What to Choose a 2 Way Pallet or a 4 Way Pallet

Pallet Truck

Making the right choice for your pallet needs is critical to every aspect of your supply chain. Deciding between a 2-way pallet or a 4-way pallet is a critical decision. Many people do not understand the difference between 2-way pallets and 4-way pallets but there is a difference. To the untrained eye, a pallet is just a pallet. Your first step in making the right choice for your organization is to understand the difference between these two options.

Pallets Types

Pallet History

Pallets started out as skids. Pallets like much everything else were invented out of necessity. Before wooden pallets, cardboard boxes and simple wood skids were used. At some point in the 1920’s, someone figured out that if you took a wooden skid and added some stringers with an additional platform the result was a far more durable shipping option. WWII introduced the 4-way pallet as a more secure transport means for war supplies.  They have not changed much since their original design. Today there are literally billions of pallets in circulation both 2-way, stringer designs and 4-way block designs. They are found in every warehouse around the globe and across every supply chain. These humble tools have revolutionized how supply chains operate and how goods are stored and delivered.

Pallet Basics

Both the 2-way pallet and the 4-way pallet have some things in common. Here are some pallet facts about both types of pallets:

  • Typical construction is wood, although they are also available in plastic. Wood pallets whether they are 2-way pallets, or 4-way pallets can be heat treated, raw or constructed of reclaimed wood.
  • They vary in size. Standard pallet sizes vary around the globe. The ISO standards are as follows:
Dimensions, inches (W × L) Dimensions, mm (W x L) Region Most Used
48.00 × 40.00 1219 x 1016 North America
39.37 × 47.24 1000 x 1200 Europe, Asia
44.88 × 44.88 1140 x 1140 Australia
42.00 × 42.00 1067 x 1067 North America, Europe, Asia
43.30 × 43.30 1100 x 1100 Asia
31.50 × 47.24 800 x 600 Europe (fits many doorways)

The above sizes denote the standard sizes but there are always customizable options as well. Pallet sizes are standardized to ensure that service is not interrupted within the supply chain.

  • Every pallet has a “deck”. There are two decks on every pallet an upper deck and a lower deck.
  • Every pallet has “stringer boards” or “blocks”which is the support system for the deck. It is constructed of cross beams and blocks to support the deck.
  • Fork entry spaces. The fork entry spaces are made for a forklift to make an easy entry into the pallet for lifting purposes.

The above are the basics of every pallet. Pallet design has changed very little since WWII when they first were designed to get supplies to troops.

So, What’s the Difference?

There are a few key differences between a 2-way pallet and a 4-way pallet that are explored below that can help you decide which style is right for your supply chain needs. While each choice is a good one, each has its benefits, there is going to be one best choice for your operation. Enhancing material movement with the right style pallet is a benefit to your supply chain.

With the right pallet style your supply chain can:

  • Move faster
  • Optimize warehouse activities
  • Reduce risk to products
  • Improve warehouse safety

Maximizing your operations capabilities with the right style pallet means improved safety for both employees and products, improved productivity and more. Read on to learn about the differences between 2-way pallets and 4-way pallets.

Standard 2-Way Pallet

2 Way Pallets (Stringer Pallets)

Two-way pallets allow forklift entry from the front and the rear of the pallet.  They are constructed with stringers. The ability to enter the pallet from only 2 entry points with the forklift can be a conundrum when it comes to stacking and space allocations but there are some clear benefits to this type of pallet:

  • More economical option in most cases
  • Offer great strength
  • Offer great durability

The downside of this type of pallet is the struggle with the orientation in the warehouse, distribution centers and other facilities that will have to move the pallet around. The gains in strength and durability can be offset by the extra time investment to maneuver these pallets. 2-way pallets are a great option for atypically heavy loads, warehouses with enough room to maneuver them into position and for companies that are cost-conscious.

* 2-way pallets can be lifted from all 4 sides using a pallet jack!

Standard 4-Way Pallet

4 Way Pallets (Block Pallets)

4-way pallets offer entry from all four sides with a fork lift as well as a pallet jack, this can be a huge advantage when it comes time for loading and maneuvering the pallets. 4-way pallets are favored for their heavy load capabilities as well as their versatility. There are primarily three types of four-way pallets, fully reversible, non-reversible and perimeter base pallets. They are constructed either with perimeter base with three boards at the base or a complete perimeter at the base. The first type with the three boards is typically referred to as legged pallets. True four-way pallets are constructed using a block system to give them the added strength that they need to be lifted on all four sides.

Benefits of these type of pallets include:

  • They can be used with either forklifts or pallet jacks to maneuver.
  • They are a great option for very heavy loads and for warehouses that cannot manage the maneuvering that is required for the 2-way pallets.
  • They can easily be repaired.

One of the key benefits of the 4-way pallet is the ease with which it can be moved. It can easily be moved onto shipping containers, around the warehouse and other supply chain destinations.

The “Other” Group of Pallets

In some cases, a stringer pallet is notched giving it a sort of 4-way pallet capability, while it is not a true 4-way pallet it can be used as one. The benefit of this group of pallets is that the cost remains relatively low to manufacture because it is sans the blocks that are found in a true 4-way pallet, but it can act as a four way.

The Tradeoffs

There are tradeoffs between a 4-way pallet and a 2-way pallet, this is where some expert consultation can come in handy. Typically, the 2-way pallets are going to be cheaper, but the 4- way pallets are a lot more convenient when it comes to handling. The 2-way pallets are generally considered more durable which means you will get more use out of them, but again they do take more time to maneuver so the cost savings may not be worth the lost amount of time in the warehouse and other areas of the supply chain, this is something that you will have to decide.

Pallet Volume System

How Do You Decide Which Pallet is Best?

Now that you have some background information about the differences and similarities are there are a few consideration that you need to make to decide which pallet is going to be best for your operation.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Where is my supply chain traveling?
  • How are the pallets being shipped?
  • What equipment will I use to move the pallets?
  • How much weight do I need to load on the pallet?
  • Do I want a pallet that can be used over and over?

Considering where your supply chain travels is a good place to start when you are choosing which pallet is the right one for your operation. For example in Asia the 2-way pallet is really the standard so paying for the added expense associated with the 4 way pallet maybe an expense that you can avoid.

It is important to consider the ease of shipping when you are choosing your pallets. If your goods travel by freight than a good option would be a 4-way pallet for ease of transport.

Do you have the equipment to move the pallets around? A forklift is one of the best ways to maneuver pallets and it is the most common way to maneuver pallets. It is the safest way to move pallets. If the majority of your supply chain uses forklifts than the 4-way pallet makes the most sense.

How much weight does your average load contain? Choosing the right pallet is critical to ensure safe transport of your goods.

4-way pallets are easy to repair so if reuse is an important part of your supply chain plan than a 4-way pallet is the best option.