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Pallet testing comes of age

Pallet providers are looking to test centers to improve the quality of unit loads.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
October 06, 2011

Visit the website of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (, and you’ll see the announcement of a new version of the NWPCA’s pallet design software program, PDS Version 5.0. The new version, according to the NWPCA, integrates the pallet with the end user’s product to create a better unit load.

While the NWPCA’s design program is only available to its members, it underscores a fact the association has been promoting for about three decades with PDS and the pallet lab at Virginia Tech: not all pallets are created equal. It is possible to engineer a better pallet.

For years, that was a tough sell in an industry where orders are lost over pennies a pallet. But it does appear that more recently the pallet industry, the OEMs that work with pallets and some end users are beginning to understand that there’s a relationship between the quality of the pallet and the quality of their delivered loads and the effectiveness of their materials handling systems. Spending a little more money on the optimal pallet can lead to bigger savings in operations and quality control. Look no further than the pallet spec issued by Costco earlier this year.

We were reminded of this fact by an announcement from Baust & Co. GmbH Materialflusssysteme, a German provider of pallet exchangers and transport systems for sensitive goods and hygiene-sensitive areas. Baust gives its customers the opportunity to test the best repacking solution for their own products together with the engineers from Baust at a test center at its headquarters in Langenfeld.

A pallet exchanger is used in industries like pharmaceutical and food, where production and logistics are separated from each other for hygienic reasons. During production, for instance, products are usually conveyed on plastic or aluminum pallets or platforms which can be correspondingly cleaned and sterilized in accordance with hygiene requirements. At the end of the production phase, the goods then need to be repacked – or exchanged - onto standardized transport pallets using a pallet exchange system. In Europe, that is probably a wooden euro pallet; in North America it is probably a 48 X 40 GMA style pallet, or a pooled pallet from CHEP, iGPS or Peco.

As it turns out, there is no one way to make that exchange. Different companies have different requirements dictated by their materials handling and distribution processes. After finding from experience that packing in the pharmaceutical and food industries that customized procedures for handling are required, Baust established its own test center. There, the OEM has installed equipment and systems that allow customers the opportunity to test the repacking of their products “live.” The center allows them to replicate the pushing, turning or tilting that would happen in the field.

“Although standardized transport pallets, like euro pallets,  and the corresponding transport and storage systems are usually uniform, pallets and goods carrier systems used in the production are usually quite the opposite,” says Franz Baust, managing director. “In addition, both in dispatch and in production, an increasing number of different types of pallet are being used. In our test centre we try to work out the best procedure for transferring the locomotive from a narrow gauge to a standard railway track.”

Baust is not alone. Last winter, CHEP launched a test center, where it and its customers can test new pallet and load designs. Similarly iGPS opened an innovation center in Bentonville, Arkansas last fall. Sonoco Transport Packaging has long operated a test center for users of its corrugated pallets and other packaging products.

Examples like these demonstrate that the industry, both here and abroad, is bringing science and technology to a product that many people once took for granted. Think of it as building the smarter pallet.

Read more from Modern’s Pallet and Packaging Report.

CHEP highlights materials handling simulator
Opened in January, CHEP’s new materials handling simulator facility in Orlando provides testing for pallets and customer unit-loads.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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Article Topics

News · Packaging · Pallets · Pallet Report · CHEP · NWPCA · Baust · All topics

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