A discussion of why standard pallet dimensions are important for supply chains, a review of common standard sizes, and related resources.
There are several standard sizes for pallets used in the United States and internationally. They vary between countries, as well as between industries. This article lists standard size information for applications in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Sizes are presented in inches as well as centimeters.
In many supply chains, typical pallet sizes or sizes often are well established and taken for granted, unless there is a need to revisit them. A different pallet size may be required, for example, to meet the needs of a new customer, new retail format, or perhaps to optimize newly installed warehouse automation. The operational and sales benefits offered by half pallets or quarter pallets, for instance, are currently motivating some companies to revisit their approach to pallet size.
7 Reasons Why Standard Pallet Sizes Are Important
In a mature supply chain, it is easy to take a standard pallet for granted. But things haven’t always been that way. Back in the mid-1990s, a produce packaging committee identified 37 different pallet sizes used in the U.S. pallet industry, a practice that required major retailers to reboard or double pallet many products. As a result, produce warehouses were required to position many unit loads on the floor, resulting in a loss of cube utilization and non-value added handling labor.
Can you imagine the chaos if distribution centers received pallets that were not compatible with storage and handling systems, or if the pallet sizes prevented shippers from optimizing trailer fill? And how would companies get rid of the pallets after they were emptied, if they were of a size that no one else wanted?
Modern supply chains require palletized products to flow efficiently from start to finish and, as such, have made investments in equipment geared to optimize operations around the standard size. The use of a standard pallet footprint means, for example, that the forklift operator won’t have to dismount to adjust fork openings, or that a nonconforming pallet won’t get snagged in automated equipment and require manual intervention. Here are some reasons why using a standard pallet size is important:
- Cube utilization When supply chains are built around a common pallet size, material handling, storage, and transportation equipment can be designed to optimize that size, allowing for superior cube utilization.
- Predictability and efficiency The use of a common pallet size of prescribed quality means that products can move more efficiently through supply chains, eliminating disruption required to reboard product or otherwise devious from standard operating procedures.
- Promotes the use of automation Aside from promoting supply chain efficiency, standardization is a requirement for most warehouse automated storage and handling systems.
- Elimination of labor As mentioned above, non-standard pallet usage can result in labor inefficiencies, such as reboarding products from non-conforming pallets or manually intervening to deal with odd-sized pallets that have malfunctioned in storage or conveyor systems.
- Promotion of reuse Standard-sized pallets help promote reuse in comparison to many custom pallets. In the case of standard pool pallets, empty pallets can be shipped to any nearby pool participant, thereby avoiding the need to relocate the custo pallets back to the original shipper.
- Elimination of solid waste After being emptied, non-standard pallets tend to accumulate due to a lack of marketable value. Where significant volumes of used empty standard pallets are generated, and where substantial customers for the used pallet exist, however, a strong secondary market may emerge. Secondary markets for 48×40 whitewood pallets and europallets, for instance, are very strong. In the case of 48×40″ pallets, they are readily accumulated for refurbishing by pallet recyclers, and then resold.
- Competitive pricing Where standard pallets that can be made in high volumes, and where used pallet recovery/refurbishment is well established, high volumes and the availability of used pallets usually translates into more competitive pricing
3 Disadvantages of Standard Pallet Sizes
While standard pallets offer a range of benefits, as outlined above but there are also potential pitfalls to consider.
- The standard size does not optimize a particular application Keep in mind that a standard pallet optimizes many supply chains, it might not be the best fit for a particular product or application. Non-standard pallets remain very important. In the U.S., these “other” pallets were determined to encompass 39% of pallet production.
- Obsolescence The use of a standard pallet size may become suboptimal over time. For example, if transportation, distribution channels or international markets change, the standard size may become suboptimal compared to other options. Where a pool is not owned by a single operator or actively administrated, the standard may be extremely difficult to change. In the case of the ad hoc North American 48×40-inch whitewood pool, for example, even as customer preference has shifted gradually toward block pallets, stringer pallets endure as the standard.
- Switching cost Once supply chains have been standardized around a particular pallet size, the cost involved in changing to a new standard size could be staggering. In 2002, for instance, an Australian report looked at the feasibility of switching from that country’s 45.9×45.9-inch standard size to the more popular 48×40-inch or 1200×1000 mm footprint to eliminate inefficiencies. While the analysis indicated that there were muti-billion dollar financial benefits to be derived from the move, it would have required an expenditure of $600 million over 10 years for new pallet purchase as well as other required equipment modification. Australia’s 45.9×45.9 footprint remains the standard in that country.
This concludes our discussion of why standard pallet sizes are important, as well as instances where they can stand in the way of transformation or optimizing for unique applications.
Standard Pallet Sizes in North America
In the years following World War 2, did you know that the 40×48″ pallet was much more popular than the 48×40-inch? While the former was popular for rail shipment, the increasing popularity of truck transport helped harken the adoption of the latter.
Today, when people think about the standard dimensions in North America, they rightfully think of the 48×40-inch pallet (1219×1016-mm) pallet, which became popular in the 1960s. The 48×40-inch pallet is one of six ISO standard pallet dimensions (see below). The notched stringer GMA-style pallet has long been the unofficial “standard” for fast-moving consumer good (FMCG) supply chains, although there has been considerable variation in such pallets for decades regarding component thickness and width, lumber grade, wood species, fasteners, repair techniques, and allowable damage tolerance. Because of such variability, it is important to communicate detailed pallet expectations to pallet suppliers or inbound shippers, or alternately, enlist a pallet program such as pallet rental that offers prescribed quality.
More on GMA pallets:
Click to find out more about recycled pallet grades.
Click to find out more about remanufactured pallets.
The 48×40-inch block pallet began to also establish a presence in FMCG supply chains in the latter 1990s and the early 2000s, thanks to pallet rental providers CHEP and subsequently, PECO, making them readily available to pallet users in the U.S. (Block pallets were already popular at that time in other supply chains, as well as in Europe.)
One question that comes up has to do with CHEP pallet dimensions. In North America, the CHEP standard size is 48×40-inch. More recently, the 24×40-inch half pallet was introduced. There is also a CHEP 48×20-inch pallet offered in Canada. Internationally, CHEP pallet dimensions typically conform to existing or emerging standards in the region of use.
Today, about 30% of pallets manufactured in the U.S. are 48×40-inch. There are other standard sizes such as 48×45-inch for automotive, 48×48 for drums, 40×40 for dairy, and 36×36 for beverage distribution. Popular sizes are outlined below, based on research performed many years ago at Southern Illinois University.
Standard Pallet Sizes in Europe
When discussing European standard pallets, the 800×1200 mm footprint typically comes to mind first for most of Europe, with the 1200×1000 mm size in the UK. The European Pallet Association (EPAL) has developed a range of standard sizes, including fractional pallets – half pallets (600×400) and quarter pallets (400×300).
Pallet converting 1000mm to inches: 1000mm =39.37 inches.
Chemical Industry Pallets
CP pallets are specified by many companies with the plastics and chemical supply chain. The CP pallet pool was established in 1991 by the VCI (Verband der Chemischer Industry) in Germany. Pool oversight subsequently passed to the APME (Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe), now Plastics Europe. The European Pallet Association (EPAL) has also expanded its pallet range to include quality-assured EPAL CP pallets.
In many pools, there is a tradeoff between standard pallets and optimizing particular applications. The CP pallet pool addresses this issue by incorporating several sizes. The most popular CP pallet sizes in North America are CP1, CP3, CP7 and CP9.
Typical applications for various CP pallets are as follows:
- CP1 pallet (1200 x 1000 mm) – boxes and sacks
- CP2 pallet (1200 x 800 mm) – carton boxes and sacks
- CP3 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – drums and bulk bags
- CP4 pallet (1100 x 1300 mm) – sacks
- CP5 pallet (760 x 1140 mm) – small packages such as boxes and bins
- CP6 pallet (1200 x 1000 mm) – sacks
- CP7 pallet (1300 x 1100 mm) – sacks
- CP8 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – container transportation
- CP9 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – containers, drums and bulk bags
Standard Pallet Sizes Internationally
Six pallet sizes are sanctioned by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as presented in ISO Standard 6780: Flat pallets for intercontinental materials handling—Principal dimensions and tolerances.
While the 45.9×45.9-inch pallet endures as the Australian standard, the 1100×1100 mm is entrenched in Japan and Korea. In emerging markets of China, India and South Asia, the 1200×1000 has become the footprint of choice for FMCP industries.
When considered in conjunction with prescribed pallet design and quality, standard pallet sizes can help make supply chains more efficient. In that their establishment creates a financial barrier to change, however, pallet system design should include a mechanism to facilitate change as new opportunities emerge.