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Pallet producers: picking up on pine.


Pallet manufacturers are discovering the benefits of building products from softwoods like southern pine. When the typical industrial firm talked about wooden pallet materials in days past, they were probably referring to hardwood lumber, plywood or non-veneer type panels. Today, more pallet users are specifying softwoods, particularly southern pine lumber.

Some of the reasons for southern pine's increased share of the pallet market are its strength, light weight, higher density for nail holding, ready availability and competitive cost. Several producers have converted to southern pine pallets and others are making a combination pine-hardwood pallet. Some pallet manufacturers report cost savings with equivalent strength by converting from 5/8-inch hardwood decking to 13/16-inch southern pine.

An estimated 460 million wood pallets were manufactured in the U.S. last year (see article, p. 50). About half were one-way or expendable, and half were returnable. The following companies are successfully integrating southern pine into their pallet manufacturing operations.

Chep USA is the nation's largest pool of leased pallets. Southern pine stringers for the 48-inch by 40-inch pallets are 11/16 inch by 3 1/2 inches by 48 inches. Top and bottom southern pine deck boards are 11/16 inch by 5 1/2 inches by 40 inches.

Pallets are designed to carry 2,800 pounds in normal circumstances, with a uniformly distributed load. Although the company does not make pallets, it contracts with about 15 pallet firms for production. The primary users of the pallets are the grocery distribution trade, but the company plans to expand into other areas.

According to Chep Senior Vice President Andrew Paterson, the company uses southern pine, Douglas fir and other softwoods for most of its pallets because of their strength, durability, lighter weight and economy.

Ridge Pallets of Bartow, Fla., is also using more southern pine in the manufacture of its pallets. A primary supplier of pallets to the paper, mining and chemical industries, the company says southern pine has helped fill the gap caused by uncertain supplies of hardwood lumber. Even though the company still relies on hardwood for most of its pallets, it is producing more combination hardwood-softwood pallets.

Jim Williams of Williamson Wire in Loganville, Ga., said the selection of wood pallet material is largely driven by price. Southern pine is much dryer and lighter than hardwood, Williams said. He also notes that the high moisture content of hardwood can cause it to shrink after it dries.

Industrial Woodcraft of Boonville, Ind., supplies pallets to a number of appliance manufacturers. The firm switched to southern pine pallets because of its 12 to 18 percent moisture content, compared to 35 percent for hardwood. The wetness of the hardwood was causing the appliances to rust in transit.

A cost-effective alternative

In many cases, a hardwood pallet will weigh nearly twice as much as a softwood pallet. The typical pallet made of undried hardwood weighs about 110 pounds, compared to about 60 pounds for a pallet made of kiln-dried southern pine.

Depending on market conditions, a hardwood pallet can cost more than $7 while an equivalent size southern pine pallet will run about 80 cents less. Many of the 42-inch square pallets commonly used in the industry are made up with 1 1/2-inch pine stringers and 1/2-inch by 4-inch or 1/2-inch by 6-inch deck boards.

Suppliers point out that southern pine's natural advantages for preservative pressure treatment also gives it an edge where protection against termites, beetles and moisture is an important factor. This is a significant plus, because one bug-infested pallet can infect an entire warehouse.

Many pallet recycle and repair firms favor southern pine pallets because they are easy to dismantle and re-nail. This factor has become more important in recent years because many landfills refuse to accept bulky pallets. John Healy of the National Wood Pallet and Container Assn. said that "recycling is one of the hottest issues on Capitol Hill."

Many pallet manufacturers have switched to southern pine lumber because its lighter weight reduces wear and tear on processing equipment, including saws and planer knives. The reduced weight also allows more pine pallets to be shipped per truckload.

PHOTO : Made of southern pine stringers and deck board, Chep pallets can hold 2,800 pounds under normal circumstances.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Wood of the month: Pacific madrone.
Next Article:Growth spurt sends pallet industry into the '90s.

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