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Physics of Freight

  1. Aug 29, 2011 #1
    I work in the freight industry and I am trying to find a solution to pallet breakage. Here is the problem.
    A pallet sometimes is longer than the truck is wide. e.g. L=109" W=48" when we load it we manipulate it with 2 forklifts and slide it in Lengthwise. This means sliding the pallet on a wooden truck floor and sometimes the pallet breaks down and the product gets damaged.
    Therefore I am thinking of finding a solution with the shipper and tweaking the pallet just a bit.
    Pallets are made of 2x4s with 90 degree edges and I was thinking for a cheap resolution we could round the edges so it makes a sled type shape. It seems if we put it on a sled may reduce damage. What do you think? is there any type of math that goes along with that? so I can "prove" it to upper management? Do I need to explain myself more? send pictures?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2011 #2
    Rounding the ends may help, if the pallet is breaking when it catches on the truck floor.
    Another option would be to see if you can get pallets made with 4X4s. or adding PTFE or polypropylene skid plates on the bottom of the pallet.
  4. Aug 29, 2011 #3


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    It depends on whether the pallet breaks because it got caught, or if friction alone is sufficient to do damage. If it gets caught, rounding edges trivially resolves the problem. But if it's due to friction, I don't think it will help.

    Unfortunately, the only way to prove it to management is with statistics. First step would be presenting statistics showing that it's a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Second step would be to prepare a number of modified pallets, and keeping track of how these break compared to regular pallets. If you show that costs saved by modification exceed costs of modifications by significant margin, it will be all the evidence management would need, and the only kind they'd be willing to listen to.
  5. Aug 30, 2011 #4
    That is one good thing about management types, they are usually impressed with simple numbers like how this pallet breakage effects the cost of goods sold. The smaller the quantity of what you are shipping, the better this discussion looks.
    If I run a business that builds and delivers large expensive widgets.
    My plant makes say 100 widgets a month, and costs $10M a month in labor, material, and overhead.
    I sell widgets for $.5M each that cost me $.1M to make.
    If I lose 2 units a month to broken pallets, I have reduced my profits from $40M to $38M.
    $2M a month should pay for some good pallets.
    You can also charge your customer a deposit on the pallet,(and pay for return shipping)
    If it does not come back, the cost is written off on you taxes.
  6. Aug 30, 2011 #5
    You may be able to reduce the friction by placing another material in between the truck bed and the pallet. Maybe a sheet of metal for it to slide on?

    If this idea is actually practical, it should have a very simple mathematical proof.

    F = uN F = frictional force, u(technically the greek letter mu) = coeffecient of friction between two surface, and N = normal force(essentially the force of weight in most cases)

    To change the frictional force(I assume this is what is damaging the pallets), you would have to either change u or N. You probably can't just take the product off the pallet(wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the pallet?), so the only other option is to change u. In order to change u, one of the contacting and sliding materials has to be changed.

    A more bizarre, less realistic way is to provide a little conveyor belt thing. Maybe you could place it on the bed of the truck, and place the pallet on top of it. Then slide the pallet over, and try to pull the conveyor out. The main problem I see is taking the conveyor thing out from under the pallet. But an idea is still an idea, no matter how ridiculous it sounds at first.
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