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posted by janrinok on Monday December 22 2014, @10:04AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the and-no-patents! dept.

Jacob Hodes writes in Cabinet Magazine that there are approximately two billion wooden shipping pallets in the holds of tractor-trailers in the United States transporting Honey Nut Cheerios and oysters and penicillin and just about any other product you can think of. According to Hodes the magic of pallets is the magic of abstraction. "Take any object you like, pile it onto a pallet, and it becomes, simply, a “unit load”—standardized, cubical, and ideally suited to being scooped up by the tines of a forklift. This allows your Cheerios and your oysters to be whisked through the supply chain with great efficiency; the gains are so impressive, in fact, that many experts consider the pallet to be the most important materials-handling innovation of the twentieth century." Although the technology was in place by the mid-1920s, pallets didn’t see widespread adoption until World War II, when the challenge of keeping eight million G.I.s supplied—“the most enormous single task of distribution ever accomplished anywhere,” according to one historian—gave new urgency to the science of materials handling. "The pallet really made it possible for us to fight a war on two fronts the way that we did." It would have been impossible to supply military forces in both the European and Pacific theaters if logistics operations had been limited to manual labor and hand-loading cargo.

To get a sense of the productivity gains that were achieved, consider the time it took to unload a boxcar before the advent of pallets. “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.” Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things and while shipping containers have had their due, the humble pallet is arguably "the single most important object in the global economy."

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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22 2014, @10:11AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22 2014, @10:11AM (#128264)

    I wonder why Amazon doesn't box all of their catalogue into standard sized boxes. As it is they still need human pickers to pick out individual items; if it was all boxed it seems like they could be able to completely automate their warehouses. Of course there would be wasted space, but with a clever set of sizes to choose from (maybe along the lines of the ISO paper formats, where larger sizes are multiples of smaller sizes), they might be able to find an optimal balance.

    • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Monday December 22 2014, @10:32AM

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Monday December 22 2014, @10:32AM (#128268) Journal

      This seems like one of those 'Why didn't i think of that...' moments.

      I can only assume that the idea has been considered and, for some reason or other, has been discarded as being impractical or not financially sustainable. Maybe with Amazon's desire to get into the drone delivery market, this will the considered again. After all, it will make sense to maximize the load of any given drone and modern day passenger aviation has shown how this can be most efficiently achieved.

      --
      It's always my fault...
      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by lentilla on Monday December 22 2014, @01:28PM

        by lentilla (1770) on Monday December 22 2014, @01:28PM (#128309)

        The only reason that Amazon doesn't box everything in a small number of standard sizes is unlikely to be that they haven't already thought of it yet. It's much more likely to be because they don't yet own the entirety of the supply-chain. The companies that deliver products to consumers all have their own archaic rules for sizes and pricing.

        One day, the delivery companies will work out that delivering a van-full of standard-size boxes costs them less than a ugly, mismatched collection. Then their pricing will be adjusted accordingly. At that point, Amazon will make the change and will make a killing.

        Humans don't always do a good job "thinking outside the box" (heh heh). We are conditioned to think that a "small package" is easier to shift than a big package because we are so focused thinking about moving the item ourselves. It certainly made sense back in the day, when each individual parcel was moved: by-hand, by-horse, onto ship, off ship, etc. That's not necessarily the case anymore as we optimise each of the interconnecting systems ever more finely.

        Now, if only we could get rid of the humans in the system, everything would be fantastic. Robots would make the products, robots would ship the products, and robots would consume the products.

        More seriously, the only reason that Amazon isn't shipping everything in standard boxes is that the delivery mechanisms are still priced in the delivery-by-horseback era. I'm certain Amazon and friends are merely biding their time on this one.

    • (Score: 1) by WillAdams on Monday December 22 2014, @01:42PM

      by WillAdams (1424) on Monday December 22 2014, @01:42PM (#128312)

      Problems with that: standardized boxes w/in boxes will rub and damage any outside printing --- also, any box which is dropped on its corner is guaranteed to damage one unit, while any dropped on an edge is likely to damage an entire column of units.

  • (Score: 1) by d(++)b on Monday December 22 2014, @10:28AM

    by d(++)b (2755) on Monday December 22 2014, @10:28AM (#128266)

    As seen (again) on Longform.org

    Readers can avoid the Huge Chickens and see what else made the list:

    http://longform.org/lists/best-of-2014 [longform.org]

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22 2014, @10:45AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22 2014, @10:45AM (#128273)

    Now, move this up to the next level.

    The NS Savannah (commercial nuclear-powered ship[1]) didn't succeed.
    One reason was that it was obsolete before it was built. [wikipedia.org]
    It was designed and built during the transition to containerized shipping. [wikipedia.org]
    It has old-fashioned cargo loading gear on its decks. [maritime.org] Page [maritime.org]

    [1] Part of the Atoms For Peace swindle the US Gov't tried to pull, attempting to convince folks that nukes were about something other than building tens of thousands of bombs that could never actually be used.

    -- gewg_

    • (Score: 2) by WillR on Monday December 22 2014, @03:33PM

      by WillR (2012) on Monday December 22 2014, @03:33PM (#128351)
      "It has old-fashioned cargo loading gear on its decks."

      Fascinating piece of history, but ooof. Those cargo cranes make it look like the offspring of a Liberty ship and a Bond villain's yacht.
  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Justin Case on Monday December 22 2014, @12:02PM

    by Justin Case (4239) on Monday December 22 2014, @12:02PM (#128292) Journal

    Just when the global economy was really starting to hum along nicely, forklift operators started noticing that by doing something as routine as a simple oil change, suddenly their tines were replaced by ones of a different size and shape that would no longer fit the old pallets. "This is better" said Lennart Palleting, self appointed World Chief of Planned Obsolescence, "the new pallets don't have as many slivers."

    "But that wasn't a problem any of us forklift operators had" said all the forklift operators "because we don't pick up the pallets by hand."

    Lennart replied that he was trying to grow the pallet market to home customers who didn't know how to run a forklift anyway.

    Reports began pouring in that the new pallets would break in unexpected ways, causing merchandise to go tumbling overboard, or shattering loads all over the deck requiring days of cleanup before loading operations could resume. Strangely, the palletd shills considered these complaints unworthy of comment.

    Asked to comment on the controversy, Average Joe glanced up from his text messages long enough to assay a stack of brightly colored new plastic pallets. "Ooh, shiny!" he exclaimed seconds before forgetting the conversation had ever occurred.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by The Mighty Buzzard on Monday December 22 2014, @12:50PM

    Palates are taking our jobs!

    I mean, come on, it's exactly the same argument made about automation not a day or so ago.

    --
    My rights don't end where your fear begins.
    • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Monday December 22 2014, @10:04PM

      by darkfeline (1030) on Monday December 22 2014, @10:04PM (#128501) Homepage

      That wouldn't be a problem if automation meant we all could work LESS, instead of MORE, thanks to an outdated socioeconomic model that requires we work for the rich if we want to eat and not freeze to death.

      --
      Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
      • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Monday December 22 2014, @10:58PM

        Who would you prefer to work for, the poor? Oh, you'd probably rather work for The State. Skip off to Cuba or Venezuela and enjoy living in third world conditions then. Never going to happen here in the US.

        --
        My rights don't end where your fear begins.
        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @03:13AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @03:13AM (#128584)

          With a worker-owned co-op, you're your own boss.
          Cooperatives rock [googleusercontent.com] (orig) [commondreams.org]
          Mondragon (since 1956) [googleusercontent.com] (orig) [wikipedia.org]
          Seize the day [googleusercontent.com] (orig) [libcom.org]

          ...but, with the schools^W authoritarian, Capitalism-oriented indoctrination centers not teaching that, few Working Class people think of that as an option.
          Workers and their children should be angry about that.

          -- gewg_

          • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Tuesday December 23 2014, @03:56AM

            Wait, they should be angry that someone didn't do their thinking for them? Dude, you sure about that?

            --
            My rights don't end where your fear begins.
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @10:45AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @10:45AM (#128631)

              No, they should be angry about NOT being taught to think for themselves in school, and NOT being presented with the options to consider. The problem is that their thinking HAS been done for them, but it isn't in their best interest.

        • (Score: 2) by Justin Case on Tuesday December 23 2014, @03:30AM

          by Justin Case (4239) on Tuesday December 23 2014, @03:30AM (#128586) Journal

          > Who would you prefer to work for, the poor?

          Me not want work nobody. Me jus want free stuffs. Why U so mean no gimme free stuffs?

        • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Tuesday December 23 2014, @10:40PM

          by darkfeline (1030) on Tuesday December 23 2014, @10:40PM (#128788) Homepage

          I would prefer that when automation makes workers less needed, that prices go down as wages stay the same, or prices stay the same as wages go up, but not prices and wages both going down as jobs disappear.

          Based on your other posts that I have seem, you seem like a intelligent, but extremely cynical and either heartless or naive person. The fact is, there are many poor, stupid, unlucky, or otherwise miserable people who are worse off than you (or me), that may or may not "deserve" to be in their position, but I would like to think that as a society we try NOT to keep a large proportion of our population living miserable lives, yes?

          --
          Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
          • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Wednesday December 24 2014, @03:51PM

            by The Mighty Buzzard (18) Subscriber Badge <themightybuzzard@soylentnews.org> on Wednesday December 24 2014, @03:51PM (#128927) Homepage Journal

            Surprisingly, I have no problem with that attitude. I only have a problem with taking money from people at gunpoint to do so. If you think that's hyperbole, try not paying your taxes and see if men with guns don't show up.

            --
            My rights don't end where your fear begins.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:05PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:05PM (#128660)

        If you have the skills start your own business and go independent. Then you can charge more. When prices go up you simply charge more for your services to compensate. If your customers want the best and you are the best at what you do they will be willing to pay you more. Or else they can go somewhere else, pay less, and get sub-quality work.

        Heck, I know someone that's successful that cut's hair (doesn't make a fortune but makes a decent living). She is successful because she is very good at what she does. I know someone that charges quite a bit that fixes cars. I can take my car to this person, get it fixed the first time and pay more up front, or I can take my car elsewhere and get it fixed wrong, have more problems with it months down the line and end up paying more in the long run.

        I know someone that is a millionaire that's a DJ (though that's not his day job but his day job only makes him, I'm guessing, 40K a year or so). He charges $800 to $1000 a night. He's been doing it all his life, has very expensive equipment, and he's really really good at it. If someone (with money) wants the best for their wedding or whatever event they want they can go to this person. Or they can risk getting some joe blow off the street, paying them less, and having them screw up the entire wedding with everyone questioning "what the heck is up with this DJ?". Is it worth the risk? To someone with money (the people you seem to be so against, the 'rich') the answer is probably no. They would be more than willing to pay more for someone with a good reputation and a good history of being very good at what he does. The key is you must be good at what you do and if you are you can make money.

        If you are good at what you do and it's something people need, be it cutting hair, fixing cars, a good DJ, etc... you can make good money as an independent and you can charge what the market will bear. Or else your customers can take a hike and find someone else that charges more and does a poor job. You complain that everything is too expensive and you don't make enough. Become good at something that someone else charges too much for and become the one charging a fortune for it. and if you can't be good enough to do that then that's no one else's fault.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:50PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:50PM (#128662)

          And the person that I know that cuts hair, has her own place (it's actually a beauty salon, most of her customers are women, she has those hair dryers and does all that stuff that women do to their hair), amazingly only charges average prices but she is almost always booked a week in advance (sometimes two). She used to have other people work for her years back cutting hair but no one ever wanted her employees to cut their hair, only her, and so she no longer has anyone working for her. She says she would love to find a professional that's really good at cutting hair, she would give them sixty percent of what they make, but everyone she hired didn't do that good a job and resulted in customer complaints. Good help is hard to find I guess.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:57PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:57PM (#128665)

            Correction, she has people working for her just not cutting hair *

    • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:44AM

      by aristarchus (2645) on Tuesday December 23 2014, @02:44AM (#128582) Journal

      Palates are taking our jobs!

      We can only hope, hopefully, that they are doing so in good taste! (And with spellcheck engaged? Darn Homophones!)

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