THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO
1. Introduction to Pallet Distribution
Pallet distribution is transporting and delivering pallet loads through a specialised network and is carried out by specialist companies with experience operating a pallet distribution network. Usually, a pallet distribution provider will collect and deliver pallet loads.
To send items through a pallet distribution network, they must be packaged using a pallet. A pallet (or skid) is a flat base structure used to place or stack items for distribution. Pallets come in different sizes and materials for different distribution requirements.
Using a pallet makes transporting bulk goods much more manageable, safer, and efficient. Different countries have different pallet size standards. In the UK, the standard size of a pallet is 1.2m (120cm) in length and 1m (100cm) in width.
The Importance of Pallet Distribution
The main importance of pallet distribution is that it allows businesses to send large shipments in bulk. With the economies of scale, pallet distribution is a much more effective way of transporting and delivering goods.
Businesses can use pallet distribution on an ongoing basis or as a one-off. A pallet distribution provider will offer flexible options for delivery and pallet sizes. Fast deliveries, such as next-day and same-day delivery, can significantly benefit a business’s supply chain and inventory management.
Most pallet distribution services will also be fully inclusive, from collection to delivery. Many pallet operators will assist with the unloading and loading pallet shipments using specialised equipment and machinery.
The Benefits of Using Pallets for Transportation and Logistics
Businesses and logistics companies widely use pallets due to the benefits they provide:
- Transporting goods is much easier and more efficient using pallets.
- Pallets offer greater safety for sending shipments as items are secured in one place, helping reduce the risk of damage.
- Compared to alternatives, such as cardboard boxes, pallets are much stronger.
- Providing a pallet is in good condition, it can continue to be reused.
- Pallets also use very little space or room and can be easily stacked.
- Most pallets can be recycled or easily disposed of, provided no chemical treatments have been used.
The Pallet Distribution Process
The pallet distribution & delivery process ensures efficient and reliable delivery of pallet shipments. The pallet distribution process begins when a business contacts a pallet distribution provider.
- A business or individual contacts a pallet distribution provider to arrange the collection of a pallet shipment for delivery.
- The pallet company will arrive at the designated time and location to collect the pallet shipment.
- Upon collection, the pallet shipment is taken to the pallet provider’s distribution warehouse.
- At the warehouse, shipments are organised and consolidated to routes ready for dispatch.
- The shipment is loaded onto the delivery truck using appropriate handling equipment.
- Pallets are secured on the vehicle, ready to leave the distribution warehouse.
- The shipment is dispatched at an appropriate time to achieve timely delivery.
2. Types of Pallets
Materials Used for Pallet Construction
Pallets are made from various materials for different shipment needs. While wood pallets are the most commonly used, other materials are used for constructing pallets, including:
Each material has different benefits and drawbacks that should be considered when choosing a pallet.
- Wood pallets are robust, reliable, and cost-effective, making them the most popular material. However, if the pallet is knocked or damaged, it can weaken the structure, making them unstable. Wood pallets are suited for transporting regular shipments.
- Plastic pallets are much easier to clean and maintain compared to wood. Plastic pallets are also much lighter and can withstand impact better. However, plastic pallets cost more than wood. The plastic can also weaken or bend under oversized loads. Plastic pallets are better suited for transporting medical shipments.
- Metal pallets are the heaviest and most durable, made from either steel or aluminium. Metal pallets are much dearer but the strongest available, able to withstand greater impacts. However, the heavier weight can lead to higher transport costs. Metal pallets are suited for transporting very heavy shipments.
- Cardboard pallets are single-use, disposable pallets. As a result, cardboard pallets are the lightest and cheapest. However, they are only single-use and best suited for transporting lightweight items.
Pallets can also be constructed differently to suit varying shipment requirements, such as open and closed boards or two-way and four-way entry.
Standard Pallet Sizes and Specifications
There are different standards for pallet sizes. The UK’s standard pallet size is slightly larger than the standard Euro pallet size. A standard pallet size of 120cm by 100cm is used in the UK. Euro pallets are a slightly smaller size of 120cm by 80cm. Euro pallets made to the exacting standards will have the EUR stamp.
There are also different size specifications depending on the weight of a shipment. Pallet companies have varying specifications for weight and size to allow for more efficient distribution. The specifications can differ between pallet distribution providers but will usually include the following:
- Micro shipments of up to 150kg, no higher than 0.6m
- Quarter shipments of up to 300kg, no higher than 0.6m
- Half shipments of up to 600kg, no higher than 1m
- Euro shipments of up to 1000kg, no higher than 2cm
- Full shipments of up to 1200kg, no higher than 2.2cm
If a pallet shipment exceeds the specification, it is considered an oversized pallet. Pallet vehicles are loaded according to the size specifications for more efficient distribution. Oversizing pallets will increase the delivery cost and could delay shipments if insufficient space is available.
Pallet Types Advantages and Disadvantages
Different pallets are available, all with varying constructions and designs.
Block pallets use a four-way construction method so that a forklift can pick them up from any side and are considered stronger than stringer pallets as the top board is supported with 12 columns. Both perpendicular and parallel stringers are used for better handling efficiency.
Stringer pallets are the most commonly used, with distinct boards running along the top and bottom decks. Two-way stringer pallets are the most common. They can only be lifted from 2 sides as two boards run between the deck boards providing extra support.
Double Face Pallets
As the name suggests, Double-face pallets have both a top and bottom deck. Double-face pallets can be used on either side and can be picked from 4 sides. These pallets are better suited to heavier loads.
Double Wing Pallets
Like double-face pallets, double-wing pallets contain a top and bottom deck. However, the decks of double-wing pallets extend beyond the stringers, making the pallet look as if it has wings. Double-wing pallets can transport larger goods more easily with a wider surface area.
Solid Deck Pallets
A solid deck pallet uses a large single sheet on the top deck without any gaps. For that reason, solid deck pallets are easier to maintain. Solid pallets are better suited for transporting smaller or fragile items that may slip between the gaps and break with other pallet types.
Moulded pallets are also available as roto moulded or injection moulded pallets and are used more for transporting goods where hygiene is a concern, as these pallets can be easily cleaned or disinfected.
To make roto moulded pallets, a rotational moulding method is used. Steel frames can also be used to enhance the pallet for heavier loads. Moulded pallets can be dearer than other types due to the manufacturing process.
Injection moulded pallets are made from high-density resin at high temperatures so the plastic can be injected into a mould. Once cooled, the pallet is ejected from the mould. The HDPE resin is easily cleaned and corrosion free, making them ideal for transporting corrosive chemicals.
3. Pallet Distribution Network
The Components of a Pallet Distribution Network
A pallet network is a collective group of haulage companies combined with regional hubs and localised facilities to improve the efficiency and timeliness of pallet shipment distribution. Each network member will have their designated area for collecting and delivering loads.
Examples of pallet networks include the United Pallet Network and The Pallet Network.
A successful pallet distribution network will require several components:
Suppliers are either businesses or individuals who use a pallet network to send pallets. A sender or supplier will initiate the pallet distribution process and are responsible for preparing pallet shipments.
Pallets are used for improving the efficiency and timeliness of distribution through a network and provide a much safer way to transport large shipments due to their stability. Different pallet sizes and materials are used according to the load.
Each network area will consist of a large regional hub or distribution centre. The distribution centre receives, sorts, assigns, and dispatches pallets to the smaller, more localised facilities. Larger regional hubs will send shipments to smaller facilities ready for delivery.
The vehicles and method of transportation for getting each pallet shipment from A to B. A pallet network can consist of several forms of transportation to ensure timely delivery, including trucks, ships, and rail.
The equipment used at each facility ensures the safe and secure handling of pallet shipments. Handling equipment is used for loading/unloading vehicles and easily moving shipments throughout the distribution centres or warehouse storage facilities. Equipment can include pallet jacks and forklift trucks.
The delivery route and timing are planned before dispatch to ensure efficient and timely delivery of pallet shipments. Shipments are organised based on delivery times, transport routes, and efficient use of vehicle space to optimise the delivery process.
Track and trace systems are in place throughout the pallet distribution process to monitor the progress throughout a network. A pallet is scanned through each stage of the distribution process using a designated barcode. Senders can track progress using a specific code or ID.
Delivery & Reverse Logistics
The safe and reliable delivery of pallet shipments to the customer at the agreed location, date, and time. Where necessary, reverse logistics is returning items through the pallet network. Processes, such as recycling or returns, are all classed as reverse logistics.
Stakeholder Responsibilities In the Pallet Distribution Network
Several parties are involved in a pallet network, each with different roles and contributions to keep the pallet distribution process running smoothly and efficiently. The stakeholders or parties involved in a pallet distribution network include:
- Suppliers/senders – the people responsible for preparing and packaging pallets ready for entering the distribution networks.
- Pallet manufacturers – the company’s manufacturing and supplying the pallets used for shipments.
- Haulage companies – the individual haulage companies that operate within a network that collect, transport, and delivers pallet shipments.
- Distribution centres – the central hubs within a pallet network where all pallets are processed and organised for efficient and timely delivery.
- Network operators – the pallet network operator is in charge of the entire distribution network.
- Handling equipment suppliers – the manufacturers and suppliers of handling equipment used throughout the distribution network.
- Customers – the recipients of a pallet shipment.
- Regulatory bodies – the bodies and associations, such as Logistics UK, who set standards and enforce regulations in the logistics industry.
Optimising a Pallet Distribution Network
Pallet networks continually optimise their distribution network to improve efficiency, speed, and reliability. There are several ways to optimise a pallet distribution network:
- The layout of the warehouse and distribution facilities
- The use of storage systems
- Implementing and updating technology for streamlined processes
- Regularly review procedures and decrease processing time
- Regularly monitoring and improving delivery routes and networks
- Optimising pallet usage and the materials used
- Incorporate automation into operations
4. Pallet Packaging and Loading
Best Practices for Pallet Packaging and Securing Loads
The preparation and packaging of pallets can affect the safety of goods and the efficiency of pallet distribution. The preparation and packaging are the most crucial part of a pallet. Follow the best practices for packaging and securing pallets to avoid pallet distribution challenges, such as damaged goods or delayed delivery.
- Consider the material and design of the pallet needed for your shipment.
- Ensure the quality of the pallet is not compromised and showing signs of wear.
- Check that the weight and size of your pallet shipments meet the requirements of your chosen pallet.
- Remove any old shipment labels, or cover if not possible.
- Avoid stacking items in a pyramid formation.
- Boxes should be stacked on top of one another instead of interlocked.
- Ensure no items are overhanging or sticking out from the pallet.
- Place slip sheets between each layer to prevent items from slipping.
- Make effective use of the pallet space available.
- Start with the heaviest and bulkiest items, working up to the lightest.
- Avoid oversizing a pallet.
- Use ratchet straps to hold down large or unusually shaped items.
- Wrap your pallet using strong plastic wrap.
- Make sure any perishable items are adequately wrapped and fragile items are secured using bubble wrap.
- Ensure liquids are firmly sealed and no leaks can occur during distribution.
- If your pallet is outside, make sure it is weather protected.
- Place shipping labels in a prominent location, avoiding bending or covering barcodes.
Make sure your pallet load is available for pick-up at the requested date and time and in a location that is easily accessible.
Techniques for Maximising Space and Load Stability
When preparing pallets, there are certain techniques you can use to maximise the space and load stability. Firstly, when stacking a pallet, ensure that items are stacked up to the edge but not over it. Also, use as much horizontal space as possible.
There are several ways you can consider stacking items on a pallet, including:
- Split row
- Hybrid pinwheel
Consider using dunnage to protect your items during transport. Dunnage is a durable support packaging for pallets stacked in a pallet for storing or transporting. A dunnage provides extra support and protection and can be any protective material, such as bubble wrap.
Go as high as your pallet shipment permits. A pallet network or haulage company will have standard sizes. Make sure your pallet shipment goes as close to the standard as possible. Avoid going over, as your shipping charge may increase or get delayed.
Safety Guidelines for Loading Pallets
To reduce the risk of incidents, there are some safety guidelines you should adhere to for loading pallets.
- Make sure the height adheres to the standard pallet dimensions. The taller a pallet is, the more difficult and slower it is to move them.
- Create a solid foundation for your pallet. The bottom forms the base for the entire pallet. Like a building, a pallet requires strong foundations to secure it.
- Never manually move a pallet. Always use appropriate handling equipment to avoid personal injury.
- Minimise trip and fall hazards by ensuring no pallets are obstructing walkways. Also, make sure runways are clear and no pallets obstruct vehicles.
- Pallets should always be stacked vertically on top of one another to prevent falls and risk of injury.
- Always avoid using damaged pallets, even if they only show slight wear and tear. The pallet can become structurally unstable, leading to an injury risk.
- Follow the best practices and techniques for pallet packaging to avoid unnecessary damage and health and safety risks.
5. Pallet Distribution Technology
Pallet Distribution Technology Solutions
Technology is changing and evolving all the time. Advances in technology systems make it possible to improve the efficiency and speed of the pallet distribution process. There are several technology solutions to implement for improved pallet distribution.
Warehouse management systems
Warehouse management systems (WMS) combine software and processes to better control, organise, and streamline orders processed through a warehouse. WMS tracks all shipments that enter and leave a warehouse, managing order fulfilment better.
A WMS can also improve the efficiency of pick and pack operations in a warehouse. That’s because WMS tracks the location of shipments at any point during order fulfilment. Customers can also track stock levels in real time, as all information is readily available.
WMS can be either integrated or standalone. Integrated WMS is incorporated into an existing resource planning system for more cost-effective operations. A standalone WMS is primarily used as a warehouse management system and will have more advanced reporting on warehouse operations.
Transportation management systems
A transportation management system (TMS) is an operational platform used to monitor, plan, and optimise the movement of goods into and out of a facility. TMS can also ensure that a shipment complies with guidelines and that the proper documentation is in order.
TMS systems can be used throughout every stage of the supply chain or pallet distribution process for better planning and movement of goods. Using a TMS can improve the efficiency of running increasingly complex levels of transportation, including transport modes and regions.
Implementing TMS into pallet distribution improves the speed of delivery, ensuring timely delivery can be achieved. This is achieved through optimising the delivery routes and loads across all transportation methods.
Track and trace systems
Track and trace systems are now used as standard throughout the logistics industry. Using GPS and other monitoring systems to monitor the location and progress of a shipment throughout a distribution network.
Track and trace systems usually provide real-time status updates on the precise location of an item. Such systems can be accessed both internally and externally by customers. A unique code or ID number is assigned to each shipment for precise monitoring.
Most track and trace systems also now offer proof of delivery. Proof of delivery (POD) indicates a shipment was successfully delivered. Other details, such as the recipient’s signature, may also be shown on a track-a-trace system.
Another pallet distribution technology solution to streamline and improve processes in automation. Robotics and automation can take over tedious manual tasks that a human would typically carry out. Automating such processes allows more time to focus on more complex tasks.
Effective implementation of automation and robotics does not seek to overtake the jobs of humans. Instead, effective implementation of this technology will work alongside humans to improve and better operational efficiency.
Automation and robotics that are seeing a rise in pallet distribution include:
- Goods-to-person (GTP) technologies that bring items to a worker.
- Pack-to-light systems that use LED lights or barcodes so workers can find items quicker.
- Voice picking and voice tasking implement communication technology to workers.
- Sortation systems that identify and separate items to the correct location.
- Collaborative mobile robots operate alongside humans for greater accuracy in picking items and productivity.
- Drones for better inventory management by monitoring the location and quantity of items.
Electronic data interchange
Electronic data interchange (EDI) digitally communicates information previously communicated using paper. Implementing EDI reduces the risk of error, cuts costs, and improves the efficiency of distribution channels.
Electronic data interchange allows for digital communication to be available almost instantly. Various documents, such as shipping papers or labelling for dangerous goods, can be accessed from EDI systems. Usually, such systems are flexible to individual workflows.
Optimisation software, such as loading optimisation, is a special software designed to adjust and improve operations for greater efficiency. The optimisation software is based on key performance indicators that need to be improved.
Load optimisation or load planning systems help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of loading shipments onto vehicles. As a result, transport and shipping activities are streamlined for improved operations, reduced costs, and more sustainable processes.
Mobile & cloud-based software
Software and tools used throughout the pallet distribution are now available for mobile and cloud use. Mobile systems and web-based apps can be used throughout the distribution pallet for better order management.
Software like load optimisation systems can be accessed anywhere, anytime, and without installation. SaaS cloud-based software is becoming increasingly popular in the logistics industry. Using such software reduces costs while offering much greater operational elasticity.
Benefits of Implementing Technology In Pallet Distribution Operations
There are several benefits of implementing technology in pallet distribution operations, including:
- Improved inventory management
- Better order fulfilment
- Reliable monitoring and tracking of shipments
- Greater efficiency and improved worker performance
- Better customer service and service quality
- More opportunities for collaboration between partners
- Better access to important documentation
6. Sustainable Pallet Distribution
Importance of Sustainable Pallet Distribution
Pallet distribution and delivery can have a strong environmental impact. Logistics and transport services have gained a reputation for not being particularly eco-friendly. Many pallet distribution companies have now started to adopt green and eco-friendly practices due to the benefits they can provide:
- Less waste
- Reduced business costs and higher profits
- Improved brand image and public perception
- Can provide a competitive advantage
- Increase in employee productivity & retention
- Easier to comply with regulations
Eco-friendly Pallet Materials and Design Options
Much wastage can occur when using and packaging pallets. Also, pallets can be damaged and become unusable, and packaging used for safely securing pallets can reduce the sustainability of the pallet distribution operation. To overcome this, there are eco-friendly options available.
- Reduce plastic waste by using alternative wrapping materials.
- Choose strong, more durable pallets that have much more usage (such as HDPE plastic).
- Reuse wooden pallets, repairing any minor damage if possible.
- When a wooden pallet becomes unusable, find an alternative use for the pallet.
- Recycle any non-chemically treated wood.
- Consider eco-friendly pallets that are specially made for minimal environmental impact.
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