How the Pallet Has Transformed the Storage Industry
As the demand for manufactured and processed items has increased, the need for improved packaging, additional space to store the packaged goods and more efficient ways to handle and distribute them has grown more acute. Before the invention of pallet storage, wooden crates, boxes, and kegs were the only means available to facilitate bulk handling of goods. These containers were all deposited and retrieved by hand and, because of their weight and their irregular sizes and shapes, it was the practice to place them directly on the warehouse floor in stacks low enough for easy handling.
By the early 1900s, it was becoming increasingly difficult to house the growing volume of goods necessary to meet consumer demands. To cope, warehouses needed some means to make better use of the available floor space. The solution was to stack their stock to leverage unused vertical space. The introduction of pallet storage came soon after the invention of the forklift truck. Together, these two important innovations have transformed the future of both warehousing and distribution.
The use of these low wooden platforms made it possible to secure large numbers of uniform packages, such as boxes of canned goods or wine bottles, onto a single unit. Using purpose-built racking, warehouse owners could then stack additional, rows of fully-laden units above. However, it was the ability to accommodate the forks of a lift truck that turned pallet storage into a gamechanger. Early versions were of non-standard sizes, made of wood and had only a single entry point for forks. To meet the military’s mass production needs during World War II, the dimensions of the platforms used by the allies were standardised. Also, the addition of more entry points meant it became possible to lift them from all four sides.
It was not only the war effort that led to a surge in pallet storage. Although the US only joined the allies in December of 1941, at that time, there were already around 25 000 forklifts operating in America. Since then, there have been many innovations in the warehousing and distribution sector. One innovation that has had one of the most significant impacts on the industry was the cleverly-designed, electrically-powered reach truck now widely used in narrow aisle systems.
While these trucks’ exceptional manoeuvrability has markedly improved access for picking and packing operations, their taller masts have also increased the potential for vertical pallet storage. Simultaneously, the narrower aisles make it possible to free up as much as 50% more floor space and so almost double the total capacity of a warehouse. In light of the high cost of renting or purchasing extra space, investing in a narrow-aisle system can be a far more cost-effective option.
There is no denying the contribution made by the forklift. However, warehousing continues to evolve, particularly in the area of automation. Radio-controlled Pallet Moles®, which partly or Omni-Mole® AS/RS which fully automate the picking, storage and retrieval processes, are quickly becoming the new future of pallet storage. South African based and part of the Spacemaker Systems Group, Storage Management Systems (SMS) offers international companies one of the most comprehensive ranges of quality static and dynamic material handling and storage systems in the world.