CHEP Pallets.

The humble timber pallet (or, less typically, a plastic or metal one) has at some time or another, probably carried almost every type of object in the world.

For a mostly unseen and unnoticed item, pallets are everywhere, and there are said to be billions of them circulating through the global supply chain.

While there is some debate about their pedigree, pallets as we now recognise them, were not around until the forklift arrived in about 1915.

Australia was one of the first countries to develop the standard timber pallet. During World War 2 the United States as part of their huge logistics effort to supply allied troops, used pallets for transport on a scale never seen before.

When the war ended in 1945, the Americans left behind their materials handling equipment and a very large stock of wooden pallets. The Australian government seized upon the opportunity during the hectic post war reconstruction period and formed the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool (CHEP). It was a game changer.

The Government sold the assets of CHEP in 1958 to Brambles, which is now the largest pallet rental business in the world.

But despite efforts for global standardisation from the 1950s, the Australian standard pallet is rarely found elsewhere. But its square size (1165 mm × 1165 mm) fits perfectly into a standard RACE container used by the railways.

In Victoria, the largest producer of CHEP timber pallets is Dormit which began operating in about 1989, and now has modern sawmills at Dandenong and Swifts Creek.

The company sources low grade hardwood logs from State forest and private land that would have otherwise only been suitable for pulpwood.

From a small allocation of about 80,000 tonnes, the Dormit has grown into Australia’s leading manufacturer of over 1.2 million pallets in 2021.

However, the long-term supply of pallet grade sawlogs from State forests is under a cloud.

The timber pallet is possibly the single most important and under recognised object in the global economy, other than maybe the shipping container.

And then of course there is the cardboard box.

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