Footprints aren’t just useful to trackers of wild game and film noir gumshoes looking for clues at a crime scene; footprints are also essential to supply chain professionals.
In the supply chain, the pallet footprint is a term which refers to the length and width of a pallet. The most common way to describe a footprint is to start with the distance of the wooden stringers or the stringer boards (on block pallets), which underlie and run perpendicular to the deck boards, followed by the measure of the deck boards. In the North American consumer goods industry, for example, the standard size today is the 48x40-inch.
In other parts of the world, there are other standard footprints related to the movement of consumer goods. In the UK, South Africa, parts of Asia and other emerging markets, the 1200x1000-mm pallet is the standard. In continental Europe, the same holds true for the 800x1200-mm (Euro pallet) footprint, which evolved after World War 2 as a practical size to use in European rail cars. In Australia, the 1165x1165-mm pallet is the accepted size. The 1100x1100-mm is also popular in Asia. Together, the sizes listed above comprise five of the six pallet sizes approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), along with the 42x42-inch pallet, which is used internationally.
Why doesn’t the world just convert to one size and end all of this international confusion? As it turns out, history is important. Material handling systems and supply chains have evolved around particular pallet sizes before the growth of global trade, and to change them now would become prohibitively expensive. For this reason, we are more likely to see emerging nations with new logistics infrastructure look to standardize internationally - typically onto the 1200x1000mm.
Here are five reasons to think about pallet footprints:
1. It just might save you money. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but if you can switch to the common footprint, you may have the ability to utilize a pooling model, or to purchase competitively priced refurbished pallets which should be more readily available.
2. The customer is always right. Your client may have a material handling system that is optimized for a particular footprint. If the customer is in another country or a new distribution channel for your company, it might not be 48x40-inch! Don't let the wrong pallet size result in an unpleasant experience.
3. Bigger can be better. Regarding material handling efficiency, a larger pallet enables the movement and storage of more goods per pallet. The 1200x1000-mm translates into a 25% material handling efficiency gain over the smaller 800x1200-mm pallet, for example.
4. And smaller can be better. Small pallets are valued for a number of reasons at retail. Full-size pallets might not fit through the doors of convenience stores, which can require repiling and result in a prolonged stop for the truck driver. The use of appropriate pallet sizes can get drivers back on the road more quickly, an increasingly important consideration. Small footprint pallets also allow the opportunity for more floor displays, which are believed to boost sales, and where store layout permits, they can be placed “in-aisle” under shelves to help eliminate stocking labor. What are the best small pallet sizes? Think of sizes that are modular to the accepted full pallet footprint, particularly if the pallets are moving through the supply chain to the retailer. Half pallets are becoming increasingly popular for retail applications.
5. Transportation optimization. The customer may always be right, but where the cost of shipping is prohibitive, or if the customer is flexible, it might be prudent to find the pallet size that provides the best freight efficiencies and deal with the cost of repalletization as required. A few years ago, an international automotive industry committee recommended a size that helped optimize the utilization of 40-foot containers (1140x980-mm) for global shipments. Recently, one company announced a new footprint that it felt best optimizes both trailers and sea containers (1195x990-mm). In the consumer goods sector, such transportation-centric sizes have not gained traction.
The bottom line with pallet footprints, as it is with everything that supply chain professionals do, is providing the best value proposition for the client, whether the receiving distribution center, retail delivery operations, or the shopper in the store. The footprint can leave a big (or small) mark on the customer experience. Just make sure it is the right one.