Shipping Pallets: Leaning out the supply chain

A new pallet design program enables sustainable packaging

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What’s the best way to create the best unit load? That’s a question that has occupied Marshall (Mark) White for much of his professional career. White is a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech who has specialized in pallet and packaging design. He is also the driving force behind the systems-based approach to unit load design, a concept that emphasizes the importance of the interactions between the pallet, transport packaging such as stretch wrap, strapping, corrugated and plastic bottles, materials handling processes and transportation systems.

When I talked to White the other day, he was at CSCMP and wearing a different hat – president of White & Company, a packaging solutions consulting company in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

It was White’s first trip to CSCMP in several years and his first response was that this was a prime audience for the systems-based approach message. “Here at the show, you have 3PLs and logistics professionals who are looking for ways to reduce their logistics costs and improve their sustainability,” White said. “Here’s a way to lean down packaging and improve supply chain sustainability, and yet there is no packaging track. That conversation just isn’t going on.”

What brought White to the annual logistics conference was the introduction of Best Load, a new pallet design software solution just now going up for sale on White & Company’s website. Best Load is a component of a broader solution known as Best Load that White & Company will be releasing in the coming months. When it’s available, Best Load will allow a user to design the optimal unit load for performance and sustainability while taking into consideration the materials handling equipment and shipping environments in the supply chain. 

“Best Load models the pallet, the distribution packaging and all of the unit load equipment,” White explained. “For now, we are just taking the pallet component to the market.”

As White explained it, the application will allow a user to determine the performance of a specific pallet design based on functions such as the load on top of the pallet and how it is supported. For now, the program is limited to stringer pallets; functionality to analyze block pallets will be available later in 2013.

I asked White what is the benefit of the program since pallet suppliers and users already have access to PDS, a pallet design program offered through the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association.

“Two important reasons,” White said. “The first is that PDS is only available to pallet manufacturers who are members of NWPCA. There are a lot of people buying pallets from suppliers who aren’t NWPCA members.” But more importantly, White added, is that Best Load can be purchased by pallet users. “The owners and operators of the supply chain – the pallet users - want the capability to design work in house. Vendors will tend to design pallets that they can build. This puts pallet design capabilities in their hands.”

Pallet users can download a trial version of the program and demo three different pallet designs to see how the program works.

“The pallet is the interface between materials handling equipment and the unit load,” White said. “Our message is that leaning down the packaging component really is a way to make supply chains more sustainable.”


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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