Make Sure Your Pallets Make the Grade in Your Operation

There is no standardized, industry-approved nomenclature or universal specifications for pallets. Here's what to consider to make sure a supplier's pallet specs will align with your needs.


Everyone knows what a pallet is. It’s traditionally made of wood and used as the foundation for shipping a multitude of products around the corner and across the world.

You might think pallets are interchangeable; that they all do pretty much the same thing. However, while all pallets are workhorses, there are different grades that deliver different levels of performance. Some are thoroughbreds that will carry your products to the winner’s circle every time. Others are not as sleek, but consistently get the job done. And others are simply serviceable and cheap.

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There is no standardized, industry-approved nomenclature or universal specifications for pallets. Some companies use numbers to label their different grades of pallets (1’s and 2’s). Others, 48forty included, identify pallet grades by letters: Premium A’s, Standard A’s and Standard B’s.

Confusing things even further, how companies define the specs varies as well. So before purchasing any pallets or if you’re comparing prices from multiple suppliers, make sure to look at a company’s published specs to ensure they align with your needs. If a supplier has multiple locations, ask if their pallet specs are consistent regardless of facility of origin. (In the spirit of transparency, 48forty’s pallet specs are consistent across all 225 locations.)

Here are five things to consider:

1) What product is going on the pallet and how the product is configured on the pallet.

This is fairly basic but important. A load of bagged mulch requires a very different pallet than a load of cases of bottled water. Both are heavy, but the water is less stable and needs more decking to stay even when stacked. Using a Premium A pallet, with six-inch lead boards, is the perfect solution for the water, while a Standard A or even a Standard B will work for the mulch. A good rule of thumb is the more complex the product and how it’s configured on the pallet, the higher the grade needed.

2) The retailer.

The majority of major retailers have specific requirements for pallets so make sure your products are appropriately palletized. Some examples: Sam’s Club wants Premium A or block pallet. Likewise, Costco will only take Premium A’s and will fine you for broken boards. Some, like Amazon and Tractor Supply, don’t have pallet requirements, but most do. Make sure you know your retailer customers’ specs.

[The right supplier is based on your needs and how well the supplier's capabilities align. Get the full guide on how to select the right supplier here.]

3) How much automation is used in your operation.

Today’s plants are increasingly automated in their filling, conveying and packing operations. This creates a demanding environment for pallets. The reason? Automation is all about standardization with sensors that control just about everything, from throughput to quality issues to deviations in pallet specs.

Here’s a perfect example. A robotic forklift is programmed to handle specific pallets specs. If a B grade pallet has block or companion boards, narrowing the space between the stringer boards for the forks, the sensors will detect it and stop the forklift. Similarly, sensors on conveyor belts will likely detect an off-spec B grade pallet, interrupting production. Neither scenario is good so it’s best to go with a Premium A or A pallet.

4) Your racking system.

While it’s standard practice to stack loaded pallets three high on racks, racking systems can vary widely. How racks are configured and the design of the racks will influence what pallet grade is most appropriate. A robust racking system is more forgiving of the pallet so a lower grade will work. Others, particularly those that are more complex or are integrated with automated handling systems will require a Premium A or A.

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5) The source.

Pallet suppliers are very different in their pallet nomenclature, specs and their approach. As I’ve already mentioned, 48forty’s pallets are graded Premium A, A and B, and our specifications are uniform across our company.

Additionally, to ensure the accuracy of our quotes and ultimately, your satisfaction, we prefer not to quote pallets based on old specs because of all of the above. We prefer to compare apples to apples and the best way to do this is through a site visit. This way we can see what you’re currently using, see your products and how they’re configured on pallets, check out your automation, robotics and racking systems; and learn who your retail customers are, if relevant.

[Vetting potential pallet suppliers? Conduct site visits before you make the final decision. Here's what to look for.]

This simple investment of time allows 48forty to identify any issues with current pallets, opportunities for better performance and/or costs, and ultimately recommend the pallets that will make the grade for your operation.

Now we know why not all pallets are interchangeable. Understand each of these factors to help make sure the pallets you select make the grade. 

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