Alternative Pallet Materials 101
Alternative Materials 101: A guide to the wide variety of pallets available today that are made of alternative materials. Covers things to consider when looking for a new supplier.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 11/1/2006
A pallet isnít just a pallet any more. Increasingly, packaging users are starting to see the value in engineered and reusable packaging. While conducting the surveys for the alternative material issue, the editors of Pallet Enterprise ran across some unique designs, ideas and opinions on transport packaging.
Interestingly, some of the features that were hot a few years ago are not so hot now. One that comes to mind is fire-rated pallets. I remember talking with insurance companies back then as they pushed for customers to either invest in advanced sprinkler systems or fire-rated plastic pallets. It seems that the insurance companies have backed down a little, and some warehouses have decided to add better sprinkler systems instead of invest in fire resistant pallets, which tend to come with a hefty price tag. While these pallets are still sold by some major manufacturers, there has not been a big demand for them.
Another noteworthy trend is lack of interest in RFID-enabled (radio frequency identification) pallets. None of the suppliers whom our staff talked with mentioned this as a major issue for clients. A few companies have decided to invest in the tracking of returnable packaging, such as iGPS, a new pallet rental company. Most product manufacturers and distributors have opted to put RFID tags on cases and boxes, not the pallets. Until the prices of RFID tags come down, a better reader network develops and read rates improve, I doubt you will see pallet level tracking in most applications.
Many suppliers reported interest in one-way packaging for export applications. Results are mixed. Customer interest has translated into brisk sales for some suppliers while others report more talk than actual sales. The wood pallet industry has done a good job of responding to the international pest management regulations. This may have prevented some users from switching to other materials. Some have switched just to avoid any hassle or possible delay at ports.
Types of Suppliers
When it comes to pallets made of alternative materials, especially plastic, there tend to be four types of companies serving the market: manufacturers, custom fabricators-developers, stock distributors, and regular distributors. Manufacturers may or may not deal with small orders, depending on the company. They tend to be big with a large catalog of plastic pallet products or small with a few specialized designs and molds for niche applications.
Custom fabricators usually specialize in one type of packaging design, although many can do just about anything. These companies may or may not have a packaging engineer on staff. Fabricators can combine different materials for the best design, and they may have experience with dunnage and racking systems, too.
Stock distributors may have exclusive rights over a certain territory. At the very least, these companies have good relationships with the product manufacturers and tend to have popular sizes and styles in stock. You may think you can save money by buying directly from a manufacturer, but it may not be the case. Some manufacturers prefer to work through large distributors. Stock distributors may be closer to your location, and unnecessary freight can add significant cost to the purchase price. Stocking distributors may provide more hand holding and consulting than a big manufacturer. It all depends on your situation.
The last group, regular distributors, are simply brokers. They never take possession of the packaging and do not carry stock.
Your product will lead you to one of the above options. Custom packaging usually costs more, but if it does a better job of protecting the unit load, it may be a better deal in the end. Remember: donít cost the company big bucks down the road because you try to save a few dollars today.
The grid on the following pages is meant to be a quick guide to a wide variety of pallets made of alternative materials available in the market place. These include specialty applications, such as spill containment pallets, sleeve packs or pallet racks, as well as standard 48x40 grocery pallets.
Manufacturers make pallets out of almost any kind of material imaginable, including: aluminum composites, corrugate, plastic, recycled plastic, steel, and wood. Increasingly, more companies are using recycled plastic due to the reduced cost. Using recycled plastic limits the ability to add color to the pallet, however. Usually, companies decide to forgo too much specialization for a plastic pallet because of the added cost.
If you want to ship on plastic and you need an odd size or design, pallets can be made from plastic lumber. These pallets resemble traditional wood pallets and can be made in almost any size.
Corrugate and light plastic pallets are becoming increasingly popular for air freight. With the increasing costs of fuel and air freight, cutting down on the weight of unit loads is a way to save big money. You may not be able to make your customerís products lighter, but you can do something about the packaging.
Content in this issue is intended to provide a basic education on alternative material pallets. Look for more detailed information in the near future.
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