For keeping supply chains across the world moving, it takes the movement of millions of pallets. Several hundred new pallets are produced annually simply to keep up the numbers required to get commodities to flow from manufacturers to retailers and ultimately, customers.
Every manufacturer, big or small, faces this challenge of managing huge numbers of pallets and monitoring their status as they are brought to warehouses and shipped to retailers. As a matter of fact, the management of pallet inventory seems so tough that companies do not care what happens after the pallets have been used in the first stream of shipment.
Pallets are treated as disposable and to be used only one way, with no concern for retrieval. This treatment is natural when pallets used to have a short span of life.
But many retailers have complaints about receiving stringer pallets in damaged condition. They demand the use of better lasting and high-quality pallets for reducing damage to products while being shipped and render the pallets safe to deal with when they arrive.
For instance, Walmart, the retail giant stipulates that products must be shipped to them on block pallets of high quality that match up to or surpass the highest GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) grade of pallets. Such sturdy block pallets are too expensive to be simply disposed of. Hence, many companies have been forced to generate a mode of managing the inventory of pallets.
The challenges for pallet management are as follows:
When a pallet makes a return trip from retailer to the manufacturer for being put to re-use, this effectively doubles the process of transport needed to keep the supply chain in motion. However, a bigger challenge is the administrative task with regard to monitoring how many pallets have been placed in all locations. Also, there is the task to judge when there are enough pallets that have been accumulated at a location such that it makes it worthwhile for sending a truck for the sake of retrieval of pallets.
After the warehouse receives a consignment of retrieved pallets, it is necessary to sort the pallets to identify which ones can be used again and which are damaged. Damaged pallets must be sorted further to separate items which can be repaired from ones that cannot be recovered because of excessive damage.
Damaged pallets which can be possibly salvaged must be repaired through either adding reinforcement or handling broken boards. Though this is not such a complex task, it needs work by staff who are skilled in the safe use of tools and also with suitable compensation, equipment and space to carry out such work.
How to store
Most pallets are bulky, which implies that safe storage of idle pallets needs a huge quantum of space at manufacturing facilities or a special storage area with transport to carry pallets to locations where they are used.
When pallets are totally and irretrievably damaged without any scope for repair, they need to be completely disposed of. Usually, pallets after the last stage of their usability are transported to landfills of the locality where they are dumped for a fee, depending on weight. For an extra cost, screws and nails can be extracted from the discarded pallets and be used in ground form as wood or mulch filler.
Within an internal pool of pallets, they turn out to be additional products needing dedicated transport and facilities for maintenance.
The pallet pooling task can be outsourced to companies who are independent professionals in the field of pallet management. They maintain a wide national customer base as well as depots in regions to sort, clean and repair pallets. A nation-wide presence helps them to optimize logistics. Companies who outsource work can rest free of the burden of inventory management of pallets. More and more service providers are using plastic pallets which are more reliable and stronger than wood pallets. They are also more sustainable and hygienic.