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Computer Programs Design, Draw Pallets and Containers
Software Tools Prepare Cut Lists, Calculate Costs, Provide Other Benefits

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 11/1/2002

When the Pallet Design System (PDS) computer software program was released in 1984, many pallet companies did not even have a desk top computer, much less a fax machine or a cell phone. A lot has changed since then. Desk top computers are commonplace in homes and offices -- including pallet company offices.

Along with that permeation of the personal computer into virtually every facet of our personal and business lives, software programs to design pallets and containers are coming of age. The latest Windows-based software includes a new version of PDS (3.2) that -- for the first time – analyzes pallets made of some or all recycled components. Several other software programs are available. Click-Draw™, Crate Pro 4.0™, and The Packaging Expert. Below we review PDS and the three other programs.

Pallet Design System

Development of the Pallet Design System began in the late 1970s as a joint effort of the National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), Virginia Tech, and the U.S. Forest Service. According to Bill Sardo, first president of the NWPCA who led the association when PDS was under development, the software program is one of the most enduring accomplishments of the wood pallet industry.

One of the reasons the PDS program has endured is that it is continually updated and improved. Now pallet recyclers can benefit from the program, which previously was written for the design of pallets made of new lumber. The newest version allows users to analyze pallets designed to be assembled from recycled wood components and also combination pallets -- pallets assembled with a combination of new and recycled lumber.

Virginia Tech continues to research further improvements for PDS. The latest research will enable PDS to analyze packaging type and load stabilizers (straps, wrap, etc.), improving accuracy in simulating pallet performance under load. The next version of PDS, with this latest revision, will be released late this year or in early 2003, according to Dr. Mark White, director of the Virginia Tech pallet and container research laboratory. PDS licensees automatically receive all revisions.

"PDS has been really important for a long time," said Ian Carter, president of North American Industrial, a supplier of nails to the pallet and container industry, and chairman of NWPCA’s research steering committee. "I can’t see of a better program. It does a tremendous job in judging how a pallet will perform. PDS used in the right hands brings the best information to the table."

PDS accurately estimates pallet strength, deformation and durability based on information provided by the user about the pallet, unit load and handling environment. It allows great flexibility in terms of wood material and design options. After the data is entered into the program, PDS can predict pallet performance. It also may be used to design pallets for loads of a certain size in order to ensure the pallet is strong enough yet economical -- so the pallet is not under-built or over-built. The program produces a detailed six page report that is useful as a marketing tool.

Using PDS to come up with the most efficient design, pallet suppliers may be able to help customers reduce pallet costs without compromising the pallet’s ability to meet the requirements of an application.

PDS is available by license from the NWPCA; about 171 companies are licensed by the NWPCA to use the program. The license fee is based on a pallet company’s sales and ranges from $1,600 to $1,985 for association members and from $4,800 to $5,185 for non-members.

A free demo version of PDS can be downloaded from Virginia Tech at www.cnr.vt.edu/wood/htdocs/vtwood/sardo/pds/demo/.

For more information about PDS, contact the NWPCA at (703) 519-6104.

Pallet Track® Click-Draw™

Click-Draw™ is a new program that quickly creates professional, two-dimensional drawings of pallets and skids to scale. It also calculates costs by board feet of material or components, and it may be used to prepare custom quotes and requests for quotes.

The software program was introduced by Innovative Data Systems at the East Coast Sawmill and Logging Exposition earlier this year. Visitors to the pallet and sawmill trade show were enthusiastic about it; Innovative Data Systems sold 25 copies at the event, according to the company, and it has continued to sell well. Its reception was indicative of the need for such a program for pallet suppliers, said Alan Miceli, who developed the software. Innovative Data Systems also supplies bar code tracking systems for pallet companies to help them manage inventory, production, compensation, shipping and receiving.

Click-Draw™ quickly generates custom drawings of pallets, cut lists, and other information. Its value is in providing high quality drawings that may be used for successful marketing and communication with customers, noted Alan, who spent over a decade as sales manager at Pallets-R-Us on Long Island, N.Y.

Click-Draw™ also has a great deal of flexibility. "I have drawn an hour glass shaped pallet," said Alan.

Pete Jackson, president of PM Recycling in Woonsocket, R.I., said he has used Click-Draw™ "hundreds of times" and it has made business much easier. PM Recycling specializes in custom orders for 200 to 300 pallets. The drawings and cut list produced by Click-Draw™ have helped eliminate mistakes in production and customer expectations: Pete has customers sign off on the drawing before production begins. He also likes the affordability of Click-Draw™.

Innovative Data Systems offers a three-day demo Click-Draw™ program that can be used to produce 10 pallet drawings. If a pallet company is satisfied with Click-Draw™ and wants to buy it, the regular version may be activated with a credit card transaction.

Click-Draw™ has an on-line user manual, and Innovative Data Systems allows three free service calls. "To be honest," said Alan, "I get very few calls because it is extremely easy to use." The company offers full support on any program errors that are not included in the three calls.

The Click-Draw™ program assigns unique identification numbers to drawings that cannot be changed after they are saved. Revised drawings are saved as new drawings with different numbers. This feature avoids costly production mistakes and misunderstandings with customers.

Click-Draw™ is priced at $795 with future upgrades distributed to licensed users at no charge. The system can be fully networked with additional network licenses costing $75 each.

More information about Click-Draw™ is available over the Internet at www.pallettrack.com or call Innovative Data Systems at (631) 244-0069.

Crate Pro 4.0™

Crate Pro™ 4.0 is a stand-alone program to design and price wood crates and containers. The software is designed for both novices and those who are experienced at designing and building crates. Available from Deploy Tech, it replaces previous versions of Crate Generator, Crate Designer, and Easy Crate, which have been wide used by crate manufacturers the past 10 years.

Crate Pro has several modules. The Crate Pro Basic module, for example, can design light-duty plywood crates that meet military specifications and produce material lists. According to Deploy Tech, this class of container represents about 80% of all crates designed in North America.

The Packing Option module adds internal dunnage to the crate, and the Jobs Option module can combine multiple container data into a single job as needed.

The Advanced Styles module designs and figures costs of light-, medium- and heavy-duty crates and pallets specified by the military. This module also allows users to create virtually any type of crate -- even the most unique custom designs.

Deploy Tech plans to issue additional modules late this year addressing issues such as sales, attendance, inventory and production. With the addition of the anticipated modules, Deploy Tech is expecting Crate Pro to become an essential tool for companies that supply crates.

"After rigorously testing the product with live data and cut sheets, I believe Crate Pro can truly help craters build better crates," said Paul Vieira, an electronics packaging designer for Specialized Packaging Services Inc. "The software produced a guideline with the essential data we require for building custom crates in a matter of minutes -- something that would have taken us days or weeks to develop to ensure structural rigidity."

Crate Pro in its most basic version is priced at $389; the price goes up for adding modules. The complete version may cost $2,030. Trial versions are available.

Crate Pro Basic provides customer support by telephone 90 days and via e-mail for an additional 90 days. For multi-user applications, one call is allowed per basic license over the first 90 days in addition to 90 days of e-mail support.

For more information about Crate Pro, contact Deploy Tech at (800) 469-2769 or visit the Web sit at www.cratepro.com.

Packaging Expert

The Packaging Expert software program was developed to help improve the efficiency of packaging design and pricing for packaging and shipping specialty stores owned by the principals of Vision Alliance Network, the program publisher.

"We thought that if we were going to develop it, we should develop it for the industry," said Rutledge Scarborough of Vision Alliance. A mechanical engineer by training, he has been in the packaging business for 17 years and wrote the program about two years ago.

The Packaging Expert provides packaging suggestions, diagrams for custom boxes and crates, and calculates pricing. It produces a quote sheet that can be printed and given to customers.

"The program was designed so that once the software is set up, to use it on a day-to-day business is extremely easy," Rutledge said. The Packaging Expert has been tested on Windows 95 all the way up to Windows XP.

The program is particularly suited for companies that produce a range of crates, boxes and other packaging. It is designed to be a general purpose program versus extremely specialized. According to company literature, Packaging Expert provides:

! suggestions for packaging based on the goods to be shipped

! custom box or crate diagrams

! price calculations

! packaging and shipping weight and dimensions

! and proposals for customers.

The Packaging Expert comes with support via telephone or e-mail. It is priced at $135. A demo program is available for 90 days from the company’s Webs site at www.visionalliance.com/packexpert.htm.

For more information about the Packaging Export, contact the company at (866) 365-8988.

3-D Modeling

Where three-dimension modeling of pallet, container and unit loads is desired, Mark suggested SolidWorks, a computer assisted drafting (CAD) program that has been found to be useful. For more information about this program, visit the Web site at www.solidworks.com.

Finally, Mark noted that the purchase price of computer software is often the cheapest part of the investment. Companies and individuals that want to get the maximum benefits from these programs must invest the time for personnel to learn how to use them to their full potential.








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