Virginia Tech Pallet Lab researches important product design

Published: Jul. 3, 2016 at 6:56 PM EDT
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There's a laboratory in Blacksburg dedicated to researching pallets: wooden structures that products are stacked on when shipped from factories to stores.

Technically, the lab is called the Virginia Tech Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, but it's easier to call it the "Pallet Lab."

The center has been around since 1976. According to Virginia Tech professor Laszlo Horvath, tIt was a time when pallets weren't well-known.

"Nobody knew about pallets and nobody knew that you could actually design pallets," Horvath said. "The assumption still is that you can just get a couple boards, nail them together, and it's going to work in industry."

If pallets aren't designed correctly, then massive failures can happen in the industry.

One of the most important properties for pallets is their strength and load capacity.

"We do get to crush packages and pallets, and it's a lot of fun, but it's still a lot of work," Virginia Tech student Leah Johnson said.

Eighty percent of products are shipped on pallets, so it's important for designers to make sure products remain in tact.

"We simulate the impacts of the unit load can experience in the distribution process," Virginia Tech graduate student Eduardo Molina said.

The product being held between pallets usually gets the attention in a factory. That is, until something happens to the product.

"And when something breaks, immediately everyone is interested in the pallet," Horvath said.