In the first part of the 21st century, hipsters and DIY-enthusiasts began turning used shipping pallets into furniture. They presented this construction technique as some sort of improvement – turning a boring old pallet into a coffee table or nightstand.
For us, this wasn’t a step forward, but a step back. The pallet has been the backbone of our society for almost a century. Sure, it isn’t sexy and glamorous, but when farmers bring their crops to market or the military needs repair parts half a world away, they don’t look to a Pinterest board for help, they start stacking their stuff on a pallet.
Pallets are the workhorse of the warehouses and the supply chain superman. But where did they come from and how long have they been a part of our lives?
A simple product with a long history
If we were to look at the history of this under-rated shipping essential, we’d have to go all the way back to the ancient world.
From the time of the Egyptians, some form of skid has been used to move loads of cargo from one place to another. A skid is like two-thirds of a pallet. It has a flat surface with supports on the bottom, making it easy to drag. Everyone from the ancient Egyptians to the supply logisticians of WWII used skids for moving cargo.
Along the way, these easy-to-drag platforms would be loaded with anything from barrels to crates to bales of products of all sorts. Skids are less stable than pallets, but they’re easier to drag, cheaper to produce, and they’re a great way to store things in warehouses.
Skids were the bases of choice until the 1920s saw the invention of the first forklift. Sometime in the mid-1920s, boards were added across the bottom of the age-old skid design, giving it a more durable structure. The pallet as we know it was officially born!
This revolutionized the way we could load and store goods, especially since the pallets could be stacked. World War II is when the pallet and forklift combo really came into its own.
This indispensable pair became an essential part of the U.S. military’s logistics strategy, and they were put to work every day by businesses small and large all across the country. They made it possible to efficiently load, transport, and protect cargo as it moved all over the world.
It’s estimated that in 1941, there were 25,000 forklifts in use around the U.S. The pallet had proved its value and it was here to stay.
Innovation continued, and a British firm in the 1950s, Lansing Bagnall, patented the first narrow-aisle electric forklift. The small turning radius and high-reaching design of this forklift radically changed the layout of warehouses as it could operate in narrower aisles and stack higher than previous models. This meant a need for more pallets, and pallets rose to the occasion.
The size and shape of today’s pallets play a crucial role in supply chain efficiency, as manufacturers are always looking for the best way to pack their products so that they can maximize the load of each individual pallet.
According to Colin White, author of the book Strategic Management, IKEA went through three different redesigns of a single coffee mug, not just for looks, but to maximize the number that could be loaded on a pallet.
The first design resulted in a single-pallet load of 864 mugs, but the final design made it possible to fit 2,204 mgs on a pallet. This yielded a 60-percent reduction in shipping costs for each mug!
Have you given much thought to how you can load your company’s goods on a single pallet? Can it be improved? This is the sort of puzzle that we love to solve, and once Western Industries is on the case, we can find ways to help you save on your shipping, storage, and packaging.
Show us the products that fill up your supply chain and Western Industries can show you how to find hidden savings and improved customer satisfaction at every step.