A pallet /ˈpælɪt/ is a flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack, a front loader, a jacking device, or a crane; sometimes, a pallet is inaccurately called a skid (which has no bottom deck boards). A pallet is the structural foundation of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies. Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped. Since its invention in the twentieth century, its use has dramatically supplanted older forms of crating like the wooden box and the wooden barrel, as it works well with modern packaging like corrugated boxes and intermodal containers commonly used for bulk shipping.
While most pallets are wooden, pallets can also be made of plastic, metal, paper, and recycled materials. Each material has advantages and disadvantages.
Containerization for transport has spurred the use of pallets because shipping containers have the smooth, level surfaces needed for easy pallet movement. Many pallets can handle a load of 1,000 kg (2,205 lb). Today, over half a billion pallets are made each year and about two billion pallets are in use across the United States alone.
Pallets make it easier to move heavy stacks. Loads with pallets under them can be hauled by forklift trucks of different sizes, or even by hand-pumped and hand-drawn pallet jacks. Movement is easy on a wide, strong, flat floor: concrete is excellent. The greatest investment needed for economical pallet use is in the construction of commercial or industrial buildings. Passage through doors and buildings must be possible. To help this issue, some later pallet standards (the europallet and the U.S. Military 35 in × 45.5 in or 889 mm × 1,156 mm) are designed to pass through standard doorways.
Organizations using standard pallets for loading and unloading can have much lower costs for handling and storage, with faster material movement than businesses that do not. The exceptions are establishments that move small items such as jewelry or large items such as cars. But even they can be improved. For instance, the distributors of costume jewelry normally use pallets in their warehouses and car manufacturers use pallets to move components and spare parts.
The lack of a single international standard for pallets causes substantial continuing expense in international trade. A single standard is difficult because of the wide variety of needs a standard pallet would have to satisfy: passing doorways, fitting in standard containers, and bringing low labor costs. For example, organizations already handling large pallets often see no reason to pay the higher handling cost of using smaller pallets that can fit through doors.
Due to cost and a need to focus on core business, pallet pooling becomes more and more common. Some pallet suppliers supply users with reusable pallets, sometimes with integral tracking devices. A pallet management company can help supply, clean, repair, and reuse pallets.