If you’re good at Jenga, then a career placing cardboard boxes on pallets could be one for you. And we’re not being flippant. In the world of palletising, forethought, a steady hand (or machine) and a strategic brain are all vital. Whoever thinks it’s just a question of dumping a load of boxes on a pallet and hoping for the best is totally misguided.
As we know, cardboard boxes are ideal for both storing and shipping products. And palletising cardboard boxes is the most efficient way to store large quantities of goods in a warehouse or during transit. When we say efficient, we’re talking in terms of both space (how much is taken up) and time (how long it takes to arrange them).
If you’re an e-commerce business shipping your products nationally or internationally, you may well be at the stage where you use a carrier and the majority of carriers nowadays require goods to be palletised to a certain standard before they’re picked up. So not only is it worth checking if a carrier has specific requirements, it’s also necessary to be on top of your palleting game.
Speaking of games, back to Jenga. The aim of Jenga is to remove one brick at a time from a carefully assembled tower ensuring that the tower itself doesn’t topple over. Essentially, this is what you also want to achieve with your pallets of cardboard boxes: a stack that’s arranged in such a way that it holds fast, but where, should you want to, it’s possible to remove one box without compromising the overall structure of them all.
However it stacks up, the pallet is the thing which will end up being the base for your cardboard boxes. Golden rule number one is that anything with a structure on top of it needs to be firm and secure. It's a bit like a house foundation after all and we all know that the wise man built his house upon the rocks.
So, ensure your pallets have no cracks or broken and splintered pieces. Even if they’re in pristine condition, slip mats, corrugated inner layers and cardboard corner boards can also be helpful at providing reinforcement. Even for pallets are in good shape, these items bridge empty space and help prevent any movement in the stack during transit.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to put the heaviest boxes on the bottom, lower centre of gravity and all that. There, they can add to the solid foundation of the pallet and support weight themselves without crushing lighter items. The laws of physics tell us however, that while it might not be the best course of action to put smaller boxes right on the bottom of the pile, what is sensible is to distribute them throughout the stack because structures with weight spread evenly are far more stable.
Now you’ve got your heavier boxes at the bottom, what next? Well, don’t give in to your desire to be an Ancient Egyptian and create a pyramid. Instead, aim for a cube with interlocking shapes. Place your boxes down like you’re a seasoned bricklayer, rotating each new layer if possible so each box overlaps another.
One note of caution: whilst we fully adhere to the premise that boxes on a pallet should overlap because an interlocking pattern means greater stability (especially if your boxes come in varied shapes and sizes) there’s always an exception to the rule and here it is. It might be worth considering simple stacks of vertical columns if your products are lightweight, soft or exceptionally fragile. This is because the cardboard box’s natural compression strength will work to its best advantage in such a pattern. But… beware of toppling towers.
Fun Fact: Did you know that names have been given to the different patterns in which you can stack pallets? Don’t believe me? Then google it. There’s the row, the brick, the pinwheel, the split row, the hybrid pinwheel. Palletising is a genuine art form.
Once you’ve got to grips with a few basic pallet stack formations, it might be time well spent to come up with a list of possible stacking combinations specific to the cardboard box variations that your company uses. How you stack your pallets will depend on the size and shape of the packaging you use as well as their content. Which stacks are faster to assemble, which trickier? Which stacking patterns suit your products and box dimensions the best? What do your carriers prefer?
Sitting down to work out these combinations ahead of needing them means half the hard work has been done already and your pallet space can be used to its maximum advantage. Having a few templates at hand means that both in the short term and long run, you’ll be able to palletise quickly and more efficiently whilst already being confident that your pallet stacks are strong, stable and dense
The last thing you want when a ship is rolling about on the high seas or an aeroplane is flying through turbulent skies is for boxes transported on pallets to slip out of place and rattle around.
We use seatbelts in order to avoid colliding with parts of a vehicle’s interior (or even exterior) should it stop unexpectedly and we must extend this courtesy to anything we’re shipping as well. Movement causes shifting and bumping, which in turn causes damage, breakages and a whole load of hassle and expense.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to prevent boxes on pallets from slipping. Stretch wrap, heavy-duty packing bands or dunnage air bags, for example. It’s recommended that stretch wrap goes at least four entire times around your pallet and its contents, including the base. If packaging bands are the method of choice, they need to be used both horizontally and vertically.
Most options these days are reusable and/or biodegradable, but they have the same aim: to make everything on that pallet, including the pallet, behave as if it were one unit. And if you get stressed trying to find the end of the clingfilm, then don’t worry; on the market there are machines called pallet wrappers which can wrap your pallets with far more ease and far greater consistency.
Whichever stacking formation you go for, ensure that none of your boxes are hanging over the side of the pallet, or even, each other. Any amount of overhang or misalignment, even just a fraction, will compromise the compression strength of an individual cardboard box, decreasing how much weight that box can have on top of it before it crumples. So, place boxes towards to the edge of the pallet, but never over it. This way, stack integrity won’t be compromised and boxes will also be far easier to strap down.
Overhang risks damaging your products, but it also means you might fall afoul of automatic pallet dimensioners because, if there’s any overhang, they’ll record pallets as being larger than they actually are. This can result in revised freight or reclassification bills.
Our last tip is one which should perhaps have come at the very top of the list, before the cardboard boxes even made it onto the pallet at all. It concerns labelling. For obvious reasons, the importance of labels on individual packages and boxes can’t be underestimated when it comes to international shipping. Make things easier for shipping handlers and receivers by ensuring that barcodes are facing outwards so a pallet’s contents is immediately obvious.
That's it. These are the six things we believe you should consider when palletising your cardboard boxes. What do you think? Have we missed something? Is there anything we need to add? Let us know, or alternatively, contact us today to find out which of our cardboard boxes might be perfect for your pallets.
In fact, call us to discuss any of your packaging requirements. You can even give us a ring if you fancy a game of Jenga. But we can't promise we'll let you win.