Pallets – The Essential Warehouse Tool

There are many components of warehousing operation, from racking to inventory software, equipment, and staff.  There’s one simple item, however, that without which, no warehouse can get off the ground: and that’s pallets.

Experienced warehouse managers and logistic teams understand the value of selecting the right pallet for specific inventory, but there’s a lot that goes into that choice.

One of the first things you should consider is pallet positioning (rack width vs depth). If you plan to use odd-sized pallets, you may require a custom pallet rack configuration to accommodate the pallet dimensions.  Determining your rack frame design will set you in the direction for then choosing the best pallet material for your inventory. Whether you choose wood, plastic, metal, or some combination of the three, your pallet rack system should be configured to maximise your resources.

Common Warehouse Pallet Materials

  • Wood Pallets
  • Plastic Pallets
  • Metal Pallets

Wooden pallets are the most common, so let’s start there.

The Pros of Wood Pallets

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Customizable
  • Repairable
  • Recyclable

The type of wood and moisture content will vary by pallet manufacturer, but generally wood pallets are a good universal choice. 

Where you need to be concerned about using wood pallets is for inventory vulnerable to bacterial or chemical contamination. Because of the moisture inherent in wood, the pallets can harbour bacteria and potentially transmit moisture to exposed inventory causing damage. Wood can also be susceptible to bugs. In addition, wood can splinter and/or fasteners such as nails or screws can come loose and catch on exposed inventory.

Wood pallets are ideal for sealed and/or non-biodegradable materials. 

Plastic pallets are becoming more popular and more common.

The Pros of Plastic Pallets

  • Durable
  • Easy to clean
  • Moisture resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Don’t splinter
  • Recyclable
  • Insect free

The initial price of plastic pallets is their biggest con, they can be three times more expensive than wood. However, if you have a closed-loop inventory control (where return of your pallet is guaranteed) then plastic could be an economical choice after all.

Other concerns for plastic pallets would be load weights of over 1500 lbs., exposure to heat, or use in dynamic racking systems. While heat exposure would have to be extreme to damage the plastic pallet it is a concern in certain scenarios of storage and transportation.

Plastic pallets are ideal for indoor or outdoor storage, fragile products, food processing and pharmaceutical products.

Metal Pallets are clearly durable and sturdy, yet metal pallets make up only a small percentage of the pallet market.

The Pros of Metal Pallets

  • Stiff
  • Strong
  • Sanitary
  • Insect free

The disadvantages of metal pallets are high initial price, pallet weight and rust susceptibility.

Most metal pallets are made from steel or aluminium. Steel metal pallets are ideal for products that would be susceptible to corrosion and/or require a “closed environment”, i.e. auto parts, ammunition.

Once you’ve chosen the right pallet/pallets to handle your inventory needs, you need to protect that investment just like any other important operational tool. Pallet inspection and repair should be a regular warehousing function. Money spent on keeping your pallets in good shape repays you in efficiency and minimising downtime and equipment or inventory damage.