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Title: Pallet  
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Subject: Food packaging, Packaging and labeling, Stretch wrap, Corrugated box design, Covered goods wagon
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The classic wooden pallet
A plastic pallet with nine legs, which can be lifted from all four sides
A metal pallet with removable beams, in this case for firewood
Automated palletizer of bread with industrial KUKA robots at a bakery in Germany
48" × 40" galvanized steel pallet. Galvanized steel pallets are fireproof and rust resistant

A pallet , sometimes inaccurately called a skid (a skid has no bottom deck boards), is a flat transport structure that supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, pallet jack, front loader, work saver, or other jacking device. A pallet is the structural foundation of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies. Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped. Since its invention in the twentieth century, its use has dramatically supplanted older forms of crating like the wooden box and the wooden barrel, as it works well with modern packaging like cardboard boxes and Intermodal containers commonly used for bulk shipping.

While most pallets are wooden, pallets can also be made of plastic, metal, paper, and recycled materials. Each material has advantages and disadvantages relative to the others.


  • Overview 1
  • Standardization and regulation 2
    • Dimensions 2.1
      • ISO pallets 2.1.1
      • North American pallets 2.1.2
      • European pallets 2.1.3
      • Australian standard pallets 2.1.4
    • Standard-setting organizations 2.2
      • ISO Technical Committee 51: Pallets for unit load method of materials handling 2.2.1
      • National Wood Pallet and Container Association 2.2.2
      • U.S. DOD, Dept. of Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command 2.2.3
      • European Committee for Standardization (Comité Européen de Normalisation) 2.2.4
    • Phytosanitary compliance 2.3
  • Pallet construction 3
    • Types 3.1
      • Stringer pallet 3.1.1
      • Block pallet 3.1.2
      • Perimeter base pallet 3.1.3
      • Quality improvements 3.1.4
    • Materials 3.2
  • History 4
  • Alternative uses 5
  • Fire hazards 6
  • Food safety risks 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes and references 9
  • Further reading 10


Containerization for transport has spurred the use of pallets because the shipping containers have the smooth, level surfaces needed for easy pallet movement. Most pallets can easily carry a load of 1,000 kg (2,205 lb). Today, over half a billion pallets are made each year and about two billion pallets are in use across the United States alone.

Pallets make it easier to move heavy stacks. Loads with pallets under them can be hauled by forklift trucks of different sizes, or even by hand-pumped and hand-drawn pallet jacks. Movement is easy on a wide, strong, flat floor: concrete is excellent. The greatest investment needed for economical pallet use is in the construction of commercial or industrial buildings. Passage through doors and buildings must be possible. To help this issue, some later pallet standards (the europallet and the U.S. Military 35 in × 45.5 in or 889 mm × 1,156 mm) are designed to pass through standard doorways.

Organizations using standard pallets for loading and unloading can have much lower costs for handling and storage, with faster material movement than businesses that do not. The exceptions are establishments that move small items such as jewelry or large items such as cars. But even they can be improved. For instance, the distributors of costume jewelry normally use pallets in their warehouses and car manufacturers use pallets to move components and spare parts.

The lack of a single international standard for pallets causes substantial continuing expense in international trade. A single standard is difficult because of the wide variety of needs a standard pallet would have to satisfy: passing doorways, fitting in standard containers, and bringing low labor costs. For example, organizations already handling large pallets often see no reason to pay the higher handling cost of using smaller pallets that can fit through doors.

Due to cost and a need to focus on core business, pallet pooling becomes more and more common. Some pallet suppliers supply users with reusable pallets, sometimes with integral tracking devices. A pallet management company can help supply, clean, repair, and reuse pallets.

Pallets should be seen as reusable packaging items as a pallet can potentially be used multiple times over the course its lifetime. In the UK, government legislation relating to the Waste Framework Directive requires the reuse of packaging items above recycling and disposal.

Standardization and regulation


Wooden pallets typically consist of three or four stringers that support several deckboards, on top of which goods are placed. In a pallet measurement the first number is the stringer length and the second is the deckboard length. Square or nearly square pallets help a load resist tipping.

Two-way pallets are designed to be lifted by the deckboards. The standard North American pallet, or GMA pallet, has deckboards of 40 inches and stringers of 48 inches.

Four-way pallets, or pallets for heavy loads (or general-purpose systems that might have heavy loads) are best lifted by their more rigid stringers. These pallets are usually heavier, bigger and more durable than two-way pallets.

Pallet users want pallets to easily pass through buildings, to stack and fit in racks, to be accessible to forklifts and pallet jacks and to function in automated warehouses. To avoid shipping air, pallets should also pack tightly inside intermodal containers and vans.

No universally accepted standards for pallet dimensions exist. Companies and organizations utilize hundreds of different pallet sizes around the globe.[1] While no single dimensional standard governs pallet production, a few different sizes are widely used.

ISO pallets


  • Yam, K. L., Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, John Wiley & Sons, 2009, ISBN 978-0-470-08704-6
  • MHIA/ANSI MH1–2005 Pallets, Slip Sheets, and Other Bases for Unit Loads
  • ASTM D 1185 Test Methods for Pallets and Related Structures
  • ASTM D6253 Treatment and/or Marking of Wood Packaging Materials
  • Why Use Two If One Will Do?, Palletizer Magazine, 1944
  • What Came First, The Pallet or the Forklift?

Further reading

  1. ^ Raballand, Gaël and Aldaz-Carroll, Enrique, "How Do Differing Standards Increase Trade Costs? The Case of Pallets" (February 2005). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3519.
  2. ^ ISO 6780:2003 - Flat pallets for intercontinental materials handling -- Principal dimensions and tolerances
  3. ^ Clarke, John, "Pallets 101: Industry Overview and Wood, Plastic, Paper, and Metal Options"
  4. ^ "Design Criteria for Ammunition Unit Loads". U.S. DOD, Dept of the Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command. 8 April 1970. MIL-STD-1660. Archived from the original on 2007-11-24. Retrieved 2008-01-01. , para. 4.8.3, mil-std pallets are 4-way: 4.3.1
  5. ^ MIL-STD-1660, ibid., para. 4.8.3
  6. ^
  7. ^ ISO Technical Committee 51: Pallets for unit load method of materials handling
  8. ^ National Wood Pallet and Container Association Mission
  9. ^ Pallet Design System (PDS)
  10. ^ MIL-STD-1660, ibid.
  11. ^ ICS: 55.180.20 General purpose pallets
  12. ^ Debarked Definition/Discussion
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Raballand, ibid., pg11
  15. ^
  16. ^ Grande, Joseph A. (September 2008). "Plastic Pallets Gain Ground In an Eco-Conscious World". Plastics Technology. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  17. ^ MIL-STD-1660, ibid., 4.8.3
  18. ^ Pallets - Where Form Meets Function By Peter Hamner, Center for Unit Loan Design, Virginia Tech
  19. ^ "Remains of timber, the lengths laid upon the pavement parallel to one another (fig. 114) where a large number of blocks were found, suggest skids upon which they were moved". (Loud, 1936: 108). Cited by Peter Roger Stuart Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: The Archeological Evidence (Eisenbrauns, 1999), page 32.
  20. ^ Vanderbilt, Tom (14 August 2012). "Pallets: The single most important object in the global economy".  
  21. ^ "US Patent 2178646 A". Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  22. ^ R.R.Singh (2013-07-18). "Pallets – An efficient and safe way of material handling" (PDF). Bureau of Indian Standards. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  23. ^ Ion, Alex. "Ultimate Pallet Furniture Collection: 58 Unique Ideas". Decoist. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  24. ^ "Pallet Guitar". Archived from the original on November 20, 2008. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ Chemical & Engineering News, January 25, 2010, p. 18
  27. ^ Sigma Aldrich, MSDS, 2009
  28. ^ NFPA 13
  29. ^ CBS News, "Hidden Danger of Pallets" (May 2010).

Notes and references

See also

A release by the National Consumers League announced the testing of 70 wood pallets and 70 plastic pallets that have been loaded with perishable products and shipped to an end user was shipped overnight to an independent microbiology lab for testing. The results came back with 10 percent of the wood pallets positive for E. coli and 1.4 percent positive on the plastic pallets.[29]

Wood pallets used to transport food can possibly harbor pathogens such as E. coli and Listeria.

Food safety risks

Both wood and plastic pallets are possible fire hazards. The National Fire Protection Association requires that both types "shall be stored outside or in a detached structure" unless protected by fire sprinklers.[28]

Fire hazards

Items made from pallet wood are likely to be durable and demonstrate good weather resistance due to these treatments. However, close contact with pallet wood or inhalation of dusts from sanding or sawing can be a source of exposure to pesticide and fungicide chemicals. It is likely that the January, 2010 recall of Johnson and Johnson Tylenol[TM] and other drugs was due to their being stored on wooden pallets that had been treated with the fungicide/pesticide 2,4,6-tribromophenol. This chemical can be degraded by molds to produce 2,4,6-tribromoanisole whose strong, musty odor caused consumers to complain.[26] There is no acute or chronic health data on 2,4,6-tribromoanisole,[27] but it is believed that the contaminated drugs caused nausea and other health effects in some people.

Denver, Colorado will be host to an Inaugural Pallet-Fest on October 11 & 12.The festival will showcase the versatility of materials usually considered waste and will include large art structures made with upcycled materials, a pallet maze, a pallet amphitheater with live musical performances, sustainable living demonstrations, an upcycled fashion show, vendors and artists selling upcycled goods, a parkour course and more. This event was crowdfunded and organized by Upcycle Events.

The two Austrian students Andreas Claus Schnetzer and Gregor Pils from the University of Vienna created a home entitled Pallet house and as the name suggests, reused pallets to form a modular, energy efficient and affordable housing. The idea was born in 2008 during a competition and the Pallet house has been exhibited in several European cities including Venice, Vienna, Linz and Grenoble. It could become a clever approach to low income housing.[25]

I-Beam Design, an architecture and interior design firm based in New York, NY won an award in a 1999 competition sponsored by Architecture for Humanity for their submission of “The Pallet House”, a design solution to house the returning refugees of Kosovo. Full-scale prototypes of The Pallet House were featured in the "Casa per Tutti" Exhibit at the Milan Triennale and the Earth Awards in HRH Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens as part of The Prince’s Charities Foundation’s Conference on a Sustainable Future organized in collaboration with IBM and The Financial Times. The Pallet House is an affordable transitional home that can become permanent over time. It can be used as refugee housing or as affordable housing as well. Due to the nature of the Pallet module, the wall cavity can be insulated with a variety of materials that are accessible to the user.

The acoustic guitar maker Taylor Guitars once produced a high quality "pallet guitar"[24] made from pallet wood, in order to demonstrate the importance of construction technique versus expensive exotic woods.

Craft publications have advised readers to use pallets to build a skateboarding obstacle called a manual pad, barricades during amateur paintball games, or other sport-related items. Other publications have suggested using pallet wood for small animal cages or fences. Pallet wood has been recycled for use as furniture wood by at least one company.

Discarded wooden pallets should not be used for firewood or crafts unless it has been determined that the wood in these pallets has not been treated with wood preservatives, fungicides and/or pesticides. Various pyrethrins and propiconazole are common treatments for wooden pallets. In addition, imported palletized goods are routinely fumigated with highly toxic pesticides. During use, harmful materials or chemicals also may spill on the pallet wood and be absorbed.

Old and discarded wooden pallets can be used in pallet crafts and various furniture pieces.[23]

Stacked pallets.

Alternative uses

References to the early modern pallets types are slim with a string of patents showing parts of the development. The earliest may be a U.S. patent on a skid from 1924 describing Hallowell's "Lift Truck Platform." In the late 1930s, pallets became more commonplace with the newer forklift types. George Raymond filed for a patent in 1938 (granted US Patent 2178646 in 1939[21]) for a pallet designed to complement a new pallet jack design; the essential features of both are still in common use today. A 1939 patent from Carl Clark shows type of pallet with steel stringers. War time developments were often just patented after the war, so there is a patent from Robert Braun on a four-way pallet in 1945, and a patent from Norman Cahners (a U.S. Navy Supply Officer) shows a disposable pallet type in 1949. The complete construction principle of a modern four-way pallet is described by Darling Graeme in 1949.[22]

The development of the forklift and the needs of World War II logistics operations led to substantial use of pallets.[20]

Skids go back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia at least as far back as the 1st millennium B.C.[19]


Aluminum pallets are stronger than wood or plastic, lighter than steel, and resist weather, rotting, plastic creep and corrosion. They are sometimes used for air-freight, long-term outdoor or at-sea storage, or military transport.

Steel pallets are strong and are used for heavy loads, high-stacking loads, long term dry storage, and loads moved by abusive logistic systems. They are often used for military ammunition.[17] Metal pallets make up less than 1% of the market. Materials include carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Of these, carbon steel offers excellent durability at the lowest cost. Stainless steel doesn’t require a paint coating, and is preferred for such applications as clean room environments. Aluminum offers the durability of steel at a lighter weight. Carbon steel units are expensive compared to wood, and stainless and aluminum cost about 2-3 times that of carbon steel. Long term costs, however, can be lower than wood. General advantages of metal pallets are high strength and stiffness, excellent durability, bug free, no splinters, sanitary, and recyclable. Disadvantages include a higher initial price, significant weight, low friction, and susceptibility to rusting (carbon steel). Metal is primarily used in captive or closed loop environments where durability and product protection are key performance requirements. Metal units today are increasingly price competitive and lighter in weight. Primary industries that use metal pallets include automotive, pharmaceutical, lawn tractors, motorcycles, and tires.[18]

dolly combined for example the Pally[15] eliminate pallet instability and the need for additional lifting equipment, but also create valuable space in busy operating environments and deliver significant time and cost savings by reducing supply chain handling. Plastics' reusability has contributed to an increase in usage of plastic pallets.[16]

Paper pallets, also referred to as "ecopallets", are often used for light loads, but engineered paper pallets are increasingly used for loads that compare with wood. Paper pallets are also used where recycling and easy disposal is important. New designs of ecopallets have been made from just two flat pieces of corrugated board (no glue/staples) and weigh just 4.5 kg (9.9 lb), offering dramatic freight savings. Ecopallets are also ISPM 15 exempt, negating fumigation and barrier "slip" sheets. They are cleaner, safer, and provide a cost-saving eco-friendly alternative to other pallet materials. Some engineered Corrugated pallets offer a significant reduced height, providing substantial freight cost reduction. Low profile hand pallet trucks allow picking up pallets as low as 25 mm.

Wooden pallet construction specifications can depend on the pallet's intended use: general, FDA, storage, chemical, export; the expected load weight; type of wood desired: recycled, hard, soft, kiln dried or combo (new & recycle); and even the type of fasteners desired to hold the pallet together: staples or nails.

Slightly more complex hardwood block pallets, plastic pallets and metal pallets can be lifted from all four sides. These costlier pallets usually require a deposit and are returned to the sender or resold as used. Many "four way" pallets are color-coded according to the loads they can bear, and other attributes.

The cheapest pallets are made of softwood and are often considered expendable, to be discarded as trash along with other wrapping elements, at the end of the trip. These pallets are simple stringer pallets, and liftable from two sides.

Wooden pallet being dismantled.


The least expensive way to improve a pallet is usually to specify better nails. With non-wood pallets, a controlled coefficient of friction is often helpful to prevent the pallet from slipping from forks and racks. Stiffer pallets are more durable, and are handled more easily by automated equipment. If a pallet does not need to be lifted from all four sides, two-way pallets with unnotched stringers may be used, with the additional benefits of added rigidity and strength. Specifying tolerances on flatness and water content may help the supplier meet target requirements. Inspection of pallets, whether in person or by a third-party (such as "SPEQ" inspected pallets) offer additional assurance of quality.

Quality improvements

All stringer and some block pallets have "unidirectional bases," i.e. bottom boards oriented in one direction. While automated handling equipment can be designed for this, often it can operate faster and more effectively if the bottom edges of a pallet have bottom boards oriented in both directions. For example, it may not need to turn a pallet to rack it, and operation is less sensitive to pallet orientation.

Perimeter base pallet

Block pallets are typically stronger than stringer pallets. Block pallets utilize both parallel and perpendicular stringers to better facilitate efficient handling. A block pallet is also known as a "four-way" pallet, since a pallet-jack may be used from any side to move it.

Block pallet

Stringer pallets use a frame of three or more parallel pieces of timber (called stringers). The top deckboards are then affixed to the stringers to create the pallet structure. Stringer pallets can have a notch cut into them allowing "four-way" entry.

Stringer pallet

Although pallets come in all manner of sizes and configurations, all pallets fall into two very broad categories: "stringer" pallets and "block" pallets. Various software packages exist to assist the pallet maker in designing an appropriate pallet for a specific load, and to evaluate wood options to reduce costs.

Pallets being used in a warehouse in Finland.


Pallet construction

Pallets made of non-wood materials such as steel, aluminum, plastic, or engineered wood products, such as plywood, oriented strand board, or corrugated fiberboard do not need IPPC approval, and are considered to be exempt from ISPM 15 regulations.

Treated wood pallets must be stamped on two opposite sides indicating either HT for heat treated or MB for methyl bromide treatment.

  • Heat treatment The wood must be heated to achieve a minimum core temperature of 56 °C (132.8 °F) for at least 30 minutes. Pallets treated via this method bear the initials HT near the IPPC logo.
  • Chemical fumigation The wood must be fumigated with methyl bromide. Pallets treated via this method bear the initials MB near the IPPC logo. From 19 March 2010 the use of Methyl Bromide as an acceptable treatment according to ISPM15[13] has now been banned within all EU member states. This is due to causing potential harm to the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer.

Pallets made of raw, untreated wood are not compliant with ISPM 15. To be compliant the pallets (or other wood packaging material) must meet debarked standards,[12] and must be treated by either of the following means under the supervision of an approved agency:

Due to the International Plant Protection Convention (abbreviated IPPC), most pallets shipped across national borders must be made of materials that are incapable of being a carrier of invasive species of insects and plant diseases. The standards for these pallets are specified in ISPM 15.

IPPC marks on a pallet from Germany (DE).

Phytosanitary compliance

[11] In addition to the other standards it publishes, the

European Committee for Standardization (Comité Européen de Normalisation)

DOD Unit loads generally use 40 in × 48 in (1,016 mm × 1,219 mm) pallets, are less than 4,000 lb (1,814 kg), weatherproof, and stack 16 ft (4.88 m) high. They often use steel pallets, steel straps with notched seals, outdoor plywood, and plastic film. The standard describes tests for stacking, transport, sling, forklift and pallet jack, impact, drop tests, tip, water-retention, and disassembly.

This organization maintains MIL-STD-1660, the standard description of palletized unit loads for the U.S. Military and some allies.[10]

U.S. DOD, Dept. of Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command

The National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) is a trade organization based in the United States devoted to representing the interests of wood pallet and container manufacturers. The NWPCA defines its mission as helping its membership create cost-effective, environmentally friendly solutions to customers' needs.[8] Towards that end, the NWPCA developed a bevy of resources to assist its membership, including the Pallet Design System (PDS), which allows users to develop and analyze pallet designs.[9]

National Wood Pallet and Container Association

ISO TC 51 states its scope of work entailing the "standardization of pallets in general use in the form of platforms or trays on which goods may be packed to form unit loads for handling by mechanical devices".[7] The Technical Committee works in conjunction with other Technical Committees focused on transportation infrastructure to develop interrelated standards. TC 51 is responsible for developing ISO Standard 6780: Flat pallets for intercontinental materials handling—Principal dimensions and tolerances as well as sixteen other standards related to pallet construction and testing.

ISO Technical Committee 51: Pallets for unit load method of materials handling

A number of different organizations and associations around the world work towards establishing and promulgating standards for pallets. Some strive to develop universal standards for pallet dimensions, types of material used in construction, performance standards, and testing procedures. Other organizations choose to focus on pallet standards for a specific industry (such as groceries) or type of material (such as wood).

Standard-setting organizations

The Australian Standard Pallet dates back to World War II, while ISO containers date to the late 1950s. Although the pallet's dimensions pre-date the ISO containers, it requires less dunnage, is square, and leaves less wasted space than other pallets, including the GMA pallet. In 2010, Australia adopted the globally accepted ISPM 15 wood packaging material regulations (before this time it was hardwood and more expensive).[6]

The Australian standard pallet is a pallet size commonly found in Australia but found rarely elsewhere. It is a square pallet originally made of hardwood 1,165 mm × 1,165 mm (45.87 in × 45.87 in) in size which fits perfectly in the RACE container of the Australian Railway. They are ill-suited for the standard 20 feet (6.1 m) and 40 feet (12 m) ISO shipping containers used around the globe.[1] Australian standard pallets are usually manufactured in Hardwood, but 1165 × 1165 mm pallets can also be manufactured using lighter timber suitable for use as disposable pallets using 16 millimetre boards. Extensively used in storage and warehousing, they are popular 'Racking' pallets with the right shape and size to be removed from transport and directly onto warehouse racking for storage.

Australian standard pallets

EURO pallet type Dimensions (W × L) ISO pallet alternative
EUR, EUR 1 800 mm × 1,200 mm 31.50 in × 47.24 in ISO1, same size as EUR
EUR 2 1,200 mm × 1,000 mm 47.24 in × 39.37 in ISO2
EUR 3 1,000 mm × 1,200 mm 39.37 in × 47.24 in
EUR 6 800 mm × 600 mm 31.50 in × 23.62 in ISO0, half the size of EUR
600 mm × 400 mm 23.62 in × 15.75 in quarter the size of EUR
400 mm × 300 mm 15.75 in × 11.81 in one-eighth the size of EUR

European pallets

Dimensions, mm (W × L) Dimensions, in (W × L) Production Rank Industries Using
1016 × 1219 40 × 48 1 Grocery, many others
1067 ×1067 42 × 42 2 Telecommunications, Paint
1219 × 1219 48 × 48 3 Drums
1219 × 1016 48 × 40 4 Military,[4] Cement
1219 × 1067 48 × 42 5 Chemical, Beverage
1016 × 1016 40 × 40 6 Dairy
1219 × 1143 48 × 45 7 Automotive
1118 × 1118 44 × 44 8 Drums, Chemical
914 × 914 36 × 36 9 Beverage
1219 × 914 48 × 36 10 Beverage, Shingles, Packaged Paper
889 × 1156 35 × 45.5 Unknown Military 12 ISO container, fits 36" standard doors[5]
1219 × 508 48 × 20 Unknown Retail

Of the top pallets used in North America, the most commonly used by far is the Grocery Manufacturers' Association (GMA) pallet, which accounts for 30% of all new wood pallets produced in the United States.[3] The ISO also recognizes the GMA pallet footprint as one of its six standard sizes.

North American pallets

(W × L) millimetres
(W × L) inches
Wasted floor, ISO container Region most used in
1016 × 1219 40.00 × 48.00 3.7% (20 pallets in 40 ft ISO) North America
1000 × 1200 39.37 × 47.24 6.7% Europe, Asia; similar to 40" × 48".
1165 × 1165 45.9 × 45.9 8.1% Australia
1067 × 1067 42.00 × 42.00 11.5% North America, Europe, Asia
1100 × 1100 43.30 × 43.30 14% Asia
800 × 1200 31.50 × 47.24 15.2% Europe; fits many doorways


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