The Value of a Standard

May 1, 2017

I am always reminded of the importance of standards used in our industry and how they help improve our quality management programs and their application in the field.

I have spent a good part of my working life in the retail supply chain and I developed a good appreciation of how material handling technology can influence decision making on the unit load requirements at their retail fulfilment centres. Retailers have as a primary concern the way in which the unit load devices interface with their unit load transfer systems. 

Unit load material handling technology at dock level, such as forklifts, order pickers, pallet jacks or reach trucks, have a large degree of flexibility designed into their operating characteristics such as adjustable fork spacing. Racking systems, whether they are double deep, narrow aisle, push back drive-in, or pick module racking, are very demanding on both pallet design and performance. Where there have been significant changes over the years is in new unit load transfer technology involving the interface with stacker, de-stackers, de-palletizers and conveying equipment. 

Many people in the wood packaging industry aren’t aware of it but the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has a standard for pallets and bases for unit loads that is used extensively when designing pallets that interface with unit load transfer technology. The new standard is MH1-2016, published by MHI, and I would recommend its use by anyone involved in customer facing on unit load design. You can obtain a free downloadable copy from the MHI website

The new standard is a good resource both for training our people as well as providing us with a good tool for making sure that the unit load devices interface properly with our customer’s load transfer technology.

This new standard contains some interesting survey data that indicates that in the 48 X 40 inch pallet represents only 30 per cent of new pallet production in the US; pointing to the fact that non-standard pallet sizes are used extensively in the material handling industry. 

I recall a time when many in our industry adopted the use of metal side plates to repair cracks that developed over the notch in stringer pallets. It sounded like a good idea until customers started reporting back that the metal side plates were causing faults in the scanners on their load transfer technology. The scanners, which use photoelectric cells to position the unit load along conveyor equipment and palletizers, couldn’t read the pallet properly which in turn caused sequencing problems resulting in their load transfer equipment to malfunction as a result of the improper manufacturing design. 

I mention the wrong step with side plating to help illustrate the critical importance of making sure that manufacturers of unit loads, whether they are pallets or containers, understand their customer’s load transfer systems requirements and how well defined  manufacturing standards can be a enhance unit load performance.

One area to watch in terms of changing performance criteria for unit load devices is in the growth in large Automatic Storage/Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) in North America where new demand on pallets performance in terms of deflection, load capacity, and conveyance force tight tolerances on the manufacturing design of the pallets used in this facility.

This video shows a new ASRS facility that recently opened up north of Toronto:


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