Material Handling: Pallet Update

Balancing Cost, Quality, Strength, Service


Plastic pallets: Sustainability is another advantage over wood, says Moore at iGPS. “Five years out, plastic pallets will win over wood because of plastic’s lighter weight and consistency in size, which lends well to automation. Plastic is also impervious to liquids and cleans easily.”

Steel pallets: Currently, about 10 percent of pallets are made from steel, says Worthington’s Letnich. “Although wood is the primary material for pallets, the markets for steel and plastic pallets are growing.”

Worthington produces corrosion-resistant galvanized steel distribution pallets. “They are the first and only GMA-certified edge-rackable, reusable steel pallet,” reports Letnich. Steel pallets are commonly used in closed-loop operations so companies can keep track of these assets, says Letnich. They are also used in DCs as in-house pallets.

Letnich acknowledges that wood controls a large part of the industry. “Wood does a good job and it has been doing so for a long time,” he says. “But today there are reliable and easily manufactured alternatives that can fit different segments within the supply chain. For instance, companies shipping overseas might choose steel to avoid the bug infestation problems that exist with wood.”

RFID ON THE RADAR

Moore at iGPS predicts that within five years, all pallets will carry RFID tags in the interest of automation. “Barcodes require human intervention because you have to wand the barcode. But RFID can read the serial number without human intervention once the equipment has been set up.”

CHEP’s Hannum worked with the Auto ID Center at MIT when it was first established in 1999. “The real value of RFID as a network model happens where there are many nodes in the network, but there is a major investment required to get that done,” he says.

Although there is not widespread adoption at any level yet in the U.S., Hannum points to successful overseas installations.

“Tagging pallets is only half the battle because you have to have the readers and other infrastructure in place to get any value out of the tags. We have the capability to do RFID, but we still haven’t seen that magic cost benefit breakthrough in a mainstream way,” says Hannum.

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