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An introduction to The Pallet Design System™
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Software for Wood Packaging Engineers, Designers and End-Users

The Pallet Design System™ (PDS) is a product specification tool, an engineering design tool, a professional marketing tool, and an educational tool – all contained in an easy to use software package developed for the wood pallet industry. Since its introduction in 1984, PDS has developed a highly respected reputation throughout the material handling industry.

When NWPCA released PDS Version 5.1, it marked the 33rd version of PDS over its 29 year history. The major new feature in Version 5.1 is its integration with LoadSync™ - software recently developed by NWPCA that will enhance the communication of pallet and unit load design information between wood pallet manufacturers and their customers.

Each new version of PDS incorporates the latest data, engineering, and technologies which result from NWPCA's continuous program of research and development. Millions of dollars have been expended on PDS, not only for software development, but on research toward increased understanding of the relationships between the design and performance of wood pallets and the entire unit load.

A Product Specification Tool

PDS leads the User through the complete specification of the pallet type, size, and style. Dimensions and arrangement of all components are specified. All materials used to construct the pallet are specified. Any wood species available in North America, South America, and Europe can be selected. Recycled components can be specified if designing a remanufactured pallet. Plywood or OSB panels can be selected if designing a panel deck pallet. Solid wood or composite blocks can be selected if designing a block-class pallet. All types and sizes of nails and staples used in pallet construction can be specified. Pallet treatments to meet ISPM-15 compliance can be indicated. Special manufacturing features such as chamfers, clipped corners, strapping notches and slots, and painting or stenciling can be specified.

PDS then creates a pallet specification sheet, fully-dimensioned 2-D drawings with Top, Bottom, Side, and End Views, and 3-D drawings. The pallet specification sheet clearly and precisely conveys to the customer the specification for the pallet – the product being manufactured and sold to the customer to meet his unit load handling requirements. The fully dimensioned 2-D drawings clearly show the customer the pallet design and all dimensions, locations, and spacing. Drawing Number, Specification Date, Revision Number, and Revision Date can be specified and shown on PDS printouts.

A Pallet Production Order, intended to be given to manufacturing personnel, can be automatically created. A cut list is provided, dimensions can be displayed in fractions of an inch, assembly setup data can be displayed, and fully dimensioned Pallet Drawings can be included. Pallet assembly setup data can also be exported from PDS to a file readable by Viking Engineering's Turbo pallet assembly system. Pallet specification data can also be exported to ERP software used by the wood pallet industry, including Palmate™ from Automated Machine Systems, Inc., and PalletTrack™ from Innovative Data Systems, Inc.

PDS also enables pallet manufacturers to specify and draw the entire "unit load" – consisting of the pallet, containers and load stabilizers. Available container types include: corrugated boxes; steel, plastic and fiber drums; plastic and steel pails; paper, plastic and textile bags of all tube and end styles; rectangular and octagonal bulk bins; and bulk bags. Available load stabilizers include: plastic and steel strapping; strap protectors, corner protectors and top edge protectors; stretch and shrink wrap; top frames, top caps, top sheets, pallet barrier sheets, and tie sheets between layers.

PDS computes and displays all possible stacking patterns for a layer of containers on the pallet, and calculates the footprint efficiency for each possible configuration. Stacking multiple layers of containers is displayed, with either interlock or column stacking for boxes and bags, and the overall dimensions and weight of the unit load is calculated.

The interface of the top deck of the pallet and bottom layer of containers is displayed, and PDS users can arrange deckboards so they properly support and protect the containers. Similarly, the interface of the bottom deck of the pallet and top of the unit load is displayed, and users can arrange bottom deckboards so they align with container corners, edges and rims in order to maximize stability and prevent damage to the containers when stacking multiple unit loads in the warehouse or during shipping.

The PDS Unit Load Specification and Drawings provides complete details on the unit load, including 2-D and 3-D drawings, plus drawings revealing the interface of the containers and pallet deck.

An Engineering Design Tool

If a structural, durability, or physical properties analysis is desired for the pallet, PDS will lead the User through a series of questions about the intended conditions of use. Loads to be placed on the pallet, either uniformly distributed or concentrated, can be indicated. If desired, particular loads such as boxes, bags, or pails can be selected; interlocked or column stacking can be indicated; load stabilizers such as stretch wrap or strapping can be specified. Whether the pallet will be stored in racks, supported by conveyors, or stacked multiple units high during storage or transport can be specified. Handling by forklift, pallet jack, or slings can be specified. The severity of the pallet handling environment (rough, average, or good) can be characterized.

PDS then conducts a series of engineering analyses to predict the performance of the pallet under the specified loads within the storage and handling system. The safe load capacity, deflection under load, and critical pallet components are determined for each support condition. The resistance to damage and estimates of repair frequency and pallet service life are determined. Detailed results of the analyses are reported.

The engineering in PDS enables Users to quickly and accurately determine pallet performance under the intended conditions of use without time-consuming and expensive testing or trial and error. Comparisons in performance are easily made between different pallet designs, wood species or grades, fasteners, and component dimensions. The PDS structural analysis and safe load estimates reduce concerns over human health and safety, and reduce or eliminate product damage which can result from inadequate pallet strength, stiffness, or durability.

A Professional Marketing Tool

The PDS pallet specification sheet and drawings, unit load specification and drawings, and engineering analysis allow very impressive and useful presentations to customers. All PDS materials clearly display the company name, address and other contact information for both the PDS provider and the customer. Any special or custom notes you wish to add can be displayed on the pallet specification sheet. To make PDS even more effective as a marketing tool, guides to the PDS specification and analysis have been created for PDS Users to give to their customers.

  • A guide to the PDS Specification Sheet clearly explains all parts of the pallet specification, and helps convey the importance of a properly specified and constructed pallet. After reading this, customers should certainly realize a pallet is not just a pallet.
  • A guide to the PDS Structural Analysis clearly explains all parts of the analysis results, and helps convey the importance of a properly designed and engineered pallet.
  • A document entitled Safety Levels in PDS provides an easy to understand explanation to a complicated question. It is intended to satisfy the needs of either the merely curious purchasing agent or the serious and highly trained packaging engineer.

PDS enables pallet professionals to assist in selecting the most cost effective and efficient pallet design and construction to meet their customer's needs, whether the goal is the lowest initial price or (in the case of closed loop or return systems) lowest cost per use.

An Educational Tool

The previously mentioned guides to PDS (intended to be given to customers) are useful educational tools. But the built-in (electronic) User's Guide in PDS, which continues to be developed and improved with each new version, is a wealth of information. The User's Guide not only explains how to use the PDS software, it contains extensive information on pallet design, construction, and performance. Any part of the User's Guide can be printed for reference or to provide customers who have a question about some aspect of PDS or wood pallets.

A PDS Newsletter intended to keep Users informed about new versions, improvements, and changes to PDS, is published electronically and also provided to PDS Users as a hardcopy.

NWPCA offers PDS Training Courses in varying and convenient locations in the United States and internationally. Learning to operate the software is only a minor part of the course. Far more important is the emphasis on understanding how the design and construction of wood pallets affects their strength and stiffness and damage resistance. NWPCA's courses also emphasize how the design and construction of wood pallets affects their performance within the Customer's unit load handling system. Performance of pallets while supporting the Customer's load and then stored in rack systems, automated storage and retrieval systems, stacked multiple unit loads high, handled by forklift, and during transport are all considered. This requires an understanding of some basic engineering concepts and the structural behavior of the pallet. This information is presented in a format and manner intended to meet the needs of designers of wood pallets.

Integration with LoadSync™

NWPCA has developed new software that will enhance the communication of pallet and unit load design information between wood pallet manufacturers and their customers. This software, called LoadSync™, is integrated with PDS.

LoadSync enables pallet users to easily yet completely define their entire pallet and unit load handling requirements, save these requirements to a data file and email the file to their pallet manufacturer. The pallet manufacturer opens the requirements file in PDS and can then design an efficient and cost-effective pallet that meets all the specified requirements and will safely support and protect the customer's product.

PDS can then create a "viewer" file that contains all the information provided on a PDS printout. This viewer file can be emailed to the customer, who can open the file in LoadSync and view the complete pallet specification, 2D and 3D drawings of the pallet and unit load, and the structural and durability analysis results (including safe load capacity, deflection under load and expected service life).

Best of all, LoadSync is available at no cost. Pallet manufacturers that license PDS can contact their customers with information on LoadSync and provide a link to its download.

The Bottom Line

PDS enables wood pallet manufacturers to assist their customers in:

  • significantly reducing costs
  • significantly reducing product damage
  • significantly increasing safety throughout the unit load handling system

PDS has been meeting these objectives since its first release in 1984. And PDS is getting better and better at this process, due to NWPCA's continuous investments in software improvements and in research and development. It's a good thing, since customers continue to look for greater and greater reductions in their unit load handling costs.

Pallet manufacturers produce the key component to successful unit load material handling – the pallet – the interface between the equipment, forces and impacts of the material handling environment and the customer's valuable, sometimes fragile, unitized product. And PDS is the key tool in designing this key component. Increasingly, pallet manufacturers are finding they can't do business without it.

Learn more about The Pallet Design System™ of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association by contacting NWPCA Headquarters at 703-519-6104.