To Palletize or Not to Palletize?

When it comes time to ship inventory to the United States, many foreign companies are unaware of the standards surrounding palletizing their shipments.

While it is possible to ship a container oversees without pallets, it might not be the most cost-effective solution, especially when using an established warehouse or 3PL. Such entities have strict requirements regarding how they can accept shipments, and it is advisable to be aware of these limitations prior to organizing an expensive freight to the States. Choosing not to palletize (in order to fit more product into a container, for example) could result in higher unloading and re-stacking fees once the shipment arrives at the 3PL.

GMA pallets (or Grocery Manufacturers Association pallets, as they’re called), comprise a large percentage of pallets manufactured in the U.S. The base of these pallets is 48” x 40” (and 6” high.) The next most common pallet size is 42”x 42”. The preferred wood for GMA pallets is generally mixed hardwood or pine, but depends on the ultimate use for the pallet itself. (If a pallet is intended to be part of a store display, for example, it must be a Premium Grade A pallet.) The specifications for the various pallet designations can be found on the PSI website.

One other consideration regarding the composition of the wood for pallets is whether or not they have been properly treated. To prevent the spread of insects and disease, the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM-15) addresses how the wood should be treated prior to shipment.

When loading items onto pallets, it is customary to stack them no more than 48” high. This allows for double stacking, which is something that many warehouses insist on doing. (As always, stack heavier items on the bottom, and lighter items on the top.)

While you can safely stack your pallet to 60 inches, it would be important to check the regulations of your particular warehouse before doing so. Sending a pallet that is improperly stacked might incur penalty fees at worst, and increased labor charges at best, from the warehouse. Whether your warehouse permits a 60 inches stack or not, it is important to never stack pallets higher than 60 inches, for safety as well as for the integrity of the products on the pallet. Having the stack shorter than 60 inches also ensures that the forklift operator can safely and properly move your pallets around the warehouse.

The final step before shipping pallets is to shrink-wrap them tightly, with multiple layers of wrap. This allows for the entire pallet (and its contents) to be moved as one.

If your company absolutely must ship a larger pallet, or if some of the dimensions are not standard for the U.S., it is imperative to contact your 3PL prior to sending. This will avoid unnecessary charges and will give them the opportunity to provide special arrangements for the acceptance of your shipment.