The current topic: How the pallet exchange works in Europe

The basics and difficulties of pallet exchange in Europe


Erkrath, Germany, 2016-11-11- Euro-pallets are increasingly popular. However, more in its processed form as furnishings like tables, benches or "industrial style" shelves. Whereas in the transport world, where the wooden pallet has its original use, it is often the bone of contention. But why does the pallet have such a bad reputation?

According to a recent study by EKUPAC GmbH on re-usable transport packaging, the use of re-usable pallets in European goods transport has increased in the last 15 years from 280 million to 550 million units and has become indispensable. Germany is the European leader with around 100 million wooden skids circulating yearly.

The difficulty with the pallet is its "re-usability" which comprises an exchange of goods delivered on pallets in return for empty pallets. But Euro-pallet is not equal to Euro-pallet. Behind the supposedly simple pallet exchange principle there are challenges for all involved: for the transport company as intermediate consignee, for the driver who transports the consignment and for the recipient of the unloaded goods. 

Empty pallets exchanged for packed pallets exchanged for...

The pallet exchange principle is simple to explain. Manufactured goods have to be transported and for safe transportation on a lorry, they are usually packed, lashed and transported on a so-called European pallet pool - according to the quality standard norm UIC 435/2.  An empty lorry, for example, with empty pallets goes to a loading location and exchanges empty wooden skids for goods already packed on pallets. The driver then delivers the goods at the corresponding unloading location.  Here, the lorry driver normally receives the same number of empty pallets in return.


Consequently, a well-functioning pallet circulation is established with a continual exchange of wooden skids. However, due to an increase in requirements, time pressure and interfaces within the logistics chain, the exchange process has become significantly more complex.


Difficulties in the exchange process

The exchange process, which includes a subjective quality evaluation, manual quantity control and accounting of the wooden skids, is recorded in a form called "pallet collection note". The stumbling blocks here are various. The requirement for the lorry driver to transport 33 exchangeable Euro-pallets is possibly the most frequent problem, since the lorry has to offer simultaneously full capacity if no palletized goods are to be transported. Especially in international traffic, changing conditions are to be expected. If the driver does not carry any empty pallets to exchange, because he received none at the last unloading point for example, he is then in debt with the following loads and is committed to deliver them at a later point.


Vise versa there are also difficulties such as, when the recipient at the ramp of the unloading point receives the goods but gives the driver an incomplete number of pallets or  none or broken and shabby ons. The deficiency has to be documented and subsequently clarified. Even when the number and quality of the returned pallets is correct, the time at the ramp is often scarce and the receiver of the pallets simply transports them in the lorry. In such a case, the driver has to transport the empty pallets again back to the storage compartment. 33 pallets with an individual weight of 23 kg makes 760 kg. A bureaucratic and protracted "back and forth" associated with time and money loss is thus pre-programmed. TimoCom's Company Spokesman Marcel Fringes confirms this experience on behalf of the transport platform's users: "Some of our customers already state when entering their offers in the transport platform "no exchange" in order to inform potential partners in advance that no exchange is required. Such transports mean less work and are preferred."


Pallet 4.0: Pallet exchange with App

The cumbersome manual exchange of pallets in times of automation and digitisation is in desperate need for modernisation. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) together with the German National committee of the European Pallet Association e. V. (Gütegemeinschaft Paletten e.V.; GPAL) have taken on this challenge. The jointly developed "Pallet Check Express" app is designed to simplify and optimise the pallet exchange considerably. "The user takes a photo of a pallet stack, the app counts and automatically sends the created exchange document via email. Together with the exact number of pallets, the document includes the place and time of the corresponding exchange, making the exchange simple, quick, reliable and digitally documented", explains Martin Fiedler, diploma in informatics and team leader of the AutoID technology at Fraunhofer IML. Such exact documentation is intended to save time and money.


The app is initially available in German and works on Android and Apple smartphones. Nonetheless, until a mobile solution is established and consolidated in the sector, the pallet exchange will continue to involve a great deal of effort and in many cases lead to disruption and problems. Therefore, business partners should provide sufficient information and clarify in advance whether and how the exchange should take place.

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