Pallets! They don’t look like much, do they? Yet without those wooden (or sometimes plastic) platforms which sit innocuously in thousands of warehouses, supply chains simply wouldn’t function. The role of pallets in the supply chain is more important than most people take time to think about.
If you’re new to the logistics business, or if you’ve just never really thought much about pallets, this post might make you stop and think about the importance of pallets in the supply chain the next time you stub your toe against one on the warehouse floor (I’ll talk about warehouse safety in a future post or two, but suffice it to say that my reference to stubbing a toe is supposed to be metaphorical).
The Complex World of Pallets
While they are simple enough items, pallets are typically the subject of complex pooling networks which span the entire globe. Interestingly enough, the most commonly seen pallet in the supply chain; the blue CHEP variety, originated here in Australia and in fact, the CHEP global headquarters is in Sydney.
CHEP is just one of a number of global pallet systems; networks through which supply chain companies obtain pallets on which to place their materials and products. The sheer range of pallet sizes and types is bewildering to the layman and pretty confusing even for logistics and warehousing professionals.
The landscape is further complicated by the introduction of plastic pallets, marketed as a safer and more durable transportation platform than wood. The jury is still very much out on the hotly contested matter of which material is better for pallet construction. Currently though, the number of wooden units vastly outnumbers the quantity of plastic pallets in the supply chain environment, primarily because plastic pallets cost more.
The Importance of Pallets in the Supply Chain
For any supply chain organisation, the choice of pallets is a critical factor in performance. Making the right or wrong choice can have a profound effect on many factors, including:
- Loading and unloading time
- Warehouse and transportation safety
- Logistics and warehouse costs
- Product quality (impact on product breakage/damage)
For some industries however, the selection of pallets in the supply chain is constrained by the nature of products to be transported. Similarly, companies making extensive use of warehouse automation must also be careful about pallet type, size, and construction, since their management teams must avoid the risk of pallets jamming their conveyor systems.
Sometimes the constraints are so great that a company will eschew open loop pallet systems like CHEP, in favor of a privately owned pool of specialised pallets, controlled by a closed loop system, meaning the pallets are only used within their own organisation.
Spare a Thought for the Under-appreciated Pallet
Now you know a little more about the importance of pallets in the supply chain, you might just see them differently when you see them sitting quietly on your company’s warehouse floor and racking.
For more insights into the materials, machinery and equipment used in warehousing operations, take some time to study eClass numbers 10,11,14,16,17,58,59,60, and 84, which all focus on warehouse-related topics.
If you’re not yet a member of the Supply Chain Leaders Academy, of course you won’t be able to access these eClasses. You can easily change that state of affairs though, just visit our home page and complete the contact form for joining information. We look forward to hearing from you and hopefully having you onboard.