Pallet Dimensions – Much More Than Just "Standard"

Generally, wooden pallets are typically made of three or four wooden stingers supporting several deck-boards. Goods are typically placed on top of these deck-boards. In pallet measurement, the first number denotes the stringer length with the second number being the deck-board length. There are pallets that are square or nearly-square to help loads resist tipping.

Pallet handlers want pallets to enter buildings with ease, they want to stack the pallets on racks and they also want pallets to be accessible to pallet jacks and forklifts. The National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) classifies pallets depending on a common entry type which refers to how many directions they can be entered by forklifts and pallet trucks.

  • Two-way entry pallets are made to be lifted by the deck-boards. They can be entered at either end.
  • Four-way entry pallets are pallets for heavy loads and are best lifted by the more rigid stringers. Four-way pallets are usually bigger and much heavier than two-way pallets. They can be entered from all four sides.
  • Partial four-way entry pallets can be entered by pallet trucks and forklifts on each side, but can only be entered by forklifts through notched stringers on the sides of the pallet.

*No universally accepted standard pallet dimensions exist

While standardization would have been a great idea, standard pallet dimensions have only been used within specific industries. In North America, the standard pallet size is 40” x 48” (W X L). This is by ISO standards. 20 of these pallets will fit in a 40 ft. ISO standard container with 3.7%b space going to waste. This pallet is the most widely used and serves several industries; notably the grocery sector.

Other industries normally have their own standards. Including-

  • 42” x 42” - for the telecommunication and paint industries
  • 48” x 48” – for drums
  • 48” x 42” – chemicals and beverages
  • 40” x 48” – military and cement
  • 40” x 40” – for the dairy industry
  • The retail sector generally uses 48” x 20” pallets.

In the US, these standards are set by different bodies such as the ISO Technical Committee 51, NWPCA and the US DOD, Department of Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Standard pallet dimensions had been introduced to increase efficiency of the supply chain. Benefits of standardization include;

  • Improving the productivity of the transportation by cutting on delivery trips.
  • Optimizing storage space by redefining the warehouse racking system.
  • Improving production efficiency by having similar standard pallet dimensions.
  • Improving manpower productivity in the warehouse.
  • Facilitating regional trade and encouraging pellet pooling.
  • Reducing the cost of ownership by encouraging leasing of pallets

A study in Singapore showed that standardization in pallet dimensions resulted in an average Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 155% translating to a return of 1.55 times the money that was invested in the project. IRR is computed as the difference between costs incurred in implementing a project and the benefits realized at the end of the implementation period.

Ideally, standardization makes it possible for goods to be transported from the manufacturer, through the distributor to the retailer on the same pallet. This eliminates a need for any manual transfer of goods from one pallet to another which greatly enhances the productivity and efficiency over the course of the transportation. When any handling and labor is reduced, delivery and transfer costs are also substantially reduced. Pallet standardization will also encourage standardization of warehouse design.