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Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Once you start to look for pallets, you see them everywhere – from the grocery store to the home improvement store. Pallets are used to carry 80% of all US commerce and account for more than 46% of all US hardwood lumber production. At some point in the global supply chain pallets are used to transport almost every object in the world.

What are pallets?

A pallet is a flat structure used to store and transport large quantities of goods using a forklift or other jacking device. Pallets are typically made out of wood, but they can also be made of plastic or metal.

How did pallets become so widespread?

According to Gilbert Dempsey and David Martens, two factors led to the widespread use of pallets. The first was the invention of gas-powered forklifts in 1937. Forklifts allowed goods to be quickly moved, stacked, and stored.

The second factor was logistics during World War II. Pallets and forklifts helped with the extraordinary supply effort during this global war. Millions of pallets were employed to manage supply lines and improve turnaround times.

How do companies use pallets?

In his article, The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy, Tom Vanderbilt highlights two companies who use pallets in unique ways. Ikea has been known to redesign products to ensure that more fit on a pallet. After a redesign of their “Bang” mug, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet rather than 864, creating a 60% reduction in shipping costs.

A few years ago, Costco shook up the pallet world by shifting to block pallets. With block pallets, “the pallet deckboards rest on sturdy blocks, rather than long crossboards (or stringers), which make them even easier for forklifts and pallet jacks to pick up from any angle.” This shift saved Costco workers a lot of time from not having to pinwheel a pallet around if it was facing the wrong direction.

How can you manage your pallets?

Companies like WiSys customer Olympic Forest Products offer pallet rental and retrieval services. They manage things like raw materials, unit load analysis, customer products and systems and logistics.

Where WiSys comes in is with Pallet Management, which adds a complete, new layer to Exact Macola for building, shipping and recording the movement of pallets.

Next time you are at Costco, Ikea, or even your local grocery store, check out how they move products around. You’ll be sure to spot quite a few pallets!