Executives paid more attention to the supply chain in 2018 than they have in decades. One big reason was increasing transportation costs, which will continue to threaten profit margins into 2019 as contributing factors, like the truck driver shortage, persist. There is a silver lining to all this, though. Logistics operations have been conducted for years with little attention paid to them, and as a result, many potential improvements have been overlooked. The rise of transportation costs to the point where they have started to endanger profits has caught the attention of high-level decision-makers and has given new weight to logistics managers’ arguments for improving supply chain efficiency.
One simple improvement would be a switch to a more efficient pallet. The modern supply chain relies on the pallet, often the single-use wood stringer pallet or the pooled wood block pallet. However, logistics managers are becoming increasingly disillusioned with wood pallets of both types and the innumerable issues they cause that reduce supply chain efficiency. Alternative shipping platforms such as plastic pallets make use of precise engineering and technological innovation to increase logistics efficiency. These potential benefits have many logistic managers weighing the merits of plastic vs. wood pallets. How do they compare? First, let’s talk about wood.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wood Pallets
One of the reasons for the long reign of the wood stringer pallet is cost. In fact, the low price of a stringer pallet is perhaps its single greatest asset. The cost of these pallets is so low that it is often more economical for companies to abandon them once they’ve made their run than to arrange for their return. However, this low price comes with serious disadvantages:
- Breakage: Stringer pallets aren’t very sturdy and can be broken by overloading or misloading the pallet or by forklift damage. In serious cases, this can render the pallet unusable before it reaches its destination and can cause the loss of part or all of a load of product.
- Product Damage: When stringer pallets break, the result is more than just a broken board. Large splinters, smaller debris, and loose fasteners are detached from the pallet. These can puncture product containers and render the products unfit for sale. If the product ends up in the hands of consumers, foreign object contamination due to splinters and nails may be cause for a recall.
- Product Contamination: Wood pallets absorb liquids, providing a vector for biological and chemical contamination. They also provide an environment for warehouse pests to nest and hide.
- Ecological Damage: Pallet construction consumed between 4.1 and 5 billion board feet of lumber in 2016 and despite recycling efforts, millions of pallets still end up in landfills.
The product damage that can result from the use of stringer pallets is common enough that many retailers prefer to receive products from their vendors on something sturdier: a reusable wood block pallet. These are more expensive than stringer pallets, but are also more durable and last longer. However, they are only economical if reused until they reach the end of their lifespan. Doing this requires running an expensive, complex reverse supply chain in order to return pallets to production sites for reuse. Instead, most companies turn to pallet pooling companies, which ensure that a sufficient supply of pallets is provided when and where it is needed.
Low-quality wood pallets contribute to employee injury and product damage and are often rejected by large retailers.
Yet block pallets, like stringer pallets, come with a long list of issues. They are still made of absorbent wood and reuse across multiple supply chains creates a greater potential for cross-contamination. Furthermore, the financial incentive for pallet pooling companies to reuse these pallets for as long as possible has led to pools full of pallets that should have been retired long ago. These low-quality pallets contribute to employee injury and product damage and are often rejected by large retailers.
An entirely different issue with block pallets is their weight, which is much greater than stringer pallets. Heavier pallets bring with them a greater risk of employee injury, higher fuel costs, and higher machinery maintenance costs. These drawbacks are a great enough operational drain that many logistics managers seek to remove wood from the supply chain entirely.
Plastic vs. Wood Pallets: Why the Pallet of the Future Is Plastic
Plastic pallets are made of a non-absorbent material that doesn’t degrade over time. That gives plastic platforms the following advantages:
- Pest Resistance: Plastic isn’t likely to be infested by insects as it doesn’t trap water and isn’t easy to penetrate. This prevents the spread of common warehouse pests and closes a route for invasive wood-eating species to spread.
- Biologically Sanitary: Plastic pallets are less likely to be colonized by harmful microbes like E. coli and Listeria.
- Chemically Sanitary: Plastic does not absorb liquid chemicals like detergents or bleach. This makes spills easier to clean up and prevents the spread of potentially harmful chemicals through the supply chain.
For these reasons, plastic pallets are the obvious choice for any supply chain where biological or chemical contamination is a special concern, such as the food, pet food, or pharmaceutical supply chains.
Plastic Pallets Are More Durable Than Wood Pallets
Along with their hygiene benefits, plastic pallets are simply sturdier and stronger than wood platforms, whether they be stringer or block designs. A high-quality plastic pallet is able to carry up to 5,000 pounds of dynamic weight and can hold up to 30,000 pounds at rest. This is significantly more than wood pallets, which have a maximum capacity of around 4,800 pounds, depending on the quality of manufacture and age. The strength of a plastic pallet is more consistent than wood–since they do not decay–as is a plastic pallet’s size and lighter weight. This consistency makes them the best, most reliable choice for supply chains that depend heavily on automation.
A pallet pooling service allows companies to enjoy the use of a superior shipping platform for a price comparable to wood pallet pooling.
Automated systems struggle with unanticipated variation–such as a pallet that weighs slightly more due to moisture content or has a missing board or protruding nail. Because automated systems are usually used in high-throughput warehouses and manufacturing, a delay to resolve a pallet-related issue can be quite costly.
What holds many companies back from switching to plastic is the perceived price of these pallets and the logistics of reuse across their long lifespan. However, a pallet pooling service that specializes in renting plastic pallets allows companies to enjoy the use of a superior shipping platform for a price comparable to wood pallet pooling. In the plastic vs. wood pallets debate, plastic is the clear winner.
The iGPS pallet pool offers a superior plastic pallet that consistently outperforms wood block and stringer pallets in logistics systems. To get started with a cost-saving wood pallet alternative, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.