Pallet design optimization -- the art of limiting cost
It’s not just a pallet. It’s part of your process. Everything you do is riding on it.
Pallet Design, like many components of the pallet buying and using experience explored in these pages, can often be a generic exercise with scant attention applied to optimized standards that establish best practice that control cost.
Instead of recognizing the pallet as a component part of the unit load and handling system in which it is used, pallet design is too often developed to accommodate local pallet manufacturer suggestions or abilities . . . for plants or products or customers long gone, that no longer straddle the tipping point of best practice.
By definition, the moment you palletize your product, it becomes part of the International Supply Chain; which then creates both value and consequence with each and every interface and decision.
Creating a company-wide Pallet and Packaging Program empowers a fully integrated approach to pallet and packaging design, with the focus on the Unit Load rather than the component parts. Pallets aren’t used in a vacuum and shouldn’t be designed in one.
- Understand Your Business from Supplier to Customer: Don’t just look at the load the pallet will have to carry … look beyond in both directions to understand the incoming supply chain, production machines, handling equipment, storage, and the outgoing supply chain; including modes of transportation, your customer base, and where the pallet might go from there.
- Define Company-Wide Goals: Blindly optimizing pallet design at each location, without considering the whole, limits development of optimum pallet design. Use local consideration to yield global optimization with regard to company-wide goals. TPAI calls this mass-customization rather than mass-production.
Many pallet professionals, as well as many packaging design professionals that work for companies like yours, are licensed to use a computerized pallet design tool called PDS (Pallet Design System).
PDS was developed jointly by Virginia Tech and the National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA). PDS can generate estimated floor-loaded ratings as well as ratings based on pallets stacked up to five units high in pre-defined racking situations. Proposed specifications can factor variables such as lumber species, nail sizes, board dimensions and more, as well compare predicted performance of design iterations in preparation for production trials.
Like many tools, however, PDS is best used as an aid to design, not as an end to design.
Components such as knowledge of local lumber markets and manufacturers, nailing machines manufactures use and how each one can positively and negatively affect the product received, how suppliers obtain and process lumber, as well as pro’s and con’s of each source/processing method are all factors that need to be understood and examined to most effectively capture the market opportunities and affect optimal design.
TPAI employs graduates of the Virginia Tech Wood Science and Forestry program, with concentrations in Packaging Science,. These graduates, with degrees including Masters of Packaging Science, trained in the Center for Unit Load Design running trials funded by companies like yours.
PDS permutations work backward in that safe load parameters are developed from data gathered examining load conditions at which a pallet fails.
So, it can be said that the most useful experience our wood-packaging graduate-professionals have had in the custom-design of pallets, is that they have participated in breaking more pallets than any other such set of pallet professionals.
Hands on experience cannot be emphasized too much when it comes to establishing the parameters for your pallets. TPAI has that experience.
Identifying and Limiting Cost
When evaluating cost-saving opportunities through pallet design, there are four aspects of the pallet that are interdependent and must be optimized together:
- Wood species: Which species are available, can they be isolated? Species with greater static-bend-ability can be used to design more aggressively.
- Wood content: Pallet cost is first and foremost affected by how much wood is necessary to achieve performance goals . . . design is the art of understanding how to achieve performance goals using the least amount of wood.
- Wood source: How is wood processed? Component cost per board-foot is figured differently depending on how material is harvested and processed.
- Nailing Process: Bulk, collated, and hand-nailing all have different strengths and weaknesses.
If pallet design does not factor these four basic aspects of construction, it’s very likely cost is based on pricing the wrong product; or certainly a less than optimum product.
In the real-world of procurement, however, products cost what they cost. The optimal goal is to get the right price for the right product, through whatever market shifts occur.
Pallet design customized through standardized parameters ensures the right product is being specified, purchased, and used. TPAI experience has consistently shown that the right product is the most cost-effective product.