Most people probably don’t consider pallets as complicated structures. But believe it or not, there is actually a Research Lab at Virginia Tech that has been dedicated to the testing and research of pallets for over 40 years!
Launched in 1976, the Lab was funded by a true partnership of pallet companies and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA). Its mission over the years was to conduct research, most of it very applied to the industry and pallet users
Perhaps the most notable R&D milestone was development of the Pallet Design System (PDS) software which is used to optimize and improve the performance of wood pallets. PDS was first released in the late 1980s and is still recognized throughout the world as the premier tool for pallet design and performance.
Like most private industry, the Pallet Lab has continued to evolve over the years. Dr. Marshall (Mark) White, Past Director and current Professor Emeritus, was one of the first to promote the idea of systems design with pallets, packaging and material handling equipment. The cost savings and damage reduction opportunities offered was far beyond previous designer capabilities. This holistic approach to Unit Load design remains one of the best methods to lower costs and reduce product damage today.
I’m very familiar with the Lab since I worked there from 1990 until 2001. During that time we fielded over 20 calls and emails PER DAY from pallet users, pallet manufacturers and pallet designers. These calls came from around the world. Of most interest to me were the new ideas - every month we were testing a new idea, material or manufacturing concept for pallets. We were truly on the cutting edge of new product development in the pallet industry.
Today, the lab continues to evolve to meet industry needs. Currently under the leadership of Dr. Laszlo Horvath, the role of Packaging has increased, and there is now an undergraduate degree in Packaging Systems and Design. Students in this program work in the Lab's Industry Outreach Facility where they interact directly with industry. Most have internships and real industry experience before graduation. While the role of packaging has increased, the Lab continues its leadership in promoting the role of the pallet as an integral component in moving products from production to the final user.
Nelson Company remains very involved with the Virginia Tech pallet programs through our service on the Industry Advisory Board, funding research as a Member, and testing pallets and crates for our clients in the Laboratory.
Do you have a question about lab testing pallets or crates? Leave your questions in the comments below.
Post by: John Clarke, Technical Director
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