Metal Pallets Are A Durable Packaging Solution
Overview of metal pallet trends, technologies and products.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2002
After running the Center for Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech for years, John Clarke jumped at the opportunity to sell metal pallets. Given the niche market for most metal pallets, John’s decision may seem a bit unusual.
But it makes sense when you hear him talk about it. John said, "I joined this company because it has one of the new products on the market with tremendous growth potential…the balance of performance and cost is much better than many other products that Virginia Tech had tested."
John has joined Grate Pallet Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla. as its technical sales director. Grate Pallet has patents on the use of industrial metal bar grating for shipping platforms including pallets. Industrial bar grating is used all over the world for suspension and drawbridges, fire escapes, industrial catwalks, walkways, drains and other applications.
According to John, "Our grate deck is made with industrial metal bar grating. The strength-to-weight ratio of bar grating, coupled with our ability to manufacture efficiently via automation allows us to build a stronger, lighter, more affordable pallet than other competitive designs on the market…We can compete very well with plastic and other metal pallets."
Grate Pallet started three years ago and today makes pallets and customized shipping containers for primarily heavy industrial and military applications. One extremely innovative design the company has developed is a container crate with adjustable shelving that will fit into a standard ISO sea box. Five crates can fit into one sea box. Crates can be knocked down in minutes to a 19" returnable profile. "The military has to be ready to move fast," said John. This design allows the user to pre-pack the container and load fully packed containers into sea boxes.
Grate Pallet claims its innovative designs won’t break your budget or your back. Prototypes are available without tooling costs. According to John, grating is relatively inexpensive to manufacture and offers an excellent strength to weight ratio weighing about the same as hardwood pallets.
Pallets are made using carbon steel, stainless steel or aluminum. Any type of decking can be put on top — wood, metal, plastic or corrugated. Grate Pallet has partnered with The Nelson Company to provide third party management services for its packaging products. Given the higher cost per unit, metal pallets and containers require a tracking and retrieval system.
"It’s really been a lot of fun being part of a startup company," said John. Grate Pallets has started out small and already has more than enough business to keep the shop busy. At this point, Grate Pallet is trying to grow at a managed pace and is not ramped up for brokered sales. The company may open up its product line for outside sales in the future.
Innovative Designs/Customized Solutions
Streator Dependable Manufacturing of Streator, Ill. specializes in customized pallets, racks and containers for automotive, heavy industrial and military/government applications. Every order is hand welded because each one tends to be very different. In the past, Streator has manufactured an aluminum "money" pallet for the Federal Reserve, specialty engine racks for Caterpillar, and the pin-pallet for automotive parts companies.
The pin-pallet design stands out as a unique, innovative idea. The pallet deck is covered with small holes. Pins can be inserted into these holes creating different patterns capable of efficiently storing a wide variety of uniquely shaped parts and products. These pallets are stackable both loaded and unloaded. A positive locking mechanism allows pallets to be stacked five high. When not in use, the posts and pins can be removed and the pallets can be stacked up to 20 high. Streator claims that one pin-pallet can replace four or more specialized containers.
Dana Corporation, a major automotive parts manufacturer, uses the pin-pallet in its Kentucky automotive frames and suspensions plant. Dana uses the pin pallets to store steel blanks in a safe, space-saving manner. The pin pallet’s unique design has helped to reduce on-the-job injuries in Dana’s press area. Posts and pins can be easily removed so parts can be slid straight off the side of the pallet instead of having to be lifted out of a container.
Increasingly customers are demanding more customized pallets, racks and containers according to Bill Bontemps, Streator’s marketing director.
For over 27 years, O-T-D Corp. of Oak Brook, Ill. has manufactured custom collapsible aluminum shipping containers, pallets, racks and cradles. O-T-D has developed pallets to protect national treasures. O-T-D provided a 30’ long pallet for the Smithsonian Institute to store and transport a western Indian canoe. Other O-T-D customers include: automotive, processing and heavy industrial companies.
Cargotainer has launched a program geared toward the GMA market. It has developed a 48x40 nestable metal mesh pallet. Boasting 4-way entry and a good return ratio, the pallet easily handles the demands for grocery packaged goods. Durable and strong, the pallets work well in a closed loop environment such as a warehouse.
Why Use Metal?
With a wide variety of lower cost options on the market, metal may not seem like a logical choice. But there are some situations where metal pallets offer the only real workable solution. While metal pallets tend to cost more than wood and plastic pallets, they are also stronger and more durable than the alternatives. Metal pallets work well in automotive, foundry, military, manufacturing, clean room, pharmaceutical and heavy industrial applications.
Advantages of metal pallets include:
• Durable and strong — Metal pallets can carry extremely heavy objects and are capable of withstanding rigors of tough environments. Metal can support wide or long loads without excessive mass, which wood cannot do as well, and plastic cannot do at all.
• Regulatory compliant — Metal pallets meet regulatory requirements for interstate, intrastate, and international import/export specifications that affect wood products. It meets or exceeds all FDA and USDA standards.
• Insurance — Creates less of a fire challenge than wood or plastic, which can reduce fire and liability insurance rates for material handling environments.
• Sanitation — Metal can be easily sanitized unlike wood and is harder to contaminate than plastic. Metal eliminates rodent, insect, and fungus problems without the requirement of chemical treatments.
• Temperature — Extremely hot objects, such as metal forging, can be placed on metal pallets.
• Completely Recyclable — Metal packaging has a higher resell value than other alternatives. There are no disposal fees in most cases.
• Automation — No splinters, works well in automated materials handling systems.
• Setup Costs — Usually costs less to setup and prototype than most customized plastic packaging.
Metal pallets have some drawbacks. For starters, metal pallets tend to be more expensive than most other options on the market. Metal packaging can be heavy, which impacts human handling of empty pallets. And finally, metal can be difficult to repair if the deck or stringers warp or bend.
Which Metal Fits Best?
Manufacturers use various types of metal and designs. When it comes to the type of metal, there are three options — steel, stainless steel and aluminum. Steel is the cheapest and most common choice. Stainless steel and aluminum are much more expensive than traditional steel pallets.
Stainless steel does not need coating, which makes it ideal for clean room/pharmaceutical applications. Aluminum is the lightest metal material. Thus, it works well for airfreight where weight impacts cost. Aluminum’s lighter weight reduces the potential for workplace injury, and aluminum will not rust. Depending on the longevity, aluminum may be the most cost-effective solution per trip. O-T-D Corp. reported manufacturing aluminum containers for Goodyear that have been used for outdoor storage for 30 years.
Various coatings are applied to protect and improve the life of metal pallets. Options include: powdercoats, wet paint, or galvanized coatings. Paint tends to chip and come off easier whereas powdercoat bakes into the surface making it more resistant to wear.
Design can impact performance. For example, corrugated steel is stronger than just a flat surface. A corrugated surface adds strength and rigidity without having to use heavier gauge steel. Wire mesh pallets work for lighter loads and packaged goods but not heavy industrial or processing applications. Collapsible designs tend to improve return ratios but decrease load carrying capacity.
Partnering with Wood Pallet Companies
Most metal pallet suppliers polled by Pallet Enterprise expressed willingness to work with wood pallet companies. Some metal pallet suppliers seemed flexible on how they would conduct the business arrangement. Options include: paying a sales commission, selling direct to the wood pallet company that in turn resells the product to the end customer, offering a sales referral bonus, etc. Depending on the level of customization, most suppliers reported a 4-8 week turn around time on orders. For more information, see the information box on page 30.
Featured Suppliers of Metal Containers and Pallets
Grate Pallet Co.:
Jarke Corp.: The Payback Pallet uses high strength, galvanized steel tubular components. It offers a heavy load capacity and is lightweight and rackable. Phone: 800/RACK-ALL E-mail: email@example.com www.jarke.com
Streator Dependable:Since 1945, Streator Dependable Mfg. has evolved from a wartime supplier of bomb trailers to a premier manufacturer of custom material handling equipment and packaging. Streator offers numerous innovative designs such as the pin-pallet boasts. Orders are custom designed and welded by hand. Streator uses a variety of materials including steel and aluminum. Phone: 800/795-0551 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.streatordependable.comO-T-D custom designed and engineered aluminum pallets are ideal for any automated storage and retrieval system or closed-loop material handling system. O-T-D’s aluminum pallets are reliable and built to a consistent size tolerance to ensure a smooth running system. These pallets will not rust and are extremely lightweight. Phone: 574/288-0922 E-mail: email@example.com www.otdcorp.com Nashville Wire Products Container Division now offers the Space Saver 4000, a welded wire 4000 lb. capacity shop pallet. Weighing less than 50 lbs. each, with a footprint of 40" x 48" (less than 14 sq. ft.), these nesting pallets can be stacked up to 80 high. Custom colors are available upon request. The Space Saver 4000 is in stock and ready for immediate shipment. Phone: 888/743-2595 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.nashvillewire.comGrate Pallet uses industrial metal bar grating for pallets, racks and containers. The strength-to-weight ratio of bar grating coupled with efficient automation allows Grate Pallet to build a stronger, lighter, more durable and more affordable deck than other competitive designs on the market. www.gratepallet.com
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