While you may sometimes hear manufacturers talk about standard pallet size, the fact is that there are actually a number of standard pallet sizes being used in the United States and internationally.  As you might imagine, the standard-sized pallet varies between both countries and industries, and the size may even depend on the material used to make the pallet.

For many manufacturers and supply chain professionals, the standard pallet size may be so well established that it’s taken for granted.  In that case, other size options are usually only explored to meet the needs of a new customer, optimize new warehouse automation, or take advantage of potential logistics savings.

We recently wrote a head-to-head comparison of plastic vs. wooden pallets, if you’re considering that option, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re only discussing wooden pallets.  Let’s take a look at what “standard pallet size” means and how it applies to different industries.

The History of Standard Pallet Sizes in the U.S.

When we talk about the standard pallet size in North America, we’re generally talking about the 48” x 40” wooden pallet.  The 48 x 40 wooden pallet was established as the standard-sized pallet by the Consumer Brand Association (CBA), but it took some time to get there.

The CBA was founded in 1908 as the American Specialty Manufacturers Association (ASMA). The goal of the ASMA was to establish standards for the grocery industry, at a time when nearly all groceries were shipped in individual cases and loaded on a truck bed by hand.  As you might imagine, loading and unloading individual boxes of groceries was inefficient and time-consuming.

World War II helped many industries, including the grocery industry, to see the value of palletizing products, but there were few standards created initially.  Pallets came in all different shapes and sizes, including many that were actually made of metal before the wooden pallet became the standard material.

With the war, came other changes as well. In 1942 the ASMA was renamed the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA)… Gotta love the name changes!

Today, the grocery industry uses more pallets than any other industry, and many retail industries and other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) have also adopted this standard pallet size.  In fact, a study completed by Virginia Tech and the USDA Forest Service found that 26% of all pallets used in North America are 48  x 40, making it the most common pallet size.

Despite the GMA being renamed the CBA in 2019, the standard 48” x 40” pallet is commonly referred to as the GMA pallet. The GMA pallet has 48” stringers and 40” deck boards, but there is quite a bit of variation in component thickness, lumber grade, fasteners, wood species, etc.  As more and more of the production process becomes automated, using the same standard pallet size allows equipment and automation processes to seamlessly switch between manufacturers.

Standard Pallet Sizes Go International

The need for standard-sized pallets was not a challenge that was unique in the United States.  In the early 20th Century, several nations began to create organizations to deal with standardization challenges in many different industries related to building and machinery.  After WWII, many of these organizations came together to facilitate trade, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was established.  ISO is the international body that creates global standards for dimensions and measurements, which applies to manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing, among other industries.

The 48×40 standard pallet size is one of six different ISO standard pallet dimensions for wooden pallets. Click To Tweet

The 48×40 standard pallet size is one of six different ISO standard pallet dimensions for wooden pallets.  You’ll find all those dimensions below.  Keep in mind that ISO only governs the sizes of pallets.  There is another organization, called the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) that regulates the wood materials themselves to make sure they meet International Standards of Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs).  ISPM 15 affects all wood packaging, including pallets, crates, and dunnage, and sets the standard for wooden pallets so as to stop the spread of invasive species of bugs and mold around the world.

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Why Are Standard Pallet Sizes Important?

It may seem as if standard pallet sizes are simply an instance of “big brother” getting involved in manufacturing and supply chain, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Standard pallet sizes across regions, countries, and internationally are important to enhancing supply chain efficiency.

For example, standard pallet sizes allow all your material handling equipment to be optimized for the same wooden pallet. Warehouse storage and transportation utilization can be optimized to get the most pallets on a truck or in your storage space.  If your production uses any type of automation, standard sized pallets mean that everything moves seamlessly through the line without adjustments for different sized pallets.

Standard pallet sizes can also give you flexibility when it comes to dual sourcing or using multiple vendors to acquire your wooden pallets.  Should there be a disruption in one of your vendor supplies, other vendors can easily fill the void.

Lastly, standard sized pallets allow you to more easily use recycled pallets if your industry allows for it.  Standard pallet sizes encourage wooden pallet recovery and reuse.

Why Standard Pallet Sizes Aren’t Good For Every Application

Not all products or shipments can utilize standard sized pallets.  Some products require custom-sized wooden pallets, and attempting to use a standard sized pallet will make your product more susceptible to damage and loss.

Some products require custom-sized wooden pallets, and attempting to use a standard sized pallet will make your product more susceptible to damage and loss. Click To Tweet

Making that determination will largely depend on the size and weight of your product, but the right solution must also take some other things into consideration, such as how your product will be transported, where it will be stored, whether the pallets will be re-used, and the total cost of the packaging solution. A packaging expert can help you weigh all these factors and determine if a standard pallet will work for your particular situation, but you may also want to read Top 7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Custom Pallet Supplier.

Standard Pallet Sizes

Below you’ll find a list of standard pallet sizes for the GMA, as well as the sizes often used in a variety of other industries.  Keep in mind that many manufacturers in North America use custom pallets to ship and protect their products, rather than sticking with the standard pallet sizes.

Dimensions (W x L in inches) Industries Used
48 x 40 Grocery and other FMCGs
40 x 40 Dairy
36 x 36 Beverage
48 x 20 Retail
48 x 36 Beverage, Packaged Paper, Shingles
48 x 42 Beverage, Chemical
48 x 45 Automotive
40 x 48 Military, Cement
35 x 45.5 Military
44 x 44 Chemical, Drums
48 x 48 Drums
42 x 42 Paint, Telecom