Park Logisitics - Creating Supply Chain Solutions

Park Logistics - Creating supply Chain Solutions

Creating Supply Chain Solutions
Warehousing - Distribution - Fulfilment - Co-Pack

Phone: 0115 940 3332

Email :

PALLETS – ‘Pallets under threat?

The pros and cons of plastic versus wood and metal pallets have been aired over many years and the proportion of UK market share held by each material has changed little over that time, although plastic seems to be gaining ground on wood, a trend that could be accelerated if biomass wood demand rises strongly enough to diminish seriously the big price advantage timber still has over plastic. But what, if any, are the threats to all pallet mediums?

Just as carbon issues will drive the future of warehousing so, too, such concerns will affect the mediums used to connect warehouses with each other and their suppliers. Those mediums are largely pallets and their derivatives like roll containers. But it is not just about carbon cutting issues; it is also about cost savings through elimination of the pallet in part or totally from the supply chain.

The means to do that have existed for decades but their take-up has been patchy, with America more wedded to alternatives than Europe. But concerns over carbon issues could soon change that. There is, however, another, irrestistible threat that will transform, if not hammer, the pallet market – the remorseless rise of online shopping, the only part of UK retailing growing fast while the shop-based retailing remains flat, if not declining.

Currently, the supply chain involves pallet-based loads delivery to NDCs and RDCs for consolidation onto other pallets for delivery to superstores. That is now changing as large retailers like Tesco begin to build their own e-tailing warehouses for direct delivery to home customers. Their delivery vans use only plastic totes or containers. The pallet will be eliminated from the operation.

To a lesser extent, the same could be said of automated warehouses where conventional timber or plastic pallets prevail. The need now is for speed and accuracy of order picking to meet demanding, next-day deliveries directly to people’s homes. That can only be achieved through automation and that means more use of mini-stackers for load assembly into totes and then into vans.

But what of other threats to the pallet industry that could eliminate pallets from global supply chains, and so cut shipping costs and improve users’ carbon credentials? As far as this writer knows, there is no cogent cost figure on the global use of pallets but an interesting survey of the Dutch experience suggests it runs into billions of pounds a year. A survey by CapGemini showed that costs of pallet swapping in the Netherlands amounted to 120m Euro a year. These costs were mainly incurred through the practice of sending back empty pallets and the associated physical and administrative procedures.

One decades-old solution to this problem has been slip sheets, usually made from plastic at a fraction of the cost and size of wood and plastic pallets. These allow container and trailer stuffing without pallets, though forklifts would have be fitted with slip sheet handling attachments, and pallet inverters might also have to be used but these devices would cost a tiny fraction of the savings to be made on global and country transport systems, be they road, rail, air or sea.

Another means of eliminating the pallet during transport, equally as mature as slip sheets, has been the method of securing sacked materials with shrink wrap that leaves two base voids for a forklift’s forks. Investment in the palletising equipment produced by Moellers, for example, would be necessary but if the quantity of loads is sufficient then the savings in transport costs would dwarf the investment required.

Pallets will be around for a long time to come but times are changing and their future could look far different a few decades from now.

Warehouse Logistics News

Article source: