It's like Ponce de León's fountain of youth ... only in reverse. In an unassuming warehouse in Orlando, Fla., the pallet pooler CHEP is conducting an experiment in aging. Inside the facility, pallets travel through CHEP's new Test Track, a system of conveyors, 2,800-pound weights (the recommended load limit for a CHEP pallet), and battering rams designed to age the pallets the equivalent of 10 years in just three weeks. As the pallets travel in a loop, they're subjected to impacts equivalent to what they might receive from a lift truck. The rams are even calibrated to hit a pallet in different spots.
Why turn pristine pallets into splintery wrecks? It takes some of the guesswork out of predicting how they'll stand the test of time. The company can, for example, try out different pallet "recipes" before the pallets are made available for customers' use. And it can now get answers to such questions as: How would replacing a particular 3.5-inch plank with a 5-inch plank of a higher-quality wood affect the pallet's durability?
The Test Track, an extension of CHEP's Innovation Center, is booked for the next 18 months with internal projects. CHEP hopes to eventually make the Test Track available to customers.