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Smooth Warehouse Automation

Integrating pallets and crates into modern automated handling systems requires careful planning. Jim Hardisty, Managing Director of, explains.

We’ve been receiving an increasing number of enquiries from customers seeking advice on suitable products for use in automated handling systems.

There was a time when logistics professionals wouldn’t have thought twice about using the ubiquitous wooden pallet for automated handling. However, times have changed, and the increasing complexity of modern warehouse operations and the high value investment of creating automated systems that work safely and efficiently demand more reliable transit products.

Optimising materials movement in warehouses involves a considerable amount of time and financial investment. Consideration must be given to the available floor space, how goods are received, stored, picked and shipped, and the level of labour required. A thorough evaluation will determine the best automated solutions, whether that’s introducing automatic stacker cranes to replace manual forklifts for faster order picking and retrieval, or introducing automated conveyor systems for transporting, accumulating and distributing goods to specific warehouse locations.

Today’s warehouses are under increasing pressure to improve service levels, reduce operational costs and generate higher productivity, Introducing the most suitable pallet or crate into automated processes is therefore crucial to guaranteeing optimum safety, minimising system downtime and maximising cost-effectiveness.

Guarantee optimum safety

Automated handling requires that the unit load – be it a carton, crate, tray or pallet – be uniform in all aspects. That means a product of both consistent size and strength. If we take the traditional wooden pallet as an example, whether new or reused, the dimensions and strength can vary since wooden pallets do not have guaranteed loading capacities.

The reason for this is that the strength of timber varies, as growing conditions, including the climate in which the wood is cultivated, determine the quality and strength of the end product. Make 100 wooden pallets one month and test them and they might all have the same loading capacity, but make another 100 pallets a few months later and there is no telling how the capacity of these pallets might differ.

In contrast, the properties of plastic never change, so moulding plastic under extreme pressure in highly polished moulds ensures the consistent dimensional accuracy and loading capacities of every plastic pallet. By using pallets that have stated loading capacities in automatic storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), warehouse managers can be sure that goods are being stored, racked and transported in the safest possible way.

Minimise system downtime

Damaged wooden pallets, as well as timber pallets with signs of heavy and frequent use, can cause malfunctions on automated conveyor systems. When large chunks of wood break off and jam systems, the defective pallet must be manually removed, resulting in system downtime and unplanned and unwanted costs for the operator. Each stoppage increases the backlog, impacting negatively on production levels. Loose nails can also tear the base of boxes when consignments are auto-transferred from one pallet to another, leading to unnecessary costs and delays for re-packing goods.

With plastic pallets, system downtime and unnecessary costs can be avoided as systems can run continuously at full capacity with little need for manual intervention.

Maximise cost-effectiveness

Receiving goods into warehouses on wooden pallets or one-trip disposable pallets that are not compatible with automated systems has additional handling and cost implications for the warehouse operator. Palletised goods must be re-palletised onto a more reliable pallet – for instance, a full perimeter plastic pallet – to ensure a smooth integration with automated processes. This can often mean extra handling procedures at both the inward and outward points of an automated storage system if goods are to be shipped on the incoming wooden pallets.

For advice on integrating plastic pallets or crates into your automated warehouse, call us on 01323 744057 or complete our enquiry form.