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Fixing Pallet Problems – Part II: Pallet Quality and Proper Specifications in the 21st Century
Fixing Pallet Problems: A lack of understanding when it comes to pallet quality issues and proper specifications frequently leads to the use of the wrong pallet. Learn how emerging pallet standards are useful tool to fix this problem.
By Ralph Rupert
Date Posted: 5/1/2016
Fixing Pallet Problems
A lack of understanding when it comes to pallet quality issues and proper specifications frequently leads to the use of the wrong pallet. Learn how emerging pallet standards are useful tool to fix this problem.
Quality, quality, quality. Everybody wants it, but nobody wants to pay much for it. In the world of pallets, quality goes beyond the materials themselves; it really involves a lot of variables including the design of the pallet.
The April issue of Pallet Enterprise carried an article exploring some key scenarios where customers think poor quality is to blame for pallet-related problems, but the real culprit is the actual design itself. Not all pallets are created equal, and quality must be a concern if you want the platform to function properly and protect the product and facilitate faster processing.
This article covers how standards, terms and even certification systems are changing to address market realities. Not all of the changes will foster better quality. But knowing how to deal with them can help you navigate the landscape to get the best pallet possible.
New vs Reconditioned
The most recent pallet industry survey lists new 48x40 retail pallet production as 28% of the 450 million new pallets produced each year. In addition, the survey lists an additional 300 million pallets reconditioned each year – mostly 48x40 pallets. The used 48x40 pool is in extremely tight supply as the pool is shrinking. This is due to two factors – pallets being exported and new 48x40 pallets are not being purchased/designed as repairable pallets. This situation is a classic supply and demand phenomena – as the pool size is reduced, the cost of the pallet is increasing.
Since customers want lower costs, the definition of the repair criteria is being muddied. What used to be a #2 or B grade pallet is now a #1 or A grade pallet. What used to be a reject is now accepted as a #2, and the price is still going up. The pallet industry can only supply what is in the pool. And until more customers spend the added cost to purchase good, new pallets, the situation will continue to deteriorate.
Cheap new pallets or inferior quality used pallets have an impact on everyone in the long run.
Quality Systems in the Pallet Industry
One area where the pallet industry is starting to make improvements is quality systems. As more pallet end-users become ISO9000 certified or develop similar quality systems, the pallet industry is being asked to provide quality documentation. While the pallet industry continues to provide a good, economical product, the production procedures are not well documented.
A quick look at the industry landscape gives an easy analysis why there is limited documentation. The U.S. Census Department lists approximately 2,400 pallet companies. Of these 74% have less than 20 employees and 96% have less than 100 employees. In many cases, the production manager, sales manager and shipping manager is the same person – the owner.
Aspects in the Food Modernization Act and the pharmaceutical industries require reassurances that the pallets they purchase are from a reliable source. One method is to document the overall process – not just adherence to quality specifications but to identify good manufacturing practices, maintenance, pest control and training. A typical pallet shop has many of these in place but does not have the documentation to reassure an auditor that the procedures are actually being practiced. As more pallet end users ask for these documents, more and more pallet suppliers are implementing these systems.
New Standard Edition
The latest MH1 Pallet Standard was finally approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on January 8th of this year. Under ANSI rules, the MH1 Standard Committee is composed of representatives from different aspects of the pallet industry including producers, end-users, labs, government and general interest.
This revision has been 10 years in the making with new parts for plastic, metal, paper-based and press wood pallets being added to the historically wood pallet document. The new all-inclusive ANSI standard allows all pallet platforms to be recognized in one document. Hopefully this will lead to more consistent testing protocols and performance reporting by all manufacturers of pallets.
Now that the standard has been approved, it will be published and available from Material Handling Industry as a free download from its website. The MH1 standard also includes Part 9 pallets for military use, which lists all the specifications for pallets for the Department of Defense. As in previous additions, Part 3 covers wooden pallets and includes criteria for wood quality, repair standards and workmanship. It is recommended that anyone involved in pallet purchasing, specifying or using have a copy of the standard.
The pallet industry continues to supply an economical and high performing pallet. As we move into the 21st century the issues surrounding quality and performance will continue to dominate the discussion as customers raise expectations. These issues are often complicated by mishandling and mis-design. All parties need to work together to resolve these issues.
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.