The Most Common Standard Pallet Sizes | Pallet Consultants
Pallets come in many different shapes, sizes, and types. But there is one standard size pallet that is most common to shipping in the United States - 48” x 40”
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What is the standard size pallet?
Veterans and newcomers alike to the pallet and shipping industry should be familiar with three very important letters – GMA. That’s the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and it sets the standards for pallets and other equipment in the transportation of consumer goods in the US.
GMA is important because one of the standard pallet dimensions it set are 48 inches by 40 inches, 48 x 40. By having all manufacturers, distributors, and retails on the same page with a standard size pallet, the whole industry runs smoother. A very common pallet measurement allows equipment and automated processes switch between pallets from different manufacturers without trouble.
There are other standard sizes in the United States, such as GMA’s 42 x 42 and 48 x 48, but 48 x 40 is the most common size used by far. The 48 x 40 is even popular beyond our borders and is used in all of North America.
A standard pallet is 6 ½” tall. GMA pallets typically weigh 37 pounds (17 kg). The length of the pallet is measured by the stringer length, 48”. A stringer is a board that runs the length of the pallet between the deck boards, holding the pallet up. The deck boards that are on the top and bottom of the stringers and run perpendicular to them measure 3 1⁄4 inches (83 mm) wide and are 5⁄16 inch (7.9 mm) thick each, and are 40 inches long.
The 48 x 40 pallet is so common because it is very versatile. Also made to International Organization for Standardization (IOS) recognized specifications, it can be used for many things, from dry goods to dairy items and produce. They can hold up to 4,600 lbs. of weight, and because of this is used in many more areas than just grocery and retail.
These GMA pallets are also widely used because they can easily be made in consistent sizes, and the common adoption of this size is also prevents a lot of headaches when it comes to inventory management.
With this in mind, it is important to note that no universally accepted standards for pallet dimensions exist. Companies and organizations utilize hundreds of different pallet sizes around the globe. While no single dimensional standard governs pallet production, some sizes are so widely used they become “standard”, like the GMA pallet.
Wood vs. Other Materials
Most pallets are made of wood, although some are plastic and metal. However, wood does have some advantages over other materials. Wood is renewable, and doesn’t require mining like metals or long-term landfill waste like plastic pallets. They can also easily be recycled or fixed, which can’t be said for other materials. Additionally, alterations can also be made to wooden pallets without much time or special equipment. Pallets can be taken apart and made into a different size through cutting or combining pieces, all that is needed are nails and saws.
Recycled pallets can save customers over 60% compared to new pallets without sacrificing their load-handling function.
Two and Four-Way Pallets
The 48 x 40 GMA pallet we’ve been talking about either comes in a two or four-way entry type depending on its design. Two-way pallets are designed to be lifted by the deck boards, since that is the only way a forklift or pallet jack can lift them. With this design, the stringers are not notched, and therefore it can only be lifted along the length of the pallet in between the stringers. Notching is when a small cutout is made to the bottom of the stringer, allowing a forklift to pass through the pallet’s sides. Four-way pallets are best lifted by their more rigid stringers. These pallets are usually heavier, bigger and more durable than two-way pallets. Four-way pallets have entry slots on all four sides for full accessibility, and can either be supported by stringers with notches or by wood blocks instead of stringers.
Stringer and Block Pallets
The use of stringers or wooden blocks determine if they are known as stringer pallets or block pallets, and can give clues to how the pallet will be handled on the forklift. Although some stringer pallets have notches in the stringer to allow for side pickup, not all are notched. A block pallet is always four-way.
New pallets are all pretty much the same. Some might be of different styles, like block and stringer pallets, but they are generally considered a commodity. Recycled pallets, however, can vary a lot. Some just don’t look as clean as new ones but are structurally the same. Some have minor splits or cracks in the wood, while others have damaged stringer boards and need one to multiple repairs.
Different companies have different names for specific grades, but there are three general industry-wide grades.
Premium or Plus “A” grade pallets are basically new. They look the cleanest, and have no stringer repairs. The only difference pallet companies might see between pallets in this category are based on how nice it looks.
Normal “A” grade pallets might have some stringer repairs, whether it’s with staples or corrugated metal to repair cracks or splints in the wood. These repairs are minor, and are done quickly and easily. The pallets in this category also look pretty good, although they do show some wear.
Grade “B” pallets are where a pallet starts to show its age. Many manufacturers will have a Premium or Plus “B” category, but this is not a standard. Usually a Premium B pallet will have only a single pallet repair, usually a runner or block repair in addition to staples and corrugated metal repairs.
Regular “B” pallets will have two to three repairs, in all combinations in types of repairs. Likely to have staples as well as runner or block repairs, these pallets are nearing the end of their life but can still be lifted by a pallet jack or forklift. They may have chips or slight cracks in the upper boards as well and look well used.
A Pallet’s End of Life
Usually after three stringer repairs, a pallet is scrapped. It can be cut into its component pieces where good parts are used in new recycled pallets. Sturdy pieces can be cut down and used as plugs or runner repairs. Top boards and leadsare taken off and reused if possible, but anything that can’t be put onto another pallet is usually ground into mulch or pressed into biomass. The mulch can be used to decorate gardens and landscapes in homes and around businesses. Mulch can also be made to certain stringent certifications and be approved for use in playgrounds, making it safe for use in schools and around other areas children frequent. Biomass is used as fuel in generating energy, so even if the wood isn’t good enough for mulch it can still help power our homes and businesses.
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