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Plastic pallets: the latest and greatest opportunity for IoT?

Jim Hardisty, Managing Director of explores the relationship between plastic pallets and the Internet of Things.

By the time 2021 arrives it is predicted that 35 billion IoT devices will be installed worldwide; that is a phenomenal number of ‘things’ connected to the Internet. In literal terms, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of devices to the Internet and each other. Each IoT component has a unique identifier that allows it to transmit data without the assistance of human intervention.  

Currently Internet of Things (IoT) applications can be categorised into five types: Consumer IoT – including home appliances and voice assistance; Commercial IoT – those applications serving specific industries, like smart pacemakers in healthcare and vehicle-to-vehicle communication; Industrial IoT – including statistical and energy management devices; Infrastructure IoT – enabling the connectivity of smart cities through management systems; and Military IoT – for instance, robots for surveillance. 

IoT devices are set to be embedded in every aspect of our lives. But what opportunities exist for our logistics industry? 

According to Swedish IoT market research firm, Berg Insight, sensor-equipped pallets are predicted to become increasingly crucial in IoT enabled supply chains; they have even gone as far as ranking them as the most promising greenfield IoT opportunity! 

Plastic pallets and IoT 

With any form of new technology comes an initial investment, which means pallet selection is key. The strength and durability of a plastic pallet is unrivalled when compared to wood. In normal handling and loading scenarios a plastic pallet can last up to 10 years, sometimes longer, and because of this the IoT cost on a per trip basis will be significantly lower than it would with a timber pallet. 

Of course, there is also the sustainable argument for using plastic pallets too. As more and more businesses are implementing Zero-waste initiatives and introducing measures to reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a recyclable plastic pallet, that’s not only made from recycled material but can be recycled at the end of its long working life, makes environmental sense. 

Increased adoption of automation in warehouses and production lines presents another strong argument for using plastic pallets; ones that offer 100% size and strength consistency and do not have nails or loose component parts that risk jamming and stalling automated handling systems.   

The possibilities with IoT

One of the main concerns for businesses investing in long-lasting plastic pallets has always been the fear of pallet loss and the cost of replacement. With IoT-enabled pallets comes the ability to ensure better visibility and accurate accounting of exactly where your pallets are, which should eradicate pallet loss.  

IoT technology makes it possible for sensors to process much more data than the more widely used RFID technology, used for tracking the movement of goods as they enter and exit a warehouse. With IoT, it’s not just about sensors; it’s about the insights they can provide. 

Using ‘connected’ plastic pallets allows the user to not only track the movement of goods in and out of the warehouse but also determine their exact location in the warehouse or in transit; measure the weight loaded on a specific pallet; monitor the temperature of a given pallet at any time; and even determine whether the pallet has been washed or not. 

Ultimately, connected plastic pallets enable smarter inventory management in the warehouse and the more accurate tracking and tracing of goods throughout the supply chain. 

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