Smart pallets: Boosting supply chain visibility

Keeping track of goods can be difficult, given the sheer size of modern supply chains. Sam Fenwick investigates the use of smart, IoT-enabled pallets which have much potential in this area

The next time you wander through a warehouse or storage yard, spare a thought for the humble pallet. Traditionally made of wood, with the majority designed to last only a single trip, these unsung items bear the weight of the ever-increasing goods transported around the world to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous population. In addition to their lack of longevity, they’re also not known for being ‘smart’, partly because of the high cost of adding tracking technology to them, compared to their value – you can often see them being offered on the roadside for just £5 – and their short lifespan.

However, this is starting to change thanks to improvements in material sciences, environmental concerns and the rise of low powered wide area technologies that have dramatically reduced the costs of connecting huge amounts of devices and enabled battery lives of up to 10 years.

Two companies at the forefront of this trend are RM2 International SA and Ahrma Pooling. They own pools of long-lived pallets that they hire out to logistics companies and are looking beyond just wood. The components of RM2’s pallet (the BLOCKPal) are made from glass fibre and resin using a process called protrusion. These are then glued and screwed together. Ahrma uses sustainably sourced hardwood MDF with a polyurethane water-proof and anti-bacterial coating from BASF, and according to Erik Ekkel, Ahrma’s IT director, the pallet is “fully repairable” because the components are glued together rather than being nailed together.

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