When Were Plastic Pallets Invented?

When were plastic pallets first made? The answer is that the birth of plastic pallets remains unclear. As far as I can determine, Modern Materials Handling Magazine first made reference to fiberglass reinforced plastic pallet containers in 1964. Hartson Poland of PDQ Plastics has speculated that they were likely first produced by small custom plastic shops in the years following World War II.

Robinson Industries, for example, emerged in Michigan in 1947. Fred Robinson, its founder, had worked for Dow Chemical during World War II, and had helped develop Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene foam). After the war ended, he worked in a Dow laboratory to develop peacetime uses for Styrofoam and ultimately began molding EPS foam. By the early 1950s Robinson was manufacturing thermoformed products such as refrigerator door liners, using equipment produced by Gaylord Brown, founder of Brown Machine. Brown had built the first thermoforming equipment in 1936. Refrigerator manufacturers eventually internalized the process that Robinson had perfected, but the company found new markets such as the production of trays and dunnage for automotive parts. During the 1950s, Robinson also began thermoforming reusable plastic pallets.

early plastic pallet patent

Plastic pallets became noticeable in the 1960s.

Aside from the coverage in Modern Materials Handling, a few patents proposed that pallets could perhaps be fabricated from plastics as well as other materials. Patents specific to plastic pallets were starting to be filed in the later half of the 1960s.  Patents emerged at this time for plastic pallets that could be manufactured through blow molding as well as injection molding processes.

Leo Nathans, founder of PDQ Plastics, was first approached about the idea of making plastic pallets by a General Motors buyer in 1969, while on a sales call pertaining to vacuum formed dunnage. Several companies were reportedly making plastic pallets by that time, which GM testing was finding to be too flimsy, or too brittle. Back at his shop, Leo developed the 40×48-inch “Super D” pallet, which went into production in the 1970s.  “True to his word,” according to PDQ Plastics, “the GM buyer had the Super D tested and it proved to be more durable than any other plastic pallet on the market.’

Pallet production began to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Producers utilized a variety of plastic pallet manufacturing processes, such as compression molding, thermoforming, rotational molding , and structural foam molding. Aside from PDQ Plastics, another early entrant was Engineered Polymers Corporation (EPC) of Mora , Minnesota , which reportedly built structural foam pallets in the late  1960s. In the early 1970s there were numerous entrants into plastic pallet production . Armin Thermodynamics began producing plastic pallets by rotational molding in 1972 at its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant . In the same year. ORBIS began the structural molding of pallets. Another early structural foam pallet producer was Horizon Plastics of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Applications from this time included automotive, food and pharmaceutical processing, applications for which they are still prized today.

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