Miller believes his design solves all of those problems and is a greener design as well since the blocks can be made from wood scraps or remnants.
Why a Doweled Design?
There are two major four-way entry designs prevalent today. But they both have issues that impact their effectiveness according to Miller.
Personally having viewed the Dusseldorf design during a recent trip to Europe, it is clear to me that the pallet is difficult to produce and easy to damage. Repairing them is very labor intensive.
CHEP when it launched its design decided to use a different fastening system to facilitate easier repair as well as stronger brackets to compensate for the damage rates in Europe. But Miller claims his design is even better than what CHEP has deployed in the United States.
In Europe, the brackets are 2mm in thickness compared to 3mm for the CHEP design, and the pallets are constructed with rivets instead of t-nuts and carriage bolts. Rivets may be easier to put on, but they are much more difficult to repair.
When you first look at the Miller design, it is difficult to believe the blocks are thick enough to support the weight. But Miller says the key is all in the use of the dowel compared to nails, screws or bolts as fasteners.
Miller explained, “Compression strength and side impact from a forklift are two critical performance areas for a block. Wood has five times the compression strength vertically as it does from the side. A square inch of wood can support roughly 5,000 lbs. The side grain is more like 800 to 1,000 lbs. But usually you can’t use a block in this configuration because you can’t get purchase with a screw or nail, but our dowels have great purchase into the end grain. Secondly, the vertical alignment combined with the dowel system has great impact strength to withstand side fork tine impacts.”
Miller pointed to the use of wood to coat the outside of ice breakers deployed in icy areas. He said that wood is used because it has incredible strength if the grain is aligned in the right way compared to the impact forces.
Independent test results conducted at the William Sardo Pallet Lab at Virginia Tech validated the strength of the Miller Dowel and vertical grain block joint system, according to Miller. He added that the pallet lasted 27 turns in tests before needing to be repaired, which is about a five year standard life.
The Miller dowel process starts with assembling the top deck of the pallet using nails or staples. The blocks can be produced from wood remnants and scraps and should be predrilled using a gang drilling approach.
Blocks are put into place either by human hands or even a robot. And the dowels are dropped straight into the holes. Miller added, “Our dowels do a great job of self centering and aligning.”
Once fully assembled the pallet is laminated, which is basically like using a glue to adhere all the parts together. Assembled pallets are put on carts that clamp the six joints for each pallet. You can clamp a dozen pallets on the same cart. The carts are put in a heat chamber for 30-45 minutes so that the adhesive will cure.
Miller estimates a company can assemble 30-45 pallets per hour depending on the level of automation. Or possibly even more with heavy amounts of automation.
Repairing the pallet tends to be easier than the other major designs, according to Miller. For example, if you have a broken block, you can simply cut it out, put a new one in secured with dowels and repeat the curing process.
Miller stated that if the CHEP pallet breaks it is very cumbersome to pull out and replace the steel brackets.
One unique aspect of the Miller dowel is that it has a stepped design, which is patented. These dowels are used for everything from furniture to decking to musical instrument to boats. “Our dowels are a woodworker’s dream tool. We discover new applications each day,” said Andy Wittleder, an investor and marketing coordinator for Miller Dowel.
The dowels are made mostly out of birch. But you can use any type of wood to make the blocks or the rest of the pallet.
Miller Dowel can supply dowels and pre-glued wood blocks to companies seeking to produce half pallets but are concerned with the inherent problems associated with metal brackets.
Miller stated, “We can teach pallet manufacturers everything they need to know to make this design.”
So has Mike Miller found the next big thing in pallets? While that has yet to be determined, he at least makes you stop and think about how best to build a half pallet.
Pros & Cons of Miller Dowel System
Pros of using Miller Dowels and vertical grain wood blocks
• provides clearance for 4 way pallet jack access
• less weight than metal brackets
• less cost than metal brackets
• faster pallet production
• easier to repair
• no sharp edges from bracket damage
• outstanding strength, stiffness and durability
Cons of using Miller Dowels
• may not work with some hand jack designs due to width concerns
• new process requires a pioneering spirit
More information at: www.millerdowel.com