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International Pallet Sizes: What Does the Future Suggest?
Global Pallet Sizes: What are the leading pallet footprints and specs used around the world? There is a handful that dominates material handling. Article examines leading global pallet sizes.

By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2006

    All one has to do is enter any big box store, or for that matter many small stores, to realize the significance of worldwide commerce today. International commerce is huge and is growing every day. The Pacific Rim Asian countries have become major suppliers of products to North American customers. Any look at pallet dimensions and specifications has to include an examination of the pallet footprints that are common to different parts of the world (Table 1). In North America, nobody questions that 48x40” is the most common domestic footprint. Any student of shipping knows that the 800x1200mm and 1000x1200mm are the two common European sizes. The 1100x1100mm square pallet is the most common established Asian size, and the 1140x1140mm is the most common Australian size.

    As any member of the North American pallet community knows, there are hundreds of different pallet specifications used, but the 48x40” is king in this market. The most common sizes in the U.S. are listed in Tables 2&3. Table 2 lists the sizes and percentages of annual production provided in a seminar at the Unit Load Center of Virginia Tech. Some industries that use these sizes are included as well. Table 3 lists the most common size ranking in the most recent Southern Illinois University industry study.

    In addition to different footprints, there are numerous differences in the details of pallet design. Lumber species, thicknesses, widths, and placements obviously vary; so do fasteners and manufacturing quality. But the single most significant pallet design characteristic is block or stringer. A pallet company that limits its outreach to the domestic North American market might assume that stringer pallets are widely used worldwide because they are certainly the most common North American configuration. In most other parts of the world, however, block pallets are dominant. With the shift in manufacturing toward the Pacific Rim, there is reason to believe that their block preference may have a significant impact on any global trend. Any European influence is obviously toward block pallets since the Euro pallet is a 800x1200mm block pallet, and the other common European size is the 1000x1200mm block pallet.

    In North America there has been a trend in recent years toward expecting more block pallet demand in the future. At this time, however, stringer pallets are still the most common. The grocery industry, the biggest user of the 48x40” stringer pallet, has indicated that it would prefer for the 48x40” white pool to be a block style, but it is still questionable as to whether they would support any increase in their pallet system costs to reach this goal. Even if the cost increase is short term for a long term gain, the grocery industry has shown in the past that it is not willing to make that kind of investment. Many readers may remember the “Cleveland study,” a grocery industry pallet study in the early 1990s. It indicated that a CPC type system would be the best for the grocery industry. But the grocery industry would not make a commitment for the future because it would cost them more in the short term.

    No discussion of pallet styles and sizes would be complete without mentioning the impact that CHEP may have on these decisions. While CHEP uses a 48x40” pallet in North America, it switched from a stringer style to a block style in the U.S. during the late 1990s. Thus, the grocery industry, which is the largest user of rented CHEP pallets, became accustomed to handling block as well as stringer pallets. It apparently liked some of the handling characteristics of block pallets. True four-way entry is the most significant advantage of block versus stringer pallets. Stringer pallets have tried to compensate for this by using notches, which give away much of the strength advantage of stringers versus blocks and eliminate the use of hand-jacks from the pallet sides. Now that block pallets are on the grocery industry’s radar screen, it will make them more conscious of block pallets for future considerations.

    There is no doubt that European people are set in their ways because of many centuries of history, so any influence they will have on international pallet sizes and styles will be toward a 800x1200mm or 1000x1200mm block pallet. No other company has the influence in unit load shipping that CHEP has, and it will definitely lean people toward block pallets. The Pacific Rim and Australian influence will direct users toward block pallets. So, North America may be the lone ranger supporting stringer pallet designs. If international standard pallets develop over time, there are good reasons to expect them to be block pallets. The footprint size is still open to discussion. The six most common international footprints are presented in Table 1.

    Table 4 ranks nine pallet footprints, including the 800x1200mm, 1000x1200mm, and seven other sizes, according to their most efficient utilization of floor space in air, ocean, and surface transportation. The trucks used for this comparison are consistent with those used in the U.S., not the E.U. or Asia. While the two metric European sizes are efficient for truck transportation, they are not as efficient for air and ocean transportation. The 40x48” (48x40”) ranks second behind the 40x46” for overall transportation efficiency. The 800x1200mm Euro-pallet has the worst overall ranking, including the poorest ocean transportation ranking. There is strong reason to believe that ocean transportation will be a major deciding factor in future transportation decisions.

    European chemical pallets constitute a well known group of nine different specifications, including three 1140x1140mm designs and six other designs (1000x1200mm, 800x1200mm, 1100x1300mm, 760x1140mm, 1200x1000mm, and 1300x1100mm). Along with the Euro-pallet, these chemical pallets are sometimes requested by people who want to ship to the EU.

    Although there was a flurry of interest in the potential of manufacturing Euro-pallets several years ago, to our knowledge no North American pallet company has become an official manufacturer of Euro-pallets. One recycler is licensed to repair Euro-pallets. An active market for used Euro-pallets has developed during recent years.

    International phytosanitary ISPM regulations have had a significant impact on the pallet industry around the world. Many pallet companies have heat treated or treated with methyl bromide pallets as a value-added service for customers. Many of the older Euro-pallets were not heat treated and should not be used for international shipments. No discussion of international pallet shipments would be complete without mentioning the heat treatment requirement, regardless of the specification or footprint.

    We have recently posted many of the specifications mentioned here on our internet site. You may access them at www.palletenterprise.com/intlsizes.asp.

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