A true pallet perspective is important and necessary because of the role pallets play in the supply chain. Pallets
cannot be taken for granted and the intended functionality must be understood and appreciated. Pallets are similar to conveyors only in a different part of the beverage supply chain and are also subjected to similar variable conditions that affect operating productivity. Many pallet types, sizes and materials are used to transport beverage cases (or units) from production lines to: 1) warehouses (with manual or AS/R systems); 2) pre-distribution loading operations; 3) distribution vehicles, and 4) the retail marketplace. From years of observation, experience and involvement, this beverage case logistics situation has challenged pallet manufacturers to become prudently flexible in designing the most suitable pallet for the variable conditions presented to them.
The pallet perspective must focus on functionality (what is it intended to do) primarily in warehousing and distribution operations. That focus raises the following questions: What sizes (40x48, 36x36, 48x20), types (returnable, one-way, recyclable, stackable) and materials (wood, plastic, fiber board, composition) should be used in any given operating situation to be compatible, productive and effective with production and distribution equipment? What factors are determining pallet sizes, types and materials in the supply chain? And, what short and long-term costs are associated with selection of the “best pallet for our situation”?
These questions are part of detailed analyses that can be partially answered by collaborating with any one of the pallet manufacturers; however, beverage producers and distributors who know their operations well are in the best position to make proper assessments for pallet selection. To develop a pallet (functionality) perspective let’s focus on some basic issues.
Wood, plastic, other – Wood vs. plastic is an ongoing battle and many pro’s and con’s have been discussed by both proponents. Wood advocates rely on historical performance, flexibility and cost. Plastic people contend that function, life cycle, maintenance and sanitation are positive points. The plastics affordability position can be defended by evidence of use during the past two decades, and, aside from upfront costs, plastic pallet users have experienced less maintenance and cleaning cost, longer life cycles, lower repair expense and less product damage. From another perspective, from past experience, wood pallets are more easily damaged, appear to create more equipment malfunctions and absorb liquids creating sanitation problems. This perspective considers the “what pallet material should be used” issue—each operating environment will be different—a good pallet-equipment interface is essential.
Size and type – Although the 40” x 48” has been considered a “standard” pallet size for many years, case and unit packaging configurations have changed, will continue to change, and have prompted the need for a variety of pallet sizes. Whatever material is used, the functionality (how the pallet is used) of the pallet has and will continue to determine an optimum size for various beverage operating conditions.
Beverage production lines usually terminate by palletizing cases on pallets and discharging by fork lift truck or AGV’s; therefore, conveyors, wrapping machines and FLT’s involved must be capable of handling pallet size and material variations (pallet-equipment interface). Increased frequency in packaging configuration variability and related pallet size requirements have made automated (AS/R) designers create flexible systems to handle individual cases and variable pallet sizes.
Distribution – Methods of distribution have a large impact on the case/pallet relationship and the vehicle being used. DSD to chain stores and bulk delivery to commissaries usually involve 40x48 full pallets unloaded via REAR lift gates. Delivery to convenience stores may use 20x47 or other size pallets from side loaded vehicles because product mix may not require full sized pallet loads. Beverage distribution vehicles, (route trucks, route tractor trailers or semi’s) must have the capability of handling the expanded variety of case pallets; therefore, current designs and recent modifications, have been made to cope with side or rear loading delivery methods. The distribution vehicle and case pallet delivery system must also accommodate the customer receiving/shipping dock layout and operation.
In real time, the pallet perspective should consider realistic operating environments, rather than a “one size fits all” philosophy, when selecting pallets. Pallets play a major, perhaps critical, role in their respective parts of the supply chain. With this in mind, a pallet perspective becomes an operating economic/productivity priority.
John Peter Koss, a beverage operations advisor, is a licensed registered professional engineer and has 50-plus years of beverage business experience. He can be reached at email@example.com.