Inbound Logistics | May 2023


U nknown billions of pallets circulate around the world, making millions of shipments possible. Pallets are an often overlooked and undervalued component of the supply chain, but advancing supply chain technology, increasing focus on sustainability, and high-pressure market conditions mean it’s time for pallets to take center stage .

specialized skills. Due to labor shortages, companies are looking for new and innovative ways to streamline operations, increase efciency, and reduce costs. “While these technologies offer signicant benets, companies must understand the need for new skill sets and investments in infrastructure to get the most benet from the technology,” says Alison Zitzke, senior project manager of pallets at ORBIS Corporation. SUPPORTING SUSTAINABILITY In recent years sustainability has become an increasingly important focus. While reusable packaging solutions have been common in the food, beverage, and automotive sectors, the conversion rate is growing, and the range of industries is expanding. Consumers prefer to buy from companies with sustainable goals, such as reducing their carbon footprint and slashing manufacturing and packaging waste. Making progress on these goals can bolster a company’s brand image in the marketplace. The sustainability trend has encouraged companies to seriously investigate plastic pallets and other reusable solutions as replacements for their expendable packaging.

Companies are beginning to realize that smart pallets, connected to technology such as RFID tags, can provide valuable data about their supply chain and consumer habits. Pallets that track dwell time in a warehouse store, for example, provide feedback on the sales rate of the product on that pallet and consumer engagement. The technology could connect the pallet to consumer coupons to boost consumption and loyalty. “If retailers can understand their product is sitting longer than they prefer, they can tie that information to promotions to entice customers and improve product throughput,” says Jeff Pepperworth, president and CEO of iGPS Logistics. “These data sets are becoming a valuable tool for retail managers.”

for users who adopt the technology,” Pepperworth says. Pallets are the center of that connection, spurred by the adoption of warehouse automation. Ongoing labor shortages are forcing the idea of a lights-out warehouse to come to reality, and pallets must be able to t into the automated equipment, from remote-controlled forklifts to automated storage and retrieval systems. Plastic pallets are often deployed in highly automated operations. “Go into an 800,000-square-foot facility, and there is not a person in sight,” says Sam Dunham, director of operations for Plastic Pallet Pros. “Automation is going to be a huge driver for that.” Accelerated adoption of technology like pallet tracking and tracing and warehouse automation means there’s a growing demand for workers with


Data can lead to using pallets in new ways to drive operational improvements, such as reducing dwell time and eliminating product handling to make store replenishment more efcient. Walmart turned toward plastic pallets to support automation in their distribution centers and to save labor at the store level. Walmart plans to stock inventory at the distribution center for individual aisles so workers can shelve products directly from pallets. That eliminates the labor of breaking down incoming inventory in the receiving area and moving goods to the aisles for stocking. “A connection of different worlds is happening right now, and data, information, and automation will help improve efciency and reduce costs

Pallets underpin product movement in the supply chain, making millions of shipments possible. To support automated operations, they must be able to fit into equipment such as remote- controlled forklifts and automated storage and retrieval systems.

74 Inbound Logistics • May 2023

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