9 July 2018|photo: Wikimedia

Thousands and thousands of tons of various goods are transported across the world every day. Humanity has been using them for about a hundred years, and our global economy would certainly look quite different without them. Come with us for a short historical journey through the history of the pallet.

Various racks, boxes, barrels, crates and boards have been used in warehouses, but the first structures resembling today’s pallets began to appear in the nineteenth century.

However, there was another invention behind the development of the pallet: the forklift truck. The first models of “stackers” have been in existence since 1915, and in 1926 the first modern forklift truck emerged, allowing goods to be stored in high columns.

Pallet development went hand in hand with this. In the first half of the 1920s, the construction of planks attached to block-spacers arose: the forks of the forklift fit comfortably into the space in- between. In 1925, the lower boards were added to the design, and nothing could hold the vertical storage concept back.

It did not take long for the novelty to spread to all warehouses around the world.

The war time helped spur the wave of popularity of the pallet. During World War II, a huge number of things had to be transported, which pallets made easier. A 48 by 48-inch (about 122 centimeter) US pallet became widespread among the Allies.

In 1954, the British company Lansing Bagnall developed the first electric forklift for narrow warehouse aisles. As a result, warehousing began to change: the racks were closer together and filled to even greater heights.

However, there were many different sizes and designs of pallets, which caused delays and high costs. This is why there was an effort to standardize them, which has not yet been successful worldwide, even though we are moving considerably closer to that goal.

European pallets rule the world

We mostly encounter Euro-pallets in our region. Their origins date back to 1961 and are attributed to the Svensson brothers from the Skåne region of South Sweden. Thanks to Euro-pallets, it was possible to load railway wagons in only a tenth of the time of the earlier procedures. In 1968, the European Union Railroad Union was in complete agreement when it issued the exact dimensions and construction of the pallets.

As the name indicates, it is clear on which continent Euro-pallets are most widespread. However, they are becoming prevalent in the rest of the world. One thing is interesting: Euro- pallets do not work with another very important element of logistics – the container. This originally British invention became widespread after the war in the United States.

The reason for this is the different systems of measurement on both sides of the Atlantic. The most common pallet has dimensions of 1,200×800×144 millimetres and cannot be stacked in a conventional container to use the entire transport space without leftover space. This, of course, does not make economic sense, and with the gradual expansion of Euro-pallets in North America, manufacturers are starting to design containers five centimetres wider, where pallet “Tetris” can be ideally built.

Half a billion in circulation

Euro-pallets weigh between 20 and 24 kilograms and these days they can carry up to two tons of cargo. Weight dispersal is due to the different dryness of the wood used for their construction. Both coniferous and deciduous trees are used: spruce, fir, pine, oak, ash or alder. The method of nailing pallets together is also prescribed – 78 nails in just one pallet.

Manufacture, repair and sale may only be carried out by certified companies under the strict supervision of the European Pallet Association. Still, counterfeits continue to appear.

Used pallets are recycled and reused. Certification is carried out for parts that are used for repairs: blocks and planks have to be made of a single piece of healthy wood, followed by mould, decay or fungal and pest infestation.

It is estimated that around five hundred million Euro-pallets are in circulation throughout the world at one time.

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