How To Keep Track of Pallets the Smarter Way
How to keep track of pallets is an important consideration for manufacturers, transporters, and consumers alike. Pallets are a critical part of the supply chain across the world. They are important for storage and transportation on a global scale. With approximately 250 million wooden pallets in circulation in the UK alone, it is unsurprising that pallet losses and pallet tracking present enormous challenges for stakeholders throughout the supply chain.
Pallet tracking technology has advanced significantly over the past 20 years, especially with the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technologies. Most notably, these solutions are improving supply chains and inventory management, prolonging the lifecycle of these important supply chain building blocks, and reducing operational costs. Whole supply chain data collection also informs strategies for smarter product storage and logistics at every step of the supply chain.
Challenges around pallets
Pallet losses, theft, and damage
This is an area that has faced myriad challenges in recent years. Pallet pooling company, CHEP, estimates that millions of pallets are lost in Europe alone each year. This is attributable to theft – both with and without cargo – and unauthorised usage. According to the Financial Times, CHEP loses 35 million pallets per year at a cost of $20 per pallet. Additionally, of the 2 billion wooden pallets in circulation in the United States, 1.5 billion are remanufactured as a result of damage or for reaching the end of their lifespan over time.
The ongoing supply of pallets to meet the needs of industry is at the heart of a moving supply chain. Simply put, shortages have the potential to cause major disruptions to supply chains locally and internationally. Some of the drivers for pallet theft include the rising price of timber and prolonged use by distributors. With pallet theft on the rise, digital solutions have proven to be a powerful tool in mitigating losses.
Supply and demand: availability versus over-capacity
Challenges around pallet availability have also been highlighted since the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown and shipment dormancy threw global logistics into disarray and increased costs. It also led to a pallet shortage in the UK, with products sitting on pallets in warehouses for extended periods.
At the time, this caused shippers to buy in new pallets and pallet traders sold much of their stock to power stations in an effort to maintain cash flow. This, in turn, affected the availability of pallets and increased the prices in the second-hand market. Brexit and changes around regulations for wooden pallets exacerbated this shortage.
In an effort to build a buffer for COVID-19 and Brexit challenges, excess pallet supplies were bought throughout Europe and the UK. Pressures on the system have once again come to the fore with the war on Ukraine and the energy crisis, according to a report from the Financial Times. There is additional concern that wooden pallets will be stolen as fuel in response to the energy crisis.
Increased demand for pallets in Europe, with reduced manufacturing because of COVID-19 and the war on Ukraine, has driven up the price. This, in turn, has incentivised misappropriation and illegal activity around pallets.
Pallets and environmental concerns
The use and disposal of pallets leads to waste in both disposal and in resource usage for remanufacture. In the pallet industry, a move to a culture of sharing, re-using, maintaining, and repairing pallets has an important environmental impact. The loss of pallets causes this cycle of re-use and recycle to be broken, with consequences for the environment.
What is a pallet tracking system?
A smart pallet tracking device uses IoT sensors and tags to collect data for real-time monitoring, tracking, and recovery of pallets. This allows for data insights around location and condition of pallets for optimised pallet management and supply chain optimisation. This reduces theft and losses and encourages streamlined maintenance and usage throughout the pallet lifecycle.
Benefits of smart pallet tracking systems
Balancing pallet availability and pallet under-utilisation
What can be monitored can be more effectively managed. Smart pallet tracking systems provide a full supply chain overview for optimised inventory management and quality assurance. Supply chain visibility allows for quickly identified and rectified bottlenecks and improved handling and collection. In the long term, it is useful in identifying route inefficiencies, which has a bearing on movement of loaded and unloaded pallets and availability. This optimises usage and guides smooth-running supply chains.
Manual tracking is notoriously labour-intensive. A smart pallet tracking device – even a cheap pallet tracking device – removes the burden on resources and paves the way for automation.
Product quality also has an impact on effective pallet utilisation. Real-time monitoring data pre-sets can include cargo and transport conditions to increase the viability of shipments. In the long term, this has an effect on supply chains.
Another factor affecting pallet availability is maintenance. Using smart technologies to monitor the condition of pallets provides real-time reports on the status of pallets, showing which need to be replaced or maintained. This maximises use of pallets throughout their lifespans, improves storage and transport conditions for cargo, improves safety for workers, reduces wastefulness and enhances sustainability.
A smart pallet tracking system allows for geofencing and real-time reporting on factors such as:
- Air quality
These technologies can be pre-programmed to send notifications around undesirable changes in condition.
There are many factors that make pallets attractive to thieves. They are in high demand and are easy to sell. Where they are not an organisation’s core business, they also tend not to be subject to audit, inventory control, or management. Being on the move – sometimes in remote location – makes them difficult to track in the traditional sense.
Real-time monitoring and tracking through smart pallet tracking software has far-reaching security benefits to prevent pallet and cargo theft. The risk profile of a shipment usually relates to the nature of the inventory and whether it is set to pass through high-risk areas. These simple, scalable smart solutions provide data readings on a 30-second cycle when in motion and a two-minute cycle when stationary. Geofencing capabilities notify managers and supervisors of unspecified activity through real-time alerts. This inspires reaction and recovery.
This is a strong motivator for reduced insurance premiums and predictability for supply chain management.