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Plastic Pallets – 40 Years On

20 Mar 2016

Plastic pallets were an important development when they first emerged on to the packaging scene back in the 1950s and 60s, creating a reusable and dependable resource for palletisation. The innovations for the new plastic pallets have kept coming thick and fast ever since and have been matched by ever-growing popularity and demand.

Humble Beginnings

Plastic Pallets 40 years on

Although plastic pallets are becoming more popular, their more commonly encountered wooden cousins still retain about 90 per cent of the market. It is easy, therefore, to view the plastic pallet as a new arrival to the packaging marketplace. While the exact origins aren’t known, they had definitely arrived by the mid-1960s – as seen from several patents at the time covering manufacturing techniques such as injection moulding and blow moulding.

By the 1970s, methods of manufacturing plastic pallets had developed to include thermoforming, structural foam moulding, rotational moulding and compression moulding. Early adopters were in the food, pharmaceutical and automotive industries due to the ease with which the new plastic pallets could be cleaned and sterilised, as well as their famous durability.

Since this time, continued innovations in plastic palletisation have delivered further improvements in performance and value, such as reduced weight, use of specialised designer compounds and improved material handling equipment interface. The increased stiffness, durability and strength offered by the material has led to widespread adoption of plastic boxes and plastic crates along entire supply chains in the logistics industry. This means that today plastic-based goods have firmly established themselves as a clear contender for packaging and storage solutions.

Plastic or Wood?

Wooden pallets are a familiar sight in warehouses across the world. They are inexpensive and almost disposable, but with so many downsides it’s hard to see why they are so widely used. If the pallet encounters moisture, the chances are it will get mouldy quickly, making them unsuitable for outdoor storage. The difficulties in completely eliminating fungus, bacteria and insects make them a poor choice for food, beverage and pharmaceutical applications, where hygiene is paramount. Wood is also naturally prone to splintering, warping and shrinking over time.

There are applications where wooden pallets are more suitable. The initial outlay for plastic pallets is greater than for wood, so if the pallet is being shipped along a one-way supply chain and cannot be retrieved, then it isn’t efficient to purchase new plastic pallets every time.

Plastic retains its shape and is able to take heavy loads while still weighing far less than the wooden alternative. They are also extremely easy to clean, as their resistance to moisture and chemicals allows for extremely hygienic shipping conditions. Plastic pallets are exempt from legislation requiring wooden pallets to be heat-treated if being used for international shipping to prevent the spread of infectious or invasive species.

Plastic pallets have evolved over the past 40 years to meet the demands of a changing logistics environment, and we can expect further innovation and growth in the years to come.

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