What is a Pallet Machine?

David Larson

A pallet machine is essentially a self-contained assembly line used to make pallets. Pallets are platforms on which material is stacked, and they are constructed to facilitate easy relocation, generally with a forklift. As pallets vary in size and structural material, so the machinery for pallet production will vary.

All wooden pallets used on container ships must be heat treated to meet international standards.
All wooden pallets used on container ships must be heat treated to meet international standards.

In wood pallet manufacturing, the function of the pallet machine is to efficiently permit the positioning of stringers or blocks to which deck boards are nailed. When the stringers and deck boards have been placed on a movable front platform, nailing the deck to the stringers is done. A ganged nail gun, usually three pneumatic nail heads positioned over the stringers, is manually moved across the deck, and nails are driven through the deck boards, securing them to the stringers.

In a small shop, the pallet is then reversed manually, and the bottom deck boards are secured in a similar manner. With a more sophisticated pallet machine, this is done with robotics. The pallets are then moved on a conveyor to be stacked by forklift and await transport to an end user. Pallet assembly using a small pallet machine generally produces one completed pallet per minute, while more complex machines have a higher rate of pallet assembly.

For pallets made from plastic, an injection molding process is customarily used. A pallet mold is made from steel or aluminum and melted plastic is forced into the mold, creating the desired pallet. While this method of pallet manufacturing is more costly in set up, the resulting pallets are very durable and typically have a longer life.

Pallets made from wood, either new or recycled, are most commonly used and are available in a variety of sizes and configurations. While the stringer pallet design is the most common, wooden pallets used as skids or with a block design are also an important part of pallet production. With a modestly priced pallet machine, these stringer or “warehouse” pallets, with a standard size of 48 inches (about 122 cm) by 40 inches (about 106 cm), can be manufactured in a small, one-person shop.

A pallet company large enough to provide pallets for major industrial companies often makes custom pallet manufacturing available for its customers. Custom pallet production might include sizes, materials, or configurations to suit the specific needs of a large customer. A pallet machine, using either wood or plastic, might be dedicated to a unique product at a large pallet manufacturing company, where a small pallet assembly plant could not afford to do so.

Pallet manufacturing for international shipping has additional requirements. The International Phytosanitary Measure known as ISPM 15 requires pallet manufacturers to guarantee that no harmful pests travel with the pallet. Plastic pallets are automatically compliant with ISPM 15, but wood pallets must be heat treated or fumigated, requiring additional steps in the production of these pallets.

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