Some 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. So widespread is their use that they account for, according to one estimate, more than 46 percent of total U.S. hardwood lumber production.
....There is a whole science of "pallet-cube optimization," a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of "pallet overhang" (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce "pallet gaps" (too much spacing between deckboards).
The "pallet-loading problem" — or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet — is a common operations research thought exercise.
Pallet history is both humble and dramatic. As Pallet Enterprise magazine recounts, pallets grew out of simple wooden "skids," which had been used to help transport goods from shore to ship and were, essentially, pallets without a bottom set of boards, hand-loaded by longshoremen and then, typically, hoisted by winch into a ship's cargo hold.
Both skids and pallets allowed shippers to "unitize" goods, with clear efficiency benefits: "According to an article in a 1931 railway trade magazine, three days were required to unload a boxcar containing 13,000 cases of unpalletized canned goods. When the same amount of goods was loaded into the boxcar on pallets or skids, the identical task took only four hours."
Adam Smith famously said that he rarely saw much public good emerge from those who professed to work for it. In contrast to those who work for selfish reasons (like being able to load and unload cargo more quickly and easily), but are led as if by an invisible hand to promote that which was never their intention.
And, as the article (first published in Slate) makes clear, no one has a reason to prevent further innovation;
Last year, Ikea abandoned wooden pallets in favor of a low-profile system called "Optiledge." The system consists of one-pound "load carriers," little ledges with feet that are placed under stacks of boxes and then held in place with giant bands. The benefit, says the company, is that the system, which is one-way and 100 percent recyclable, can adapt to the dimensions of the load being carried, rather than vice versa. It's also lighter and takes up less space.Put that kind of thinking toward solving the entitlements crisis?