Why palletize? The palletization of goods provides many benefits for supply chain operations.
Move one box at a time or up to one hundred? Pallets were largely accepted to be one of the two greatest innovations of the Twentieth Century, along with the barcode. And while the use of pallets along with the palletization of materials was once considered to be a powerful component of materials handling strategy, today, industry takes the practice largely for granted.
What is palletization?
Palletization refers to the process of placing goods or materials, either packaged or bulk, onto pallets. The pallet provides a base for the goods and materials, thereby promoting the efficient storage, handling and transport for the combination of goods and the pallet base, referred to collectively as the unit load.
In fact, in the effort to continually improve supply chain operations, pallets are sometimes looked at as a technology to be avoided, in an effort to eliminate their cost, their weight or their cube (the space that they require in transport and storage.) And that trend continues to be explored, although it is not new, as is witnessed from this magazine ad from the 1950s which promoted palletless handling.
When the palletization concept was first introduced, however, it had a dramatic impact on the improvement of material handling efficiency. Rail cars that had taken two days to unload could subsequently be unloaded in just one or two hours. You can read more about the history of pallets.
Then as now, the use of pallets as a base for unit loads offers a number of benefits versus unpalletized handling that result from the more efficient handling of goods. These include:
- Faster unloading and loading, resulting in the faster turnaround of delivery vehicle and greater transport equipment efficiency
- Quicker availability of the trailer door for the next arrival
- Dramatically reduced labor requirement versus manual handling
- Reduced risk of temperature abuse for perishable products on unrefrigerated docks
- Less risk of product damage
- Reduced risk of worker injury
- More efficient material handling and storage.
- Standard sized pallets can optimize operations in pallet racks and other warehouse storage solutions.
Pallet Ti Hi and Pallet Configuration
When goods are placed on top of pallets, the containers are typically organized into a Ti Hi, where refers to the Ti (the number of boxes per layer) and Hi (the number of layers). So a 7 x 5 Ti Hi refers to a palletized load with 7 containers per layer, with a height of 5 layers. Pallet configuration refers to the how containers are placed upon the pallet. Column stacked products are piled directly on top of the product below. Because boxes have the most strength in their corners, this approach provides greater resistance to box deformation than brick or interlocking pallet patterns. Interlocking pallet patterns, however, are associated with greater unit load stability and bridging strength. According to research, an interlocking pallet pattern can reduce pallet deflection by up to 53%. The following video explores some of the issues pertaining to pallet patterns.
Approaches to palletization
There are four basic approaches to palletization. These are manual palletization, semi-automated palletization, automated palletization and robotic palletization.
Manual palletization involves the placement of items on the pallet by the use of manual force. For example, a worker may lift boxes coming off of an assembly line conveyor and stack them onto a pallet, or if the employee is selecting an order for a customer using a pallet placed on a pallet jack, he or she may remove boxes as required from several pallets to put on the pallet being built for the order.
In semi-automated palletization, cartons are manually slid to form a layer, without the need for lifting or walking around the pallet. Once a layer is formed, the operator presses the start button and the layer is palletized automatically.
An automated palletizer is a machine that takes containers from the end of a conveyor, and assembles them into a prescribed pattern for forming layers and then building the layers onto a pallet to create a unit load.
Increasingly popular robotic palletizers utilize a robot to place individual cases or layers onto a pallet. They provide great flexibility and the capability of palletizing multiple SKUs and package sizes onto the same pallet.
Moving beyond the question of whether or not to palletize, we extend the conversation into pallet selection options and finding the best pallet system for a particular application.