Finding ways to prevent pallet damage is an important component of managing your supply chain because damaged pallets, crates, and wood packaging can cause serious problems for your manufacturing process and product delivery.  While we’ve all seen damaged pallets, the cost of pallet damage goes far beyond aesthetics (although pallet appearance may be a type of damage that’s important to your organization too).

Compromised pallets, crates, and wood packaging can carry a lot of potential risk.  Not only do broken pallets risk damage to the products you are transporting or storing, but they also pose a risk to the personnel moving the product.  Failure to prevent pallet damage may even put your customer or end-user at risk.

Unfortunately, wood packaging can become compromised in a lot of different ways, but there are some things that you can do to help prevent pallet damage.

1.  Use the Right Pallet for the Right Product

Using the right pallet for the job may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many organizations get this one wrong.  When you palletize products, it’s important to make sure that your product fits properly on the pallet.  Here are a few things to look at:

  • Ensure the product isn’t too big for the pallet.

    Products that stick out from the pallet are at risk of getting hit, caught, or bumped when loading, unloading, and during transport.  Common sense already tells you that, but products that are too big for the pallet can also cause damage to the pallet itself.  When products are larger than the pallets that carry them, it can cause extra torque or strain on the joints and result in a failure.

  • Make sure the pallet isn’t too big for the product.

    Just as a product that’s too big for the pallet can cause problems, a pallet that’s too big for the product can cause problems too.  It may seem like a great idea to have a big buffer between your product and the edge of the pallet, but this can also cause pallet damage.  This can also cause strain on the joints and improper load balance on the pallets.  Either one can produce breakage and damage.

  • Make sure the pallet is designed to handle the weight of the product.

    If a pallet is designed for palletized loads of 1,000 pounds, but you put 2,000 pounds on it, you’re setting yourself up for broken pallets.  Using the proper weight for the pallet design, along with good weight distribution, is one of the biggest ways that you can prevent pallet damage.

  • Keep product flush with pallet when using strapping or banding groove.

    If you’re using any type of strapping or banding groove to secure your product to the pallet, be sure that the product is flush with the pallet.  Damage to the deck boards occurs when they’re exposed because there’s too much space around the product.  Once strapping is tightened down over the product, the exposed deck boards take the brunt of the tightening and can become damaged.

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2. Ensure Pallets are Properly Constructed

When your pallets, or other industrial wood packaging, is designed by a packaging engineer, you can be sure that it will be designed and built to specifications that ensure pallet damage is kept to a minimum.  After all, custom pallets are designed to keep your product safe during transport and storage, so minimizing pallet damage is obviously crucial to doing that.

With regards to wood packaging construction, one of the things that isn’t often discussed is the types of fasteners used.  Using the correct fastener for the product being palletized, the weight carried, and the manner of transport is also critical to preventing pallet damage.

3. Keep Pallets Dry

Moisture is something that’s often overlooked with regard to damage prevention.  Strictly speaking, moisture doesn’t really damage pallets, but if you’re in an industry where pallet mold is a serious concern, then the presence of pallet mold renders your pallets unusable.  For all intents and purposes, that makes them damaged for industries such as pharmaceutical and food & beverage – which is why we mention it here.

Pallets must be kept dry in order to prevent this type of pallet damage.  Pallet mold is a very big deal in some industries – Learn more about pallet mold here.

4. Proper Forklift or Pallet Jack Training Can Prevent Pallet Damage

When it comes to damaging wood packaging, one of the biggest culprits is the improper use of forklifts and pallet jacks.  The single best way to prevent damage from forklifts is to make sure that employees are properly trained and that they continue to use best practices for moving palletized products.

Here are some forklift tips:

  • Always enter the pallet (with the tines) at an appropriate speed

  • Make sure forklift tines are lined up and level with the pallet BEFORE lifting

  • Spread forklift tines before lifting

  • Don’t “shortfork” – make sure the forklift tines are far enough into the pallet to ensure that it’s full on the forks

  • Don’t hit the pallet blocks or stringers when entering a pallet

  • Don’t push or drag pallets (often called “bulldozing”), lift them completely off the ground

  • Never drop or throw pallets

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5. Use Good Material Handling Procedures

prevent pallet damageAlthough forklift handling fits under the category of material handling, there are other things outside of forklift best practices that help to prevent pallet damage.  Here are some other things that you can do to reduce the possibility of damaging your pallets.

  • Always store pallet flat.

    If you store them upright, or on their sides, they can fall and become damaged.  Not only can the boards themselves become damaged from a fall, but it can also compromise the joints.  It’s the same reason that you should never drop or throw pallets.

  • Don’t over-stack pallets.

    It’s fine to stack pallets into neat stacks where they aren’t at risk of being hit or bumped by forklifts (or people).  It’s best not to stack pallets more than 7 or 8 high so that they’re easy to reach and won’t fall over on their own.  If you have a place to safely stack pallets higher, where they won’t topple over, be sure to use a forklift.

  • Avoid stepping on pallets.

    Try to avoid stepping on pallets as much as possible because you’re introducing a force to the pallet that it wasn’t designed for.  If you step on a portion of a pallet that isn’t designed to hold your weight, you’ll damage the pallet.

  • Make sure you’re racking pallets properly.

    If you want to rack your pallets, it’s important that your pallets are designed to be racked the way you want to rack them.  If your pallets aren’t designed to be racked, then attempting to rack them may cause failure and damage.

6. Make Sure Recycled Pallets Come From A Reputable Source

Not all pallet recyclers are created equally, but most are fairly diligent about repairing damaged pallets before selling them.  If you regularly purchase recycled pallets, you have to remember that pallets can undergo all kinds of circumstances before the recycler gets them.  It’s impossible to know if the original owner, or subsequent owners, were careful with their forklifts or made sure that palletized products were never over-weight for the pallet design.

That means that there can be hidden pallet damage that’s difficult, if not impossible to detect, no matter how careful a pallet recycler is when making repairs.  It may also mean that the best way to prevent damage on recycled pallets is not to purchase recycled at all.

Wrapping It All Up

No matter how careful you and your team are about pallet handling, damage still happens from time to time.  It goes without saying that you’ve got to recognize and remove damaged wood packaging whenever you find it, but it’s also important for your team appreciate the risk and potential expense involved in using damaged pallets.  Using compromised pallets risks product damage, and may even put employees and customers in danger.

Using damaged pallets can be very expensive when you start adding up the cost of damaged to products, employee injury (as well as lost time at work), and customer relationships.  As a manufacturer, can you really afford to lose customers because of damaged pallets?

That’s why it’s so important that manufacturers do everything they can to reduce and prevent pallet damage.  From forklift training to wood packaging design, and materials handling best practices to using the right pallet for your products, it all adds up to cost savings in the long run.

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Uncover all the factors that put your supply (and suppliers) at risk. Discover how you can minimize supplier impact, and what strategies you can use if things go wrong.

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