To the 50th Anniversary of the Euro-Pallet

EuropaletteWhen a product remains unaltered for 50 years, it’s either ready to get displayed in a museum or it stood the test of time with flying colours.

The Euro-pallet belongs to the second category, no doubt. Its success story started 50 years ago, in 1961. Back then, the International Union of Railways (UIC) agreed on a contract about a standardised and swappable wooden pallet. This was the starting signal for a logistical revolution.

But not just the logistics sector, indeed the entire European economy owes a lot to the Euro-pallet. How would today’s logistics look like without the Euro-pallet? A world without standardised pallets is about as unthinkable as a world without ship containers. Over the last 50 years, the Euro-pallet left an indelible mark on Europe’s goods transportation and even enabled the flow of certain commodities, that are now so common that we take them for granted.

In order to honour this anniversary, I researched a couple of interesting facts about the Euro-pallet.

In many cases, it’s the rather plain things, that manage to prevail unchanged in these fast moving times. This definitely holds true for the Euro-pallet, which could hardly be more simple. Nevertheless (or because of that) it is a masterpiece of industrial design.

It is made of 11 wooden boards and 9 blocks, held together by 78 (or 81) special nails. It is standardised to a size of 1200x800x144 mm and weighs between 20 and 24 kg. Ants are able to carry 100 times their own weight? Well, the Euro-pallet does the same! It can load up to 2,000 kg, when the load is applied equally.

The dimensions have been chosen with the purpose of allowing the Euro-pallet to move through normal doorways. Of course, it also fits perfectly on HGVs and railroad cars. From the beginning to the end of the shipping, the goods may remain on the pallet and don’t have to be reloaded in between. Among other advantages, this reduced the time required for the loading of a railroad car by 90%.

Pallets may be traded and swapped. An exact definition separates those pallets, which are still „swappable“ from those which aren’t. This way, damaged pallets are withdrawn from circulation and either repaired in a licensed repair facility or discarded.

Every year 70 million new pallets from legal production join the pool. They are always made of dry, vermin-free pinewood and are manufactured strictly according to the standard. Thousands of unannounced control visits each year are needed to supervise the producers’ compliance with that standard.

Nevertheless, counterfeit pallets are a growing nuisance. Because real pallets are a quality product, some criminals specialised in the production of counterfeit Euro-pallets. These fake pallets mimic real Euro-pallets closely, but are of inferior quality, which will become apparent sooner or later. Using counterfeit pallets comes with several risks, such as damaged goods or work related accidents. Needless to say, counterfeit pallets are not swappable.

The number of Euro-pallets in circulation can only be estimated: somewhere in the range of 350 to 500 million. Precise date is not available, because the life-expectancy of Euro-pallets depends on several factors, and when they are worn down, they leave the cycle without getting registered.

The rise of the Euro-pallet changed logistics forever. Many other products align themselves with the dimensions of the Euro-pallet, such as forklifts, jack lifts and pallet conveyor systems, which are used to move pallets inside a warehouse. This also includes racking systems, whose dimensions also match those of the pallet.

But there’s more. The market also offers palleting and depalleting robots, which pile products on Euro-pallets or remove them. There are also plastic boxes available featuring Euro dimensions, which means they can be stacked on Euro-pallets without wasting any space. This way, the transport and storage of goods becomes even more efficient.

Is it possible to improve a brilliant construction such as the Euro-pallet even further? For extreme loads, pallets made from steel are available, but a higher costs. Plastic pallets on the other hand cannot handle that much weight, but last longer under difficult environmental conditions (humidity, changes in temperature), compared to the standard model made from wood. Under normal circumstances though, the wooden pallet has to fear no real competition.

Although there’s some occasional bad press regarding the Euro-pallet, it is a winning design and even has potential for further growth. Outside of Europe, some companies are interested in using the plain-looking Euro-pallet as well and might help to carry on this logistical revolution. Maybe even around the entire world.

What else is left to say about the Euro-pallet? Write a comment and let us know!

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