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Back to Basics: Cost Effective Pallet Logistics Starts with Pallet Loading and Proper Trailer Management
Recycling columnist shares how proper trailer loading and managing backhauls can reduce transport costs and improve profitability
By Clarence Leising, Dick Burns
Date Posted: 3/1/2012
††††††††††††††† When it comes to pallet logistics, little decisions can have a monumental impact on the efficiency and cost effectiveness of your operation. It all starts with proper trailer loading to ensure that you get the maximum number of pallets on each load. Empty space costs money in terms of fuel, driver expense, and most importantly the lost opportunity cost of selling extra pallets on each run. This includes both deliveries to customers and trailers full of pallet cores that you receive from distribution centers.
††††††††††††††† As you take on new accounts, you need to do a good survey to figure out pallet counts, assess any ways that a supplier can improve the utilization of pallet trailers and work to ensure that you are shipping as little empty space as possible. Those two extra stacks that you have to spin on one side when you are loading a trailer pays for the run. It could add thirty six to forty two pallets on each trailer.
††††††††††††††† If you pinwheel it, you almost always maximize the trailer configuration. Pinwheeling is putting every other stack on the 40 inch side in the trailer. For example, the first stack is put on the 48 inch side into the trailer, the next stack is put on the 40 inch side into the trailer and then reverse the process. Most modern pallet trailers are 53 feet long and some older trailers are 48 feet long. In the larger trailer, you can get 588 pallets per load if you pack 28 stacks 21 high. If you load all pallets straight in the 48 inch side, you can only get 24 stacks at 21 high, which equals 504 pallets. Thatís 84 pallets per trailer that you canít fit just based on how you pack it. In the long run itís like getting an extra load of pallets for every five loads you receive.† This translates into significant fuel and pallet savings over time.
††††††††††††††† The key to pinwheeling is to keep the pallet stacks vertically straight while loading. Many forklift drivers will have a spot in the loading area where they can bang pallet stacks against a pole or something else to get all the pallets in a straight stack. Sometimes, a forklift driver may have to get off the vehicle to align some pallets. That is one reason why some forklift drivers donít like to pinwheel loads.†
††††††††††††††† Some customers or suppliers donít want to deal with the hassle involved with loading a 53 foot trailer this way. But if you can get at least one side pinwheeled you can get at least one extra stack on a load. You want to look for suppliers who will pinwheel loads, particularly if you are paying to buy cores on a truckload basis. You may need to offer a bit of a cash incentive. This should be part of the agreement with your suppliers. If youíre doing it on a trailer load basis, you have to have them jammed in to maximize efficiency.† It really doesnít take that much more time.†
††††††††††††††† Having loaded thousands of trailers, pinwheeling loads adds about ten minutes to the process. The reason pinwheeling takes more time is that youíre putting more pallets on each load. It may take a little longer in prep work and aligning pallet stacks, but the added pallets on each load are worth the hassle. Getting what you want may require you to provide some training or guidance to core suppliers. Uncooperative suppliers that want to get paid top dollar but arenít willing to efficiently loads trailers may not be worth the trouble.
††††††††††††††† The second major place where you can save money is efficient backhauls when delivering loads of pallets to customers. If you can coordinate backhauls from that location or a nearby customer, you can significantly reduce empty miles.
††††††††††††††† Based on our experience, we looked for other waste streams to backhaul if pallet loads were not readily available. What worked well for us was hauling corrugated from a lot of customers.† This involved dropping off a load of pallets and picking up corrugate. Making effective use of backhauls enabled us to offset our trucking costs over the course of about two years. We saved about $100,000 to $150,000 per year by reducing the number of empty miles shipped.
††††††††††††††† Although efficient pallet logistics and transport management is not rocket science, it is amazing how many pallet companies bypass savings because they donít stop to do the little things to reduce empty miles and fill as much space as possible. Even if you think you are doing a good job, you should regularly stop to analyze your transport costs and practices and evaluate what you could be doing better. Remember this simple rule empty miles = lost profitability.