Pallet dimensions

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A pallet is a flat, rectangular cargo support structure with special notches for forklift forks and fastening points for slings (for moving in a suspended position).

In freight transport, pallets are used to form the so-called unit load devices. What does it mean? Let’s take chocolates as an example: carrying a single chocolate sweet is inconvenient and impractical. On the other hand, a box of 20 chocolates can be transported more easily and profitably. It makes even more sense to carry several boxes of chocolates in a larger box, transporting 800 chocolates at once. The next stage is a palette, which fits 20 such large boxes. This allows 16,000 chocolates to be transported at once. This is a proper shipment of chocolates rather than a pile of sweets. Finally, the top step of this cargo evolution is the standard 20-foot container containing 11 pallets.
pallet dimensions

Why are pallets necessary? Can pallets be dispensed with?

Saving time and effort while loading and unloading. Loading a full container without using pallets takes a lot of time and requires quite a few load handlers, whereas a palleted load can be quickly handled by a few people and a forklift.
Protection during transport. Correct placement of the load on the pallets (boxes and bags are accurately stacked on top of each other, without extending past pallet edges) and careful fastening significantly reduces the risk of cargo damage and deformation during transport. In addition, cargo on pallets is much better protected against tampering and theft.
Sea freight safety requirements. These rules provide that all general cargo that can be stacked on pallets should be broken into unit load devices and carried on two-way or four-way pallets.

Reasons for the popularity of cargo pallets

The popularity of pallets is related to the extensive use of forklifts, as well as the concern for preventing cargo damage (for example, bricks used to be transported in bulk, but nowadays, as they become more expensive, pallets are increasingly used. Pallet shipments are especially popular in Europe where there is a general trend of shipping goods back and forth. For example, potatoes are shipped from Germany to Poland for washing (based on environmental considerations) and then carried back to Germany burning tonnes of fuel (the environmental considerations are not so clear here). Potatoes, of course, are transported in bulk without pallets, but the motivation is clear: in Poland, water and labour are cheaper than in Germany.

Pallets are not as widely used everywhere, however. In China, for example, they are not common at all. This is related to the fact that the pragmatic Chinese entrepreneurs do not see the point of shipping air to accelerate loading/unloading and to obtain questionable ecological benefits at the expense of efficiency. the majority of Chinese highways have a weight limit of 90 tonnes. In comparison, in the ecologically-minded Europe, standard trucks (approximately 90 m3) are allowed to carry up to 24 tonnes (all of it on pallets, of course). They can contain up to 33 Euro-pallets, resulting in 5% of wasted volume and 500 kg of parasitic weight per vehicle! Scandinavian countries, for example, permit extremely heavy and long road trains. Consequently, cargo transported by one truck in China or Scandinavia requires three vehicles in Europe. This means three drivers instead of one (creating new jobs?), traffic jams (that are later combatted against endlessly) and three times the fuel cost. It makes one wonder in which cases environmental concern is only a buzzword, and who really cares about it.

Classification of pallets

By service life

Disposable pallets are usually only used once and then discarded or recycled. Reusable pallets – can be used multiple times without the deterioration of properties. Durable pallets designed for extended operation.

By number of forklift notches

Two-way pallets that can be lifted from opposing sides. Four-way pallets that can be lifted from all sides. This solution improves the safety of freight loading, substantially reducing the risk of damage associated with the lifting and lowering of cargo.

By material

The most common material for the production of pallets today is wood. Wood pallets are easy to repair, eco-safe and sufficiently cheap. The second most common type are plastic pallets. In terms of quality, modern plastics are not only on par with wood, but often superior to it: lighter, but equally durable, easy to store, do not decay or require special treatment. Metal pallets are highly durable and therefore have a long service life. However, their use is limited by the heavy weight. Combined materials – an option combining the benefits of each of these variants.

By number of load decks

Single-deck pallets are designed for placing a load on a single pallet surface. Double-deck pallets have two levels: top and bottom. These pallets also offer great space savings – the cargo can be placed on two levels without risking damage.

Special pallets for the shipping, fragile or non-standard goods

There are also special pallets designed for the shipping of valuable, fragile or non-standard goods. These are usually standard pallets supplemented with special pillars, trays, boxes, frames, corner profiles and mesh walls. A variety of special pallets, such as flats, tilts and bolsters are also used for rail freight (sometimes also road freight). These are huge pallets in the size of the cargo platform, equipped with fittings for the cargo. Depending on the pallet type and its intended use, it may have folding sides, drop ends, framed superstructures or complete walls up to half of the height of a standard container.

How is the cargo fastened to the pallet?

  • by stacking – the cargo is held in place by its own weight (for example, gold bullion or bricks);
  • by wrapping the pallet along with the cargo with fastening slings (polymer, fabric, metal);
  • by wrapping the pallet along with the cargo in film.

Dimensions of Euro-pallets – pallet sizing in Europe.

The requirements for wooden pallets are set out in the international standard UIC435-2. Euro-pallets are manufactured in accordance with this standard and their compliance is attested by EUR and EPAL markings. The EUR marking means that the pallets are constructed according to European standards; the EPAL marking is assigned by the European Pallet Association, which supervises the production of pallets in conformity with European size, durability and quality requirements. EPAL has developed criteria for the exchange of pallets certified by this association that must be complied with. If the pallet has at least one of the following defects, it cannot be exchanged:

  • missing EUR and EPAL seal;
  • one board missing;
  • one of the outermost top or bottom boards is damaged so that more than one nail is exposed;
  • a stringer is missing or a part of it is split off in such a way that more than one nail is exposed;
  • the board has split transversely or diagonally;
  • more than two bottom or top outermost pallet boards are damaged and at least one nail is exposed to each of the boards;
  • the overall poor condition of the pallet cannot guarantee its load-bearing capacity;
  • the pallet is so dirty that the goods being transported could become damaged; there is evidence that the pallet is made of unsuitable materials.

Size differences of pallet types used in different countries:

USA uses mostly 1,016 x 1,219 mm and 1,219 x 1,219 mm pallets.
China, Japan, Australia use 1,100 x 1,100 mm size.
Europe uses 800 x 1,200 mm pallets (so-called Euro-pallets or EUR-pallets with EUR or EPAL markings). The maximum permissible load capacity of a Euro-pallet is 2 tonnes. Euro-pallets are manufactured according to the UIC 435-2 standard.
1,000 x 1,200 mm pallets (Finnish pallets, FIN pallets) are commonly used in Finland. The maximum load capacity of a FIN pallet is 2.5 tonnes. The FIN pallet complies with the requirements of the European standard ISO 3676.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recommends the following pallet sizes for international freight transport:

800 x 1,000 mm.
800 x 1,200 mm. Euro-pallet dimensions
1,000 x 1,200 mm.
1,200 x 1,600 mm.
1,200 x 1,800 mm.

For container shipments, ISO has developed 1,000 x 1,200, 825 x 1,000, 1,100 x 1,100, 1,100 x 1,320 mm standards.

Pallet weight

The weight of the Euro-pallet is not standardised because pallets can be made from different materials. Typically, wooden Euro-pallets weigh 15-20 kg, with the exception of double-deck pallets weighing up to 40 kg.

How high can a load be stacked on one pallet?

The maximum height of a load unit (the load along with the pallet) must not exceed 1,800 mm, while the load itself must not extend past the pallet edges by more than 20 mm. Consequently, the maximum dimensions of a load unit for a pallet with 800 x 1,200 mm edges are 840 x 1,240 x 1,800 mm, while for a pallet with 1,000 x 1,200 mm edges they are 1,040 x 1,240 x 1,800 mm.

When preparing a cargo pallet, the number of load rows (levels) must be calculated in advance, taking into account the weight of each row, so that the top rows do not crush the bottom ones. The stability of the load placed on the pallet should also be taken into account. Excessively high load may overturn during loading and transport. To carry tall cargo units, provisions for fastening should be made in the cargo compartment.

Volume of the cargo pallet itself without cargo

Let’s take a Euro-pallet as an example: 800 mm in length, 1,200 mm in width and 145 mm in height (without cargo). The math is simple: 800 x 1,200 x 145 = 139,200,000 mm3 or 0.1392 m3. To obtain the volume of the pallet in cubic inches or feet, it can be easily converted as follows: 8,494.5 cubic inches or 4.92 cubic feet.

Pallet position

Cargo placed on the pallet that does not protrude past its edges is called a cargo unit or pallet position. The height of a cargo unit is limited by the available ceiling height.

Common types of pallet layout in containers and trailers

A standard 82-cubic-metre trailer can contain 33 Euro-pallets 32 – by placing the long edge across the trailer (in pairs).
If placed with the short edge across (in triples), the capacity is 33 pallets.
16 in pairs = 12.8 m.
11 in triples = 13.2 m – precisely the length of the trailer.
pallet layout in containers and trailers LDM
A standard 20-foot container can contain 11 Euro-pallets on a single level.
A standard 40-foot container can contain 25 Euro-pallets on a single level.

Safety requirements for pallet loading and transport

When loading and unloading the pallets, they should be placed so that there is space left for the forklift forks. If the pallets are simply pushed, they can become overturned or broken.

The cargo layout on the pallet should be selected on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of cargo and the conditions of transport. For example, oil barrels are placed on the pallet on one level only, leaving more space to the edge of the pallet than usual. If these conditions are not complied with, there is a high risk that the barrel walls can rub against each other and rupture during transport.

Interesting and useful facts about pallets

The ancestor of the modern pallet was a skid used in American factories since the early 20th century. It was a wooden platform with two boards affixed underneath. As loading machinery developed, the design of these supports was changed and improved. In 1925, another platform was nailed to the boards and the resulting cargo handling implement began to resemble the pallets we know today. Palletised cargo shipping developed rapidly during World War II, especially after the US joined the war. The circumstances demanded enormous quantities of military and humanitarian goods being shipped across the world in an organised manner, but there was a lack of able-bodied workers. The use of pallets allowed the work to be done by fewer cargo handlers and accelerated the turnover of goods in warehouses and packhouses. Although pallets were mostly used in the Pacific, the benefits of this type of packaging were also appreciated in Europe.

Most countries of the European Union require that wooden pallets imported into their territory be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate attesting that they have undergone phytological treatment. After disinfection in accordance with Standard No. 15, pallets and fastening materials are marked with special markings – the registration number assigned by the national quarantine and phytosanitary service, as well as the country codes and the designation of the method of disinfection (HT — heat treatment, KD — kiln-drying, MB — methyl bromide treatment).

New Euro-pallets are generally able to withstand a weight of 1,500 kg or even 2,000 kg. However, other factors should also be taken into account. Firstly, in no case should the maximum load capacity of the vehicle be exceeded. Consequently, the permissible weight of each pallet will be only 800 kg when loading a full semitrailer with standard pallets (33 units). Secondly, most forklifts and cargo handling machines are not powerful enough to move loads heavier than 1,800 kg.

International cargo documents often require the number of packages – COLLI, CMR, to be specified, while TIR usually uses the abbreviation CLL. This refers to individual load unit (transport) positions — any cargo that can be loaded and unloaded as a whole: boxes, bags, boxes, cans transported without pallets, as well as cargo on pallets. Thus, if 5 pallets and 12 boxes are loaded into a container or semi-trailer, 17 colli may be indicated in the transport documents (from French colis – box, parcel, unit, package).

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