Wooden pallets are a staple for warehousing and shipping functions. Pallets (sometimes called flats) are designed to allow for easy loading, unloading and moving using a standard-prong forklift. While pallets may be any size, standard sizes have been developed in consideration of the places that full pallets are stored.
Most pallet goods shipped within the United States travel via truck line. Pallet size is important because the company responsible for shipping the goods needs to fit as many pallets as possible on each truck. Dedicated carriers ship goods for only one company and are often owned by that company. In this case, wasted truck space means wasted money. Common carriers use the same truck to transport goods for many companies. The transport company also wants to fit as many pallets as possible on a truck so that they can transport as many shipments as possible. Transport companies charge higher fees for over-sized pallets or pallets that cause wasted space.
Shipping containers are large containers loaded onto a ship for transport overseas. These containers also come in standard sizes and the same principle applies--the goal is to fit as many pallets as possible into each container so that the cost of shipping is spread out over several loads. Overseas transport companies also charge additional fees for non-standard and over-sized pallets. Because of the high price of shipping by boat, pallet size may be even more important in this situation.
Besides shipping, the primary use of pallets is for storage in warehouses. Warehouses use a pallet system so they can easily move goods around the facility. Warehouse racking comes in standard sizes and, once assembled, creates standard-sized storage bays. Warehouses need pallets to fit within the bays. Pallets that protrude into the aisles can cause accidents. Pallets that are too small to fill a bay, but too large to allow two pallets per bay, result in inefficiency. In some cases, non-standard pallets are unavoidable or even desirable, but standard pallets ultimately save warehouse space.
Standard Square Pallets
Square pallets are often used in container shipping or for shipping square, boxed items. Standard sizes are 36 inch x 36 inch, 42 inch x 42 inch and 48 inch x 48 inch. Most warehouse bays are 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep. This allows for storage of two 48 inch x 48 inch pallets per bay, maximizing efficiency. Some racking systems provide bays that are 6 feet wide by 3 feet deep. This allows for storage of two 36 inch x 36 inch pallets.
Standard Rectangular Pallets
Rectangular pallets are often used in truck transport and for shipping large, long or irregular items. Standard sizes are 48 inch x 40 inch and 48 inch x 42 inch. These sizes still allow for optimization of shelf space, but allow greater flexibility in the types of items being shipped. Standard pallet sizes also create maximum yield in terms of the wood used to build the pallets. Reducing waste in pallet production also reduces overall cost.