Why Does the US Army Use Pallets and Pallet Collars?

Quartermasters have been tasked with the supply chain for the military since the 1800’s.  Procurement, purchasing, packaging and shipping have all been tasked to the Quartermasters in varying degrees for over 200 years.  The support of the Quartermaster to the function of the military organization is imperative.

The Quartermasters have long been hailed as the backbone to any military action during both peace time and in the war theater.  Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines cannot function or fight without the support of the Quartermaster.

A full 50% of the military war fighter is dependent on supplies, logistics and other support functions that the quartermaster provides. Having an uninterrupted supply chain is considered one of the most important aspects for training, fighting and moral.

There are three main components to any supply chain:

  • Procurement/purchasing
  • Packaging/storage
  • Logistics/shipping

Today Quartermasters (supply specialists) do not have the heavy responsibility of procurement or purchasing the bulk of the items, that task usually falls to contracting activities although “unit level” purchases are still made by the supply sergeant.  Of course the quartermaster is still responsible for storing, shipping and packaging supplies, equipment and materials.

Why is Packaging So Important?

army use pallet collars

Choosing the right packaging materials can literally mean the difference between a battle won and a battle lost.  Packaging and storage of equipment, parts and supplies is likely one of the most important activities in the logistics of the military.

The equipment, parts and supplies has to arrive in pristine condition to be useful. Packaging is key to the safe arrival of equipment, parts and supplies and to ease of shipping and storage.

There is a lot of time and consideration that is given to the most effective, cost efficient means of transporting goods by the army.  Security, safe arrival and expeditious shipping options that are considered “best value” always take priority in military shipping activities. 

There is a standard operating procedure (SOP) that directs packaging and shipping that is closely followed.  Standardization of packaging materials ensures uniformity and reliability across all the branches of service.

Regulations regarding military packing and shipping are typically uniform across all branches of service to ensure cost effectiveness, safety and reliability.

The guidelines are very specific as to what type of packaging is to be used based on the type of goods to be shipped. The specifics of army material packaging and shipping are listed in the DA PAM 700-32.

The Military Rules of Packaging/Shipping

The military takes packaging and shipping of materials and goods very seriously because of the impact that the supply chain has on the success of the overall success of the troops.  Packaging, storage and shipment of goods is a complete process.

There is a lot of thought and direction that goes into choosing packaging materials for the military. Before the packaging is decided on the leaders consider the following:

  • Appropriate packaging design for the item. The packaging has to be able to adequately hold the item without leaving too much excess room or being too tight fitting.
  • The characteristics of the item that includes size, fragility, weight and other related information. All of the characteristics of the item  including size, weight, fragility, and related data, shall be identified to ensure item integrity in the packaged configuration.
  • Evaluate level of protection, items should be packaged in smallest cube size as appropriate.
  • Packaging has to be compatible to shipping and storage.

The regulations are very specific and trying to find the proper packaging that is also a best value packaging as well can be difficult although according to most army material management manuals the common wood pallet is often suggested.

Pallets are even suggested for shipping petroleum and other fuels. Specific guidance regarding using pallets for packaging and shipping include “Place three drums per pallet when shipping materiel in 55-gallon drums. Drums shall be on standard 40- by 48- inch four-way entry pallets and be secured to the pallet by shrink or stretch film.”

There are many other areas where specific guidance is given regarding the use of pallets “The amount of materiel to be loaded on a pallet shall— (a) Exceed a total of 250 pounds (excluding the pallet). (b) Exceed a volume of 20 cubic feet. (2) The maximum weight limit for palletized unit loads is 3,000 pounds except for ammunition.”

A Brief History of Pallets and the Military

The department of defense has had a long love affair with the pallet as a matter of fact a naval officer is credited with creating the first 4 way entry pallet.  WWII army logistics are really what solidified the pallet’s place in military packaging and shipping although the use of a pallet and forklift had become one of the most popular pairings in military logistics before the beginning of the war.

As pallet use evolved, standards took hold. The size, the construction, the weight all were defined in the early 1940’s and published in quartermaster manuals.  Pallet construction standards have fluctuated over the years but not by much.

Why the Military Uses Pallets for Packaging and Shipping

Pallets are not only the choice to meet many logistical needs but they are mandated in military organizations around the world.

Pallets offer a sturdy base and shipping conduit and it is a very affordable option - these three factors alone make them the conduit of choice for packaging and shipping everything from equipment and supplies to fuel and food.

Pallet Collars

Pallet collars have changed the way the military stores, ships and moves goods. They have been an integral part of shipping/storing supplies and equipment since the late 1990’s.

Since 1999 the military shipping and packaging standards also regulates the use of pallet collars. Pallet collars are recommended for heavy loads. For example on loads up to 1,200 pounds the 47.24 X 31.5 X 8 (outside dimensions) pallet collar is used. This type of collar system can easily stack up and support up to 15,000 lbs  to enhance storage capabilities but only weighs roughly 45 pounds.

Pallet collars are chosen because:

  • Added economic value
  • Fast and easy assembly
  • Optimizes space for storage
  • Offers different sizing options
  • Safety

The army and other branches of the service are always concerned with the “best value” and pallet collars are favored because they provide a great value.  They are relatively inexpensive sturdy options that enhance storing and shipping.  Unlike shrink wrap which can tear, pallet collars are more cost effective because they offer more protection for the supplies and equipment.

They are easy to assemble (which cuts down on man power time saving money). They are easy to stack, attach and remove. Pallet collars can be constructed quickly and can be deconstructed just as quick. They fold flat for flat storage.  Pallet collars are portable, reusable and expandable.

pallet collarsThey offer different sizing options so that every type of material can be protected. They can be stacked for different heights.

Pallet collars also optimize warehousing space for storage by making pallets easier to stack.  They can be custom fit to any pallet size and they can easily be stored when not in use which reserves shelf/storage space in the warehouse. They offer a great value because they are versatile. 

Safety is always an important concern in warehousing and shipping and never more prominent than in military applications. The army and other branches put a great deal of effort into minimizing risk when it comes to safety. Pallet collars enhance the safe movement and storage of a full range of items.

Unlike other methods of storage/shipping they can be used over and over again. They also can be recycled when they reach the end of their lifecycle. Pallet collars were designed with full intention of being a reusable, cost saving option for not just army logistics but for private industry logistics as well.

The army and other branches of service utilize pallet collars for shipping, storage and parts movement because they are one of the best container options.

Environmental Concerns

Pallets and pallet collars will remain a key factor in military logistics because they meet all of the standards that are set forth in most military manuals that address storage and shipping and they also meet the newer environmental standards as well.  Today’s military is instructed to use more “green” measures when it comes to shipping and storage.  The goal is to reduce waste and to control costs.

Pallets and pallet collars are environmentally friendly options. They can be used multiple times during their lifecycle and then can easily be recycled once they have come to the end of their lifecycle. In many cases pallets are finding new uses as repurposed furniture and other useful items.

Many pallets and pallet collars are recycled into new pallets and pallet collars. The ability to have a dependable container system for storage and shipping that can also be recycled is a strong argument for the continued use of both pallets and pallet collars for military applications and will likely keep them in warehouses on military installations around the globe.

The warfighter and military members expect that supplies and equipment will arrive in good condition. The government expects that the cost of storage and shipping will be an efficient cost.

Pallets and pallet collars meet the demands of everyone in the supply chain from the leaders to the man in the field. They have been a valuable tool in both military and private logistic chains for many many years and will continue to be the storage containers of choice.


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