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Fixing Pallet Problems – Part 1: Pallet Quality and Proper Specifications in the 21st Century
Understanding Pallet Performance: Not all problems with pallets are due to poor quality. Sometimes the pallet design and shipping situation is a mismatch. Learn how new pallet standards are a useful tool to fix this problem.
By Ralph Rupert
Date Posted: 4/1/2016
Understanding Pallet Performance
Not all problems with pallets are due to poor quality. Sometimes the pallet design and shipping situation is a mismatch. Learn how new pallet standards are a useful tool.
With approximately two billion pallets in use daily in the United States, there may be nothing more important and yet overlooked in the supply chain than pallet quality. That’s a huge statement, but think about how much focus companies place on lean manufacturing and automation in materials handling. Attention has even been paid to product packaging. But many pallet users just don’t understand that not all pallets are created equal. Unfortunately, there continues to be a significant disconnect between customer’s packaging expectations and packaging capabilities, especially in the use of pallets.
Many customers are surprised to discover there is a pallet standard that defines the acceptable variation in components. When a pallet does not perform as expected, the failure is often referenced as a poor quality of the pallet. However “quality” is often a broad topic as it can indicate a mismatch in design, possibly damage due to mishandling, or even a true manufacturing defect.
The following are some examples to explore all the various reasons why a pallet may not function properly even when built to the customer specifications.
Quality vs Performance Examples
1. The Continuing Mold Saga
A customer’s customer (end customer) wanted the product to be shipped in a double-stacked configuration. However, to improve handling stability the end customer wanted the double stacked loads stretch wrapped. The original single loads were already wrapped. Unfortunately this trapped moisture inside the load and, after a few weeks in storage, severe mold developed on the pallet. The end customer then rejected the product, the pallet customer then wanted compensation from the pallet supplier. The pallet supplier had fully met the pallet specifications.
Possible Solution: Venting the trapped moisture being released by the wrapped pallet was critical. Using a good tear resistant stretch film and simply cutting the film at the pallet openings (similar to forktine punctures through the film) would allow the moisture to be released. The tear resistant film maintained the load stability.
2. The Hazards of Cross Docking
Cross dock handling presents a difficult situation as unit loads are often pushed, pulled, and twisted into position. While typical handling is expected and pallets are designed accordingly, mishandling failures should not be viewed as a pallet quality issue.
Possible Solution: Understanding the total material handling system is crucial to proper pallet design. Changes to the pallet design such as wider stringers, longer fasteners, heavier materials, or added components can improve severe handling resistance.
3.The Cantilever Misconception
Long pallets also present performance problems and the center of gravity is often beyond the ends of the forklift tines. This leads to a cantilever effect on the pallet and puts high stresses on the top deckboard at the end of the forktine and the bottom endboard. These stresses will often either break the board or withdraw the fasteners. This is mishandling, and pallets are not designed to withstand these stresses.
Possible Solution: If the handling system cannot be changed, heavier deckboards and fasteners can improve the pallet performance. While these improvements will lessen the incidents of broken pallets, this handling technique will always be a safety hazard and should be discouraged.
4. Lumber Grade
The lumber used for pallets is typically low-grade material with wane, splits, knots, warp and even holes. The appearance is usually not that pretty but will have the performance required. Understanding the various grades is important and can be found in the pallet standards.
Possible Solution: Pallet grading posters have assisted to visually help customers understand the acceptable levels of the various lumber defects. Pallets are designed with an understanding of how the various grades affect performance. However, some grade issues do not affect performance. As an example, customers often think that splits in deckboards will weaken the board, but as long as the board is secured on each side of the split, the deckboard strength is not compromised.
5. Nails, Nails, and More Nails
Probably the biggest true quality issue with pallets is the nailing whether exposed nail heads or shanks (also called shiners). Nail heads can cause product damage and shiners can be a safety hazard for manual handling of the pallet. Both conditions are unacceptable and pallet suppliers should be held accountable.
Possible Solution: Operator awareness and training lessens the incidents but fastener quality and equipment maintenance also aid in the reduction of the number of misplaced fasteners. Fastener quality has declined over the years. While this does reduce operator fatigue as the easier it is to drive fasteners with smaller diameters and less thread, the opposite is also true. The easier to drive a fastener, the easier it is to remove the fastener.
Pallet quality isn’t always the problem. Many times customers don’t know what they need and specify the wrong pallet. That is why it is important to work with a quality pallet expert who has the proper tools to design the right option. Remember that all pallets are not equal. And your expectations may not be realistic given the design or material being used.
More details will be covered on variables impacting quality and standards in a future issue of Pallet Enterprise.
Editor’s Note: Ralph Rupert is the manager of unit load technology for Millwood Inc. He is a recognized expert on packaging and pallet design and speaks at many industry conferences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.