Title:
Reduced profile, improved-strength, improved-ridgity, plastic one-way pallet
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A plastic pallet is thermoformed from a sheet of light-weight plastic material having a reduced thickness or gauge relative to conventional plastic pallets and is lighter than correspondingly-sized wood and conventional plastic pallets. The pallet includes support legs that give the pallet a profile height that is less than that of a correspondingly-sized wood or plastic pallet. The support legs have a variety of different sizes and/or shapes, such as rectangular or annular. The support legs are generally evenly distributed over the surface of the pallet and can include one or more pairs of protrusions. The total support leg area is generally larger than a conventional similarly-sized plastic pallet, while the area within each individual support leg opening is generally smaller than a similarly-sized conventional plastic pallet. Items on the plastic pallet that extend over a support leg will be better supported due to the reduced size and/or protrusions.



Inventors:
Quigley, Patrick J. (Portage, WI, US)
Application Number:
10/935299
Publication Date:
03/09/2006
Filing Date:
09/07/2004
Assignee:
TriEnda, a Wilbert Company (Broadview, IL, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D19/38
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20050274305Reusable counter for serving drinksDecember, 2005Mclamb
20050092213Portable plan table for use with trailer hitchMay, 2005Wilson et al.
20050000394Recreation deckJanuary, 2005Cheng
20060060113Keyboard plate tilt control structureMarch, 2006Chang
20070006783Merchandise displayJanuary, 2007Braun et al.
20060197418FURNITURE UNITSeptember, 2006Kelly
20050051060Arm rest and table desk provided with such an arm restMarch, 2005Lahlou
20080035028MULTIPLE-LEVEL ROTARY WORK SURFACEFebruary, 2008Jaekel
20040050304Pallet for three-wheeled motorcycleMarch, 2004Chen
20080134551TABLETOP LAZY SUSANJune, 2008Conforti et al.
20050223952Hanging fryer shelfOctober, 2005Brewer et al.



Primary Examiner:
ING, MATTHEW W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Boardman & Clark LLP (Madison, WI, US)
Claims:
1. A pallet, comprising: a support deck made of a first material; a plurality of support structures extending away from the support deck and formed of the first material, each of the plurality of support structures extending to a surface on which the pallet rests, comprising: a first plurality of the support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet, each of the first plurality of support structures having a pair of projections extending into the support structure from opposite side walls of that support structure, each of the protrusions extending from the support deck to a bottom surface of the support structure, and at least one additional support structure that forms a generally annular support in a central region of the pallet, each additional support structure having at least one pair of protrusions, each pair of protrusions extending from opposite side walls of the additional support structure into the interior of the additional support structure and meeting each other in the interior of the support structure, a connection formed between that pair of protrusions in the interior of that additional support structure, the protrusions extending at least part way up the sides of that additional support structure from a bottom surface of that additional support structure.

2. The pallet of claim 1, wherein the plurality of support structures further includes a central support structure formed within the bounds of the annular support.

3. The pallet of claim 1, wherein the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet includes: at least one first support structure, having at least one of a first size and a first shape; and at least one second support structure having at least one of a second size that is different from the first size and a second shape that is different from the first shape.

4. The pallet of claim 3, wherein the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet further includes at least one third support structure having at least one of a third size that is different from at least one of the first and second sizes and a third shape that is different from at least one of the first and second shapes.

5. The pallet of claim 4, wherein the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet further includes a fourth support structure having at least one of a fourth size that is different from at least one of the first, second and third sizes and a fourth shape that is different from at least one of at least the first, second and third shapes.

6. The pallet of claim 3, wherein each at least one first support structure has a pair of main protrusions extending from opposing walls into the interior of that first support structure and a pair of secondary protrusions that extend from the main protrusions and that meet each other in the interior of the first support structure, a connection formed between that pair of secondary protrusions in the interior of that first support structure

7. The pallet of claim 6, wherein each at least one second support structure that has at least one of a second size that is different from the first size and a second shape that is different from the first shape does not have a pair of secondary protrusions.

8. The pallet of claim 6, wherein each at least one second support structure has a pair of main protrusions extending from opposing walls into the interior of that second support structure and a pair of secondary protrusions that extend from the main protrusions and that meet each other in the interior of the second support structure, a connection formed between that pair of secondary protrusions in the interior of that second support structure.

9. The pallet of claim 3, wherein the at least one first support structure comprises at least four first support structures, one first support structure located at each corner of the pallet.

10. The pallet of claim 9, wherein the at least one second support structure comprises a plurality of second support structures, at least one second support structure located on each of two opposing sides of the pallet between the first support structures located at the corners of the pallet.

11. The pallet of claim 10, wherein the plurality of second support structures comprises a plurality of second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides.

12. The pallet of claim 11, wherein the plurality of second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides comprises at least three second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides.

13. The pallet of claim 12, wherein: the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet further includes at least one third support structure having at least one of a third size that is different from at least one of the first and second sizes and a third shape that is different from at least one of the first and second shapes; and the at least one third support structure comprises a plurality of third support structures, at least one third support structure located on each of a second pair of two opposing sides of the pallet, the second pair being different from the two opposing sides on which the second support structures are located, the third support structures located between the first support structures located at the corners of the pallet.

14. The pallet of claim 13, wherein the plurality of third support structures comprises a plurality of the support structures located on each of a second pair of two opposing sides.

15. The pallet of claim 14, the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet further includes at least one fourth support structure having at least one of a fourth size that is different from at least one of the first, second and third sizes and a fourth shape that is different from at least one of the first, second and third shapes; and the at least one fourth support structure comprises a plurality of fourth support structures, at least one fourth support structure located on each of the second pair of two opposing sides of the pallet, the fourth support structures located between the first support structures located at the corners of the pallet.

16. The pallet of claim 15, wherein the fourth support structures are located between the plurality of third support structures located along that second pair of two opposing sides of the pallet.

17. The pallet of claim 1, wherein: the support deck has a first area; each of the plurality of support structures defines a cavity having an area; and a total area of the cavities is about 20% to about 35% of the first area.

18. The pallet of claim 17, wherein the area of the cavity of each of the plurality of support structures is about 0.5% to about 12% of the first area.

19. (canceled)

20. (canceled)

21. (canceled)

22. (canceled)

23. (canceled)

24. (canceled)

25. The pallet of claim 1, wherein a total profile height of the pallet is about 3 inches to about 3.5 inches.

26. A pallet, comprising: a support deck made of a first material; and a plurality of support structures extending away from the support deck and formed of the first material, each of the plurality of support structures extending to a surface on which the pallet rests, wherein at least some of the plurality of support structures have a pair of protrusions extending from opposing walls into the interior of that support structure, the protrusions forming portions of the support deck.

27. The pallet of claim 26, wherein the plurality of support structures comprises: a first subset of the plurality of support structures that have the pair of protrusions; and a second subset of the plurality of support structures that lack the pair of protrusions.

28. The pallet of claim 27, wherein each of at least some of the first subset of the plurality of support structures comprises at least one pair of second protrusions that extend from the protrusions and that meet each other in the interior of that support structure, wherein, for each pair of second protrusions, a connection is formed between that pair of second protrusions in the interior of that support structure.

29. The pallet of claim 27, wherein the first subset of the plurality of support structures comprises a first sub-subset of the first subset of the plurality of support structures that have the at least one pair of second protrusions; and a second sub-subset of the first subset of the plurality of support structures that lack the at least one pair of second protrusions.

30. The pallet of claim 29, wherein, in each of the second sub-subset of the first subset of the plurality of support structures, the protrusions extending from opposing walls into the interior of that support structure are spaced from each other.

31. The pallet of claim 29, wherein each of at least some of the second subset of the plurality of support structures comprises at least one pair of second protrusions that extend from opposing walls into the interior of that support structure and that meet each other in the interior of that support structure, wherein, for each pair of second protrusions, a connection is formed between that pair of second protrusions in the interior of that support structure.

32. The pallet of claim 28, wherein the protrusions extend into the support structure a distance that is at least about 10% of the distance between the walls from which the protrusions extend.

33. The pallet of claim 32, wherein the second protrusions extend the remaining distance between the walls from which the protrusions extend.

34. The pallet of claim 32, wherein the protrusions extend into the support structure a distance that is at most about 40% of the distance between the walls from which the protrusions extend.

35. The pallet of claim 28, wherein the protrusions extend into the support structure a distance that is at most about 40% of the distance between the walls from which the protrusions extend.

36. The pallet of claim 27, wherein the second subset of the plurality of support structures comprises a first sub-subset of the second subset of the plurality of support structures that have the at least one pair of second protrusions; and a second sub-subset of the second subset of the plurality of support structures that lack the at least one pair of second protrusions.

37. The pallet of claim 36, wherein, in each of the second sub-subset of the second subset of the plurality of support structures, the second protrusions do not extend to the support deck.

38. The pallet of claim 26, wherein the plurality of support structures comprises at least one support structure that forms a generally annular support in a central region of the pallet, each at least one support structure having at least one pair of second protrusions, each pair of second protrusions extending from opposite walls of that support structure into the interior of that support structure and meeting each other in the interior of that support structure, a connection formed between that pair of protrusions in the interior of that support structure.

39. The pallet of claim 38, wherein the plurality of support structures further comprises a central support structure formed within the bounds of the generally annular support.

40. The pallet of claim 38, wherein, for each pair of second protrusions of a particular support structure, the pair of second protrusions extend at least part way up the sides of that support structure from a bottom surface of that support structure.

41. The pallet of claim 38, wherein the plurality of support structures further comprise a plurality of the support structures arranged around the at least one support structure that forms the generally annular support.

42. The pallet of claim 38, wherein the at least one support structure that forms a generally annular support comprises a single continuous support structure.

43. The pallet of claim 42, wherein the single continuous support structure is a rectangular annulus support structure.

44. The pallet of claim 26, wherein: the support deck has a first area; each of the plurality of support structures defines a cavity having an area; and a total area of the cavities is about 20% to about 35% of the first area.

45. The pallet of claim 44, wherein the area of the cavity of each of the plurality of support structures is about 0.5% to about 12% of the first area.

46. (canceled)

47. (canceled)

48. (canceled)

49. (canceled)

50. (canceled)

51. (canceled)

52. The pallet of claim 26, wherein a total profile height of the pallet is about 3 inches to about 3.5 inches.

53. A pallet, comprising: a support deck made of a first material; a plurality of support structures extending away from the support deck and formed of the first material, each of the plurality of support structures extending to a surface on which the pallet rests, comprising: a first plurality of the support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet, each of the first plurality of support structures having a plurality of projections extending into the support structure from opposite side walls of that support structure, each of the protrusions extending from the support deck to a bottom surface of the support structure, at least one additional support structure that forms a generally annular support in a central region of the pallet, each additional support structure having a plurality of protrusions, the protrusions extending at least part way up the sides of that additional support structure from a bottom surface of that additional support structure, the plurality of protrusions extending from opposite side walls of the additional support structure into the interior of the additional support structure, and a central support structure formed within the bounds of the annular support.

54. The pallet of claim 53, wherein the first plurality of support structures positioned around the periphery of the pallet includes: at least one first support structure, having at least one of a first size and a first shape; and at least one second support structure having at least one of a second size that is different from the first size and a second shape that is different from the first shape.

55. The pallet of claim 54, wherein the at least one first support structure comprises at least four first support structures, one first support structure located at each corner of the pallet.

56. The pallet of claim 55, wherein the at least one second support structure comprises a plurality of second support structures, at least one second support structure located on each of two opposing sides of the pallet between the first support structures located at the corners of the pallet.

57. The pallet of claim 56, wherein the plurality of second support structures comprises a plurality of second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides.

58. The pallet of claim 57, wherein the plurality of second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides comprises at least three second support structures located on each of the two opposing sides. pallet.

59. The pallet of claim 53, wherein: the support deck has a first area; each of the plurality of support structures defines a cavity having an area; and a total area of the cavities is about 20% to about 35% of the first area.

60. The pallet of claim 59, wherein the area of the cavity of each of the plurality of support structures is about 0.5% to about 12% of the first area.

61. The pallet of claim 53, wherein a total profile height of the pallet is about 3 inches to about 3.5 inches.

62. The pallet of claim 53, wherein the at least one support structure that forms a generally annular support comprises a single continuous support structure.

63. The pallet of claim 1, wherein the at least one support structure that forms a generally annular support comprises a single continuous support structure.

64. The pallet of claim 63, wherein the single continuous support structure is a rectangular annulus support structure.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention is directed to plastic pallets that are usable for shipping and storing goods.

2. Related Art

Pallets are commonly used to store and transport goods in many industries. Using wooden pallets has become problematic when transporting goods across national boundaries. For example, several countries have imposed regulations requiring wooden pallets to be fumigated before entering those countries. Wooden pallets can act as homes to various bacteria, fungi, insects and/or other single-celled or multi-cellular organisms. These countries require wooden pallets to be fumigated because they are concerned that such bacteria, fungi, insects or the like carried by wooden pallets could become significant environmental and/or health threats in these countries.

However, fumigation adds costs and also requires documentation to be maintained for the wooden pallets, so that the shipper can establish that the pallets were treated within a certain time frame. Thus, for a shipper, not only must the shipper maintain a proper set of documentation for the goods being shipped, but the shipper must also maintain proper sets of documentation for the wooden pallets on which the goods are being shipped. Maintaining such records for the wooden pallets, which provides no economic return to the shippers, can be a significant cost to the shippers. Additionally, the fumigation process itself adds costs and down time to the wooden pallets.

Because of the cost of returning empty wooden pallets to the goods' producer, wooden pallets are not usually returned, especially after having crossed country borders. As a consequence, pallets used when shipping goods across country borders are usually low-cost wood pallets that have been used and/or repaired. Such pallets frequently have broken and/or splintered boards, and/or loose nails, any of which can damage the goods placed onto such pallets.

Nevertheless, wooden pallets do have a number of advantageous features. In particular, wood pallets are rigid, can support significant product weight and are easily accessed by a variety of transporting and/or lifting systems such as, for example, forklifts having different distances between the forks.

A number of pallets have been designed using materials other than wood that attempt to maintain, as best as possible, the advantages provided by wood pallets while attempting to avoid the disadvantages of wooden pallets. Various forms of these conventional plastic pallets are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,702,100; 3,709,162; 4,263,885; 5,606,921; 5,813,355; and 6,289,823. In general, the pallets disclosed in these references are formed using a plastic material. This material is typically injection-molded plastic, while at least one of these references discloses using pairs of thermoformed sheets as the plastic material.

SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSED EMBODIMENTS

Typically, as shown, for example, in the '355 and '823 patents, an array of widely but evenly spaced support legs is used to support the pallet, while the planar “deck” surface of the pallet is designed to minimize the surface area of the pallet that is within the bounds of the supporting leg structures. Most of these conventional pallets are formed using an injection molding process so that various small structures can be formed to provide the pallet with sufficient rigidity and structural strength against bending and twisting. However, such small detailed structures can generally only be formed using injection molding techniques. Thus, such designs would not be appropriate for a thermoforming process.

Additionally, conventional pallet designs tend to concentrate the surface area of the pallet consumed by the legs. As a result, prior art pallets tend to use nine legs which are fairly evenly distributed over the surface of the pallet and which are relatively large in size. Such large support leg openings often make it difficult to adequately support a particular good in areas of the deck surface of the pallet where such large support legs are formed. Additionally, by spacing the legs far from each other, the designers have determined that large loads of goods on the deck surface of the pallet between the legs can cause the deck surface to deform under the load of the goods.

This invention provides a plastic pallet that is lower in weight than conventional plastic pallets.

This invention separately provides a plastic pallet that has a reduced height between the product support surface of the pallet and the support surfaces of the legs of the pallet relative to conventional plastic pallets.

This invention separately provides a plastic pallet having a smooth, durable surface that does not cause damage or injury to either workers or goods being carried by the pallets.

This invention separately provides a plastic pallet having structures that can be created by thermoforming a plastic material.

This invention separately provides plastic pallets that have structures that allow the pallets to be nested without jamming.

This invention provides a plastic pallet that is resistant to moisture and humidity.

This invention separately provides plastic pallet having increased durability over wooden pallets.

This invention separately provides plastic pallet having reduced distances between the support legs.

This invention separately provides plastic pallets having an improved ratio of deck surface area to support surface area.

This invention separately provides a plastic pallet structure that has improved resistance to bending and/or twisting.

This invention separately provides a plastic pallet having a design that has reduced deflection along the deck of the pallet.

In various exemplary embodiments of plastic pallets according to this invention, the pallet is formed of a light-weight plastic material. In various exemplary embodiments, the pallet is formed by thermoforming a sheet of the light-weight plastic material having a reduced thickness or gauge relative to conventional plastic pallets. In various exemplary embodiments, the light-weight pallet is lighter than a correspondingly-sized wood pallet and is lower in weight than conventional plastic pallets.

In various exemplary embodiments of the plastic pallet according to this invention, the pallet provides low profile support legs that reduce the distance between the surface on which the pallet is resting and the product support or deck surface of the pallet. In various exemplary embodiments, this distance or profile is less than that of a correspondingly-sized wood pallet. In various exemplary embodiments, this profile is less than a typical conventional plastic pallet.

In various exemplary embodiments, pallets according to this invention are formed by thermoforming a single sheet of thermoformable plastic material. In various exemplary embodiments, this plastic material is recyclable and durable, and is resistant to moisture, humidity and/or other liquids, fluids or semi-solids which tend to reduce the usefulness and/or the life of wood or paper-based pallets.

In various exemplary embodiments, pallets according to this invention use a relatively large number of relatively smaller support legs to provide a relatively larger amount of support area in the support legs, as well as to provide a relatively larger number of support columns, which may be distributed over the surface of the pallet, that support the pallet load. In various exemplary embodiments, up to around 18 support legs or columns are provided in pallets according to this invention. In various exemplary embodiments, the support legs or columns have a variety of different sizes. In various exemplary embodiments, the plurality of support legs or columns have a variety of shapes and/or sizes. In various exemplary embodiments, the support legs or columns are generally evenly distributed over the surface of the pallet. In various exemplary embodiments, the total deck surface area is less than the total deck surface area in a similarly-sized conventional plastic pallet. In various exemplary embodiments, the total support leg area is larger than in a conventional similarly-sized plastic pallet, while the area within each individual support leg opening is smaller than that of a similarly-sized conventional plastic pallet. This is advantageous when the load is a number of smaller items, such as boxes. The boxes that extend over a support leg will have better support if the support leg area is small. This is also an advantage when stacking a loaded pallet on top of another pallet that is loaded with corrugated boxes or the like. In that situation, the load is more evenly distributed over a greater number of the corrugated boxes or the like.

In various exemplary embodiments of the pallet according to this invention, a number of the support legs or columns are provided around the periphery of the pallet.

These and other features and advantages of various exemplary embodiments of apparatus and structures according to this invention are described in, or are apparent from, the following detailed descriptions of various exemplary embodiments of the apparatus and structures according to this invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

Various exemplary embodiments of the apparatus and structures of this invention will be described in detail, with reference to the following figures, wherein:

FIG. 1 is a top perspective view of one exemplary embodiment of a pallet structure according to this invention;

FIG. 2 is a top plan view of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a bottom plan view of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a bottom perspective view of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 5 is a first side cut-away view, cut through some support structures, of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 6 is a second side cutaway view, cut through some of the support structures, of the pallet structure of FIG. 1;

FIG. 7 is a third side cutaway view, cut through some of the support structures, of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 is a side plan view of a longer edge of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1; and

FIG. 9 is a side plan view of a shorter edge of the pallet structure shown in FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

Pallets greatly facilitate storing and transporting a wide variety of goods. Pallets allow different items to be stored and transported using forklift trucks as a common material handling system. General purpose pallets generally share several basic structural properties, including a generally flat upper deck surface or product support surface that is used to support boxes, canisters, crates or other goods or packaging, as well as two or more openings through which the lift tines of a forklift can be inserted under the generally flat upper deck.

Pallets that allow the forklift tines to enter from all four sides of the pallet tend to be more useful. The forklift tine openings may be formed between a pallet top deck and pallet bottom deck, such as with wood pallets. Alternatively, the pallet may have only a single product support surface, with an array of support legs extending down from the deck surface to space the deck surface from a support surface, thus allowing the forklift tines to be inserted underneath the deck surface.

Traditionally, most pallets were constructed of hardwoods, due to their low cost, ready availability, and high compressive strength. Wood pallets are still widely used in the industry. However, as discussed above, wood pallets are subject to splintering, moisture absorption, and colonization by various unicellular microorganisms, insects, fungi and the like. Thus, as discussed above, using wood pallets in export situations becomes highly problematic. This is true when shipping pallets in one direction across national borders. This problem becomes even greater when such pallets are to be returned to the originating country.

Because plastic pallets are lighter and more durable than traditional wooden pallets, plastic pallets are replacing wooden pallets in many industries. Lighter plastic pallets are easier to move than wooden pallets and add less weight to a shipment of the product that is being stored and transported using the pallet, resulting in decreased transportation costs and/or increased transportable load capacity. Plastic pallets are also better suited to export situations than wood pallets by allowing the fumigation and record-keeping aspects of wood pallets in export situations to be avoided.

While wood pallets have various drawbacks, as discussed above, wood pallets do provide significant advantages in terms of cost, load-bearing capacity, and rigidity. Traditionally, these advantages of wood pallets are offset by the greater durability and design options available with plastic pallets. However, plastic pallets are traditionally less competitive with wood pallets on a straight cost basis, unless the greater durability of the plastic pallets is taken into account. While the greater durability of plastic pallets can be taken into account when using the plastic pallets locally or within national borders, this is often not the case with pallets used when exporting goods across national borders. Due to the distances involved and the lack of reciprocal trade channels, such pallets used in export situations are rarely returned to the exporter. Thus, the exporter has less ability to recoup the costs of more expensive plastic pallets, because the exporter cannot make use of the longer useful lifetimes and recycling capabilities of the plastic pallets.

Additionally, especially in export situations, shipping considerations are of primary importance. Thus, the size, load-bearing capacity, and weight of the pallets become even more important. For example, because exporters expect that the pallets used for export goods will not be returned, exporters traditionally employ low-cost used wood pallets that are nearing the end of their useful lifetimes and/or have been previously repaired. Other types of pallets that are not “wooden” have also been proposed. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,448,956 to Ong et al. discloses a one-way, light-weight pallet that is formed using corrugated paper. While such corrugated paper pallets are light-weight, they are of limited usefulness, as they are not as rigid as wood and are significantly adversely affected by humidity and/or moisture. Additionally, these pallets are also made from, if not of, wood, and thus can also provide the same infestation problems as wooden pallets.

FIGS. 1-9 show one exemplary embodiment of a low-cost, low-profile and/or low-weight plastic pallet that is particularly suitable for export or one-way use. One-way or export use implies that the shipper or goods manufacturer who has purchased the pallet and placed the goods onto the pallet for transport to the customer does not expect to have the pallet returned. Thus, a one-way pallet having improved load carrying capacity, reduced cost considerations and improved durability with respect to, for example, corrugated paper pallets, would be desirable to such a shipper or manufacturer.

The cost considerations to the shipper or manufacturer include not only the cost of the pallet to the shipper or manufacturer, but also the costs of using a particular pallet. For example, if a particular pallet has poor load carrying capabilities, the shipper or manufacturer will be required to use more pallets for a given weight of goods to be shipped. Likewise, the shipper or manufacturer will not only have to pay for shipping the weight of his goods, but will also have to pay for the cost of shipping the pallets. Thus, lighter-weight pallets reduce the shipper's or manufacturer's shipping costs. Additionally, the shipper's or manufacturer's costs are not only a function of weight, but are also a function of volume consumed by the goods to be shipped. Thus, any unused space in a tractor-trailer or shipping container raises the shipping costs to the shipper or manufacturer. Consequently, lower-profile pallets, which do not consume as much shipping volume as higher-profile pallets, tend to reduce the shipper's or manufacturer's costs by permitting more goods to be shipped within a given volume.

FIGS. 1-9 show one exemplary embodiment of a pallet 100 having improved load carrying capacity, reduced profile, and/or lower weight. As shown in FIGS. 1-9, the pallet 100 is formed from a single sheet of thermoformable material and comprises a deck surface or product support surface 102 having a long side 104 and a short side 106, in which a relatively larger number of relatively smaller support legs, such as the support legs 110, 120, 130, 140, 150 and 160, are formed. Each of the support legs 110-160 defines an upwardly opening cavity in the deck surface 102. As shown in FIGS. 1-8, the support legs 110 are located at the corners where the long sides 104 meet the short sides 106. The support legs 120 are located between the support legs 110 along the long sides 104, while the support legs 130 and 140 are located between the support legs 110 along the short sides 106. The support leg 160 is located generally at the center of the pallet 100, with the rectangular-shaped annular support leg 150 surrounding the central support leg 160.

It should be appreciated that, in the exemplary embodiment of the pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-9, each of the support legs 110-160 has a different shape and/or a different size. However, it should be appreciated that, in various other exemplary embodiments, these different shapes for the support legs 110-160 need not be used. Thus, fewer different shapes, or even a single shape, could be used for the support legs 110-140 and 160. It should also be appreciated that any appropriate shape for the annular support leg 150 can be used, such as any polygon having either sharp or rounded vertices, a circle, an ellipse or any other open or closed curve. Likewise, it should be appreciated that more than six different types of shapes for the various support legs could be implemented.

As shown in FIGS. 1-9, there are 16 support legs 110-140 distributed around the periphery of the pallet 100 and there are two more-centrally-located support legs 150 and 160 located in the interior of the pallet 100. It should be appreciated that fewer or more of the support legs 110, 120, 130, 140 and/or 160 could be implemented in a particular exemplary embodiment of the pallet 100 without departing from the spirit and/or scope of this invention. Similarly, the annular support leg 150 can be a single structure or a plurality of separate structures, such as separate sections that correspond to each of the sides of the annular support leg 150.

The pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-9 also includes a variety of non-support-leg structures 170 formed in the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. These include a variety of laterally extending channels 172 and 174, edge portions 175, web structures 176 formed in the lateral channels 172 and 174, and indented portions 178 formed in the periphery of the deck surface 102 and the edge portions 175. Additionally, it should be appreciated that the positions and orientations of the support legs 110-150 cooperate to define a pair of forklift tine passages 182 extending between the long sides 104 of the pallet 100 and a pair of forklift tine passages 184 extending between the short sides 106 of the pallet 100.

As shown in FIGS. 1-6, each of the corner support legs 110 includes a relatively short side wall 112 and a relatively long side wall 114. In various exemplary embodiments, the short side wall 112 is roughly parallel to the short side 106, while the long side wall 114 is generally parallel to the long side 104 of the pallet 100. It should be appreciated, as shown in FIGS. 5 and 6, that each of the side walls 112 and 114 generally slopes inwardly into the support leg 110 as the side walls 112 and 114 extend from the deck surface 102 to a support surface 115 that lies at the bottom of the support leg 110. That is, in such exemplary embodiments, the upwardly opening cavity defined by the support leg 110 tapers inwardly from the deck surface 102 to the support surface 115.

It should also be appreciated that, as shown in FIGS. 1-6, each support leg 110 has a pair of protrusions 116 that extend into the support leg 110 from the long walls 114. These protrusions 116 tend to increase the area of the deck surface 102, and are sufficiently sized that the protrusions 116 will provide support to a load placed on the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. That is, the top surfaces of the protrusions 116 form portions of the deck surface 102. The protrusions 116 also tend to prevent the walls 114 from spreading or buckling, thus tending to increase the load capacity of the support legs 110. In various exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 116 extends into the cavity formed by the support leg 110 by about 10% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 114. In general, for a typically-sized leg, the protrusions 116 should extend about 1 to about 3 inches into the leg 110 from the side walls 114. Of course, it should be understood that these dimensions might not apply to legs having extremely narrow or extremely wide separations between the side walls. In some exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 116 extend to no more than about 30% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 114.

In addition, as shown in FIGS. 1-6, a pair of secondary protrusions 118 extend out of the bottom portions of the protrusions 116. In particular, as shown in FIGS. 1-6, these secondary protrusions 118 extend the rest of the way across the bottom surface 115 between the protrusions 116 and contact each other within the support leg 110 such that a web or other linking structure 119 is provided between the two protrusions 116. The secondary protrusions 118 act as anti-jam features that tend to prevent another pallet 100 that has been nested into this pallet 100 from becoming struck or jammed into this pallet 100. That is, the secondary protrusions 118 act as anti-jam shoulders to prevent nested pallets and tapered parts to stick together when attempting to separate the pallets 100. The second protrusions 118 also effectively divide each support leg 110 into two lateral sections, increasing the rigidity of the support leg 110 while also increasing its support capacity That is, the secondary protrusions 118 tend to prevent the lower portion of the support leg 110 from buckling, which tends to increase the support capacity of the support leg 110. The web 119 tends to prevent the walls 114 from spreading or buckling, thus tending to increase the load capacity of the support legs 110.

Similarly, as shown in FIGS. 1-4 and 6, the support legs 120, which are arranged along the long side 104 of the pallet 100, each includes a pair of walls 122 that are generally parallel to the short side 106 and a pair of walls 124 that are generally parallel to the long side 104 of the pallet 100. In various exemplary embodiments, the sizes of the walls 122 and 124 can be roughly equal. In various other exemplary embodiments, the side walls 122 can be longer than the side walls 124.

It should be appreciated that, in various exemplary embodiments, while the length of the side wall 122 of the support leg 120 is generally about the same dimension as the length of the side wall 112 of the support leg 110, the length of the side wall 124 of the support leg 120 is shorter than the side wall 114 of the support leg 110, and, in some exemplary embodiments, is substantially shorter.

As with the support legs 110, each of the support legs 120 has a pair of projections 126 extending out from the side walls 124 into the interior of the support leg 120. As with the support leg 110, these projections 126 tend to increase the area of the support deck 102 and increase the load capacity of the support leg 120. In general, the protrusions 126 are sufficiently sized that the protrusions 126 will provide support to a load placed on the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. That is, the top surfaces of the protrusions 126 form portions of the deck surface 102. The protrusions 126 also tend to prevent the walls 124 from spreading or buckling, thus tending to increase the load capacity of the support legs 120. In various exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 126 extends into the cavity formed by the support leg 120 by about 10% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 124. In general, for a typically-sized leg, the protrusions 126 should extend about 1 to about 3 inches into the leg 120 from the side walls 124. Of course, it should be understood that these dimensions might not apply to legs having extremely narrow or extremely wide separations between the side walls. In some exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 126 extend to no more than about 30% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 124.

However, unlike the support leg 110, the projections 126 do not have secondary projections that contact each other. Further, like the support leg 110, the side walls 122 and 124 of the support leg 120 slope inwardly into the interior of the support leg 120 from the support deck 102 to a bottom surface 125 that lies at the bottom of the support leg 120. That is, in such exemplary embodiments, the upwardly opening cavity defined by the support leg 120 tapers inwardly from the deck surface 102 to the bottom surface 125.

As shown in FIGS. 1-5, each of the support legs 130 includes a pair of side walls 132 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the short side 106 and a pair of side walls 134 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the long side 104. As with the support legs 110 and 120, the side walls 132 and 134 generally slope toward the interior of the support leg 130 from the deck surface 102 to a bottom surface 135 of the support leg 130. That is, in such exemplary embodiments, the upwardly opening cavity defined by the support leg 130 tapers inwardly from the deck surface 102 to the bottom surface 135.

Also similarly to the support legs 110 and 120, the support leg 130 includes a pair of protrusions 136 that extend into the support leg 130 from the side walls 134, which tend to increase the support capacity of the support legs 130. In general, the protrusions 136 are sufficiently sized that the protrusions 136 will provide support to a load placed on the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. That is, the top surfaces of the protrusions 136 form portions of the deck surface 102. The protrusions 136 also tend to prevent the walls 134 from spreading or buckling, thus tending to increase the load capacity of the support legs 130. In various exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 136 extends into the cavity formed by the support leg 130 by about 10% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 134. In general, for a typically-sized leg, the protrusions 136 should extend about 1 to about 3 inches into the leg 130 from the side walls 134. Of course, it should be understood that these dimensions might not apply to legs having extremely narrow or extremely wide separations between the side walls. In some exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 136 extend to no more than about 30% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 134.

However, like the support legs 110, and unlike the support legs 120, the protrusions 136 contain secondary protrusions 138. These secondary protrusions 138 are located at the bottom of the protrusion 136 and extend fully across the support surface 135 of the support leg 130 to contact each other. As with the support leg 110, the secondary protections 138 act as anti-jam features and tend to increase the bottom capacity of the support leg 130. As with the support leg 110, a weld or web 139 is formed connecting the secondary protrusions 138. The webs 139 tend to prevent the walls 134 from spreading or buckling, increasing the load capacity of the support leg 130.

As shown in FIGS. 1-4 and 6, the support legs 140 include a pair of side walls 142 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the short side 106 and a pair of side walls 144 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the long side 104. Like the support legs 110-130, the side walls 142 and 144 slope generally into the interior of the support leg 140 from the deck surface 102 to a bottom surface 145 of the support leg 146. That is, in such exemplary embodiments, the upwardly opening cavity defined by the support leg 140 tapers inwardly from the deck surface 102 to the bottom surface 145.

Like the support legs 110-130, the support leg 140 includes protrusions 146 extending into the interior of the support leg 140 from the side walls 144, which tend to increase the support capacity of the support legs 140. In general, the protrusions 146 are sufficiently sized that the protrusions 146 will provide support to a load placed on the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. That is, the top surfaces of the protrusions 146 form portions of the deck surface 102. The protrusions 146 also tend to prevent the walls 144 from spreading or buckling, thus tending to increase the load capacity of the support legs 140. In various exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 146 extends into the cavity formed by the support leg 140 by about 10% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 144. In general, for a typically-sized leg, the protrusions 146 should extend about 1 to about 3 inches into the leg 140 from the side walls 144. Of course, it should be understood that these dimensions might not apply to legs having extremely narrow or extremely wide separations between the side walls. In some exemplary embodiments, each of the protrusions 146 extend to no more than about 30% to about 40% of the distance between the walls 144. Like the support legs 120, and unlike the support legs 110 and 130, the protrusions 146 do not have any secondary protrusions nor do they meet in the interior of the support leg 140.

It should also be appreciated that, in various exemplary embodiments, the portions of the deck surface 102 extending between the side walls 112 and 122 of the support legs 110 and 120 and between side walls 122 of adjacent support legs 120 can be beveled or chamfered. That is, some or all of the corners between the deck surface 102 and the various side walls 112, 114, 122, 124, 132, 134, 142, 144, 152, 154, 162 and/or 164 can be rounded, radiused, beveled, chamfered or the like. When used, the chamfered corners allow a more uniform wall thickness to be obtained during the thermoforming process. In various other exemplary embodiments, the portions of the deck surface 102 between the side walls 112 and 122 of the support legs 110 and 120 can be square, as shown in FIG. 1, similar to the deck surface 102 between the side walls 114 and 134, and 134 and 144.

As shown in FIGS. 1-4 and 7, a central rectangular-shaped annular support leg 150 comprises an inner wall 152 and an outer wall 154. Each of the inner and outer walls 152 and 154 each contain four portions that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to each of the two sides 104 and two sides 106 of the pallet 100. Adjacent portions of the inner and outer walls 152 and 154 are generally perpendicular to each other, although they do not need to meet at sharp angles. Rather, as shown in FIGS. 1-4, the corners of at least the outer wall 154 can be curved or rounded, although they do not need to be. As shown in FIG. 1, the tops of the corners of the inner wall 152 where the inner wall 152 meets the deck surface 102, contain beveled surfaces 156. Additionally, the walls 152 and 154 generally slope inwardly toward the interior of the annulus of the support leg 152 from the deck surface 102 to the bottom surface 155 in the same manner that the side walls of the support legs 110-140 slope toward the interior of those support legs 110-140. It should be appreciated that these walls slope due to the required draft angles for forming the pallets 100 and for nesting the pallets 100.

As shown in FIGS. 2-4 and 7, at various points around the circumference of the side walls 152 and 154, at opposing positions, protrusions 158 extend from the side walls 152 and 154 toward each other and meet at a weld or rib 159 and tend to prevent spreading or buckling of the walls 152 and 154 of the support leg 150. It should be appreciated that the protrusions 158, like the secondary protrusions 118 and 138, extend only part way up the side walls 154 and 152 from the support surface 155 of the support leg 150 and tend to increase the support capacity of the support leg 150, as well as tend to prevent jamming between nested pallets.

It should be appreciated that any number of the protrusions 158 can be formed along the circumference of the side walls 152 and 154. In the particular exemplary embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 2-4 and 7, two protrusions 158 extend from each of the four portions of the side walls 152 and 154. In various exemplary embodiments, such as the one shown in FIGS. 2-4 and 7, the protrusions 158 on one of the four portions of the side walls 152 and 154 are offset from the protrusions 158 in the other portion of the side walls 152 and 154 that is parallel to that first portion. It should also be appreciated that, in various exemplary embodiments, such as the exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 2-4 and 7, the protrusions 158 are equally and regularly spaced around the circumference of the side walls 152 and 154. However, it should be appreciated that, in various other exemplary embodiments, the protrusions 158 formed in the two portions of the side walls 152 and 154 that are parallel to each other do not need to be offset.

It should also be appreciated that the protrusions 158 do not need to be evenly or regularly spaced around the circumference of the side walls 152 and 154. It should also be appreciated that different numbers of protrusions 158 can be provided in different portions of the side walls 152 and 154. It should further be appreciated that the protrusions 158 need not be all the same shape.

It should also be appreciated that, while the above-outlined discussion describes the annular support leg 150 as being rectangularly shaped, the annular support leg 150 need not be rectangularly shaped. Rather, the support leg 150 can be an annulus of any particular desired shape, from circular to polygonal to any closed curve. It should also be appreciated that, for polygonal shapes, the vertices can be sharp or rounded. However, it should be appreciated that shapes that are 180° rotationally symmetrical are particularly useful.

It should further be appreciated that, rather than being a continuous, annular shape, as shown in FIGS. 1-4, the support leg 150 could comprise a plurality of distinct segments that are spaced or separated from each other. For example, the support leg 150 could comprise four straight segments that correspond to each of the sides of the rectangular annulus 150 shown in FIGS. 1-4, where the segments are spaced from each other.

As shown in FIGS. 1-4 and 7, the central support leg 160 includes a pair of side walls 162 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the short side 106 and a pair of side walls 164 that, in various exemplary embodiments, are generally parallel to the long side 104. As with the support legs 110-140, the side walls 162 and 164 generally slope toward the interior of the support leg 160 from the deck surface 102 to a bottom surface 165 of the support leg 160. Unlike any of the support legs 110-150, there are no protuberances or protrusions extending from the side walls 162 or 164 into the interior of the support leg 160. It should be appreciated that, in various exemplary embodiments, such as the one shown in FIGS. 1-9, the central support leg 160 is centered on the geometrical center point of the pallet 100 and is laterally symmetrical about that center point relative to both the sides 104 and 106. However, in various other exemplary embodiments, the central support leg 160 need not be located at the center point of the pallet 100 nor need be laterally symmetrical relative to either of the sides 104 or 106.

It should also be appreciated that, while the central support leg 160 shown in FIGS. 1-4 is square in shape, any desired shape for the central support leg 160 could be used. Thus the central support leg 160 can be circular, oval, polygonal or any other closed curve. When the central support leg 160 is polygonal, the vertices can be sharp or rounded. It should further be appreciated that the walls 162 and 164 of the central support legs 160 may have protrusions similar to the protrusions 116, 118, 126, 136, 138, 146 and/or 158, and/or other structures. It should further be appreciated that such protrusions can have the same shape or can have a plurality of shapes.

It should also be appreciated that, in use, various ones of the pallet 100 can be stacked together, with each of the support legs 110-160 of one such pallet 100 nesting into the corresponding support legs 110-160 of another such pallet 100. It should be appreciated that, to insure that the two pallets 100 do not become jammed together, the secondary protrusions 118, 138 and 158 act as an “anti-jamming” feature to insure that the upper pallet 100 does not become too deeply forced into the lower pallet 100. Similarly, along with the protrusions 118, 138 and 158, the slope applied to the side walls 112, 114, 122, 124, 132, 134, 142, 144, 152, 154, 162, and 164 allows the upper pallet 100 to nest into the lower pallet 100 without the side walls actually engaging to such an extent that the upper pallet 100 becomes jammed into or stuck in the lower pallet 100. However, limiting the slope tends to allow for smaller openings for the support legs 110-160 at the deck surface 102.

As shown in FIGS. 1-7, the pallet 100 also includes a first plurality of channels 172 that, in various exemplary embodiments, extend parallel to the side 106 and a second plurality of channels 174 that, in various exemplary embodiments, extend parallel to the side 104. In general, the channels 172 and 174 cross each other. However, it should be appreciated that some of the channels 172 and some of the channels 174 do not extend all the way across the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100.

As shown in FIGS. 1-7, in addition to the channels 172 and 174, at various locations within the channels 172 and 174, paired protrusions 176 extend from each side wall of the channels 172 and 174. The protrusions 176 contact each other to form a web or weld extending across the channels 172 and 174. In various exemplary embodiments, such as the one shown in FIGS. 1-9, there is at least one such web for each portion of a channel 172 or 174 that extends between either a pair of channels 172 or 174, respectively, between adjacent ones of the support legs 110-160, or between the side wall of one of the support legs 110-150 and a channel 172 or 174, respectively. The channels 172 and 174, and the corresponding webs or welds 176, tend to make the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100 stiffer and/or more rigid.

As shown in FIGS. 1-7, a plurality of depressions 178 are formed in the periphery of the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100 along the sides 104 and 106. It should be appreciated that these depressions 178 can take any desired shape or form. It should be appreciated that, in the particular exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-9, there is one such depression for each of the exterior side walls 112, 132 and 142, and two depressions, one on each side of the protuberances 116 and 126, for each of the exterior side walls 114 and 124. However, in various other exemplary embodiments, different numbers of depressions 178 could be formed. It should also be appreciated that, for the depressions 178 formed in the exterior side walls 112, 132 and 142, in the exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-7, these depressions 178 are generally circular shaped, while the depressions formed in the exterior side walls 114 and 124 are generally rectangular or square in shape. However, it should be appreciated that any desired shape could be used for each of the depressions 178. The depressions 178 help stiffen the portion of the deck 102 that lies outside of the support legs 110-140. The depressions 178 also tend to reduce any warp that may occur in the outer vertical walls 175. The rectangularly-shaped depressions 178 are used on the narrow portions of the side walls 114 and 124 of the support legs 110 and 120 to obtain the same depth as the semi-circularly-shaped depressions 178 in less space. The semi-circularly-shaped depressions 178 are used on the wider portions of the side walls 112, 132 and 142 of the support legs 110, 130 and 140 because such semi-circularly-shaped depressions 178 are easier to process during thermoforming and will result in a more uniform material distribution in the thermoformed plastic pallet.

Finally, it should be appreciated that the portions of the deck surface 102 that lie between the various support legs 110-160, and/or between the various channels 172 and/or 174, are treated to provide a pattern or texture to the deck surface 102. This pattern or texture tends to better hold the goods placed on the pallet 100 in place, especially during transport.

FIGS. 8 and 9 are side plan views of the pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-7. In particular, FIGS. 8 and 9 illustrate how the various support legs 110-150 combine to form the forklift tine passages 182 and 184.

It should be appreciated that the type of pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-9 can come in various sizes and dimensions. In general, common dimensions include pallets that are 40″×48″, 42″×48″, 45″×48″, 48″×54″, 48″×63×, and 48″×75″. In general, the dimensions of the pallet will be selected based on the type of good to be loaded onto the pallet, as well as the internal dimensions of the tractor-trailer or shipping container into which the palletized goods are to be loaded. For example, if the palletized goods are to be loaded onto a standard semi tractor-trailer, which has an internal width of 96″ and an internal length of 47.5′ or 52.5′, pallet sizes of 40″×48″ and 48″×48″ allow an integer number of pallets to be loaded into the tractor trailer with minimal wasted space.

For the exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-9, for a pallet measuring 48″ along the sides 104 and 40″ along the sides 106, typical dimensions for the support legs 110 are 7″×4″, 4″×4″ for the support legs 120, and approximately 3.75″ by approximately 7″ for the support legs 130, approximately 4.5″ by 7″ for the support legs 140, approximately 20″ along the sides 104 and 18.5″ along the sides 106 for the annular support leg 150 and approximately 6″ along the sides 104 and 5″ along the sides 106 for the central support leg 160.

Additionally, the support legs 120 are spaced approximately 5.75″ from the support legs 110 and approximately 3.75″ from each other along the side 104. Similarly, the support legs 130 are spaced about 5.6″ from the support legs 110 and approximately 3.75″ from the support legs 140. The annular support leg 150 is spaced about 5.5″ from both the support legs 120 and the support legs 140. Similarly, the central support leg 160 is spaced 5.5″ from the annular support leg 150 along the side 104, while it is spaced about 5″ from the annular support leg 150 along the edge 160. The annular support leg 150 is about 2″ wide around the annulus.

The protuberances 116, 126, 136 and 146 are generally semi-circular shaped and extend into their respective support legs 110-140 approximately 1″. The protrusions 118, 138 and 158 are also generally semi-circularly shaped and all are about 1.75″ below the deck surface 102 of the pallet 100. The channels 172 and 174 are generally 1.5″ deep and approximately 0.5″ wide at their widest. However, it should be appreciated that, at the locations where the protuberances 176 occur, the channels 172 and 174 tend to be slightly narrower.

It should be appreciated that these dimensions are exemplary only and are meaningful only with respect to the exemplary 40″ by 48″ pallet corresponding to the exemplary embodiment of the pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-9. Thus, it should be appreciated that, for pallets 100 having different dimensions, the sizes of the various features outlined above may shrink and/or stretch. However, it should be appreciated that, for the channels 172 and 174, the dimensions of the structures are more likely to remain the same, as these structures are not generally tied to the size of the pallet 100.

It should be appreciated, as outlined above, that in the pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-7, the total amount of surface area of the deck surface 102 that lies within the cavities defined by the support legs 110-160, and thus the total amount of the surface area of the support surfaces 115, 125, 135, 145, 155 and 165 is relatively greater than the total amount of support surface that lies within the cavities defined by the relatively larger support legs used in the conventional plastic pallets. In particular, in various exemplary embodiments, for a 40″×48″ pallet, the total amount of surface area of the deck surface 102 that lies within the cavities defined by the support legs 110-160, as a percentage of the total surface area of the deck surface 102 is between about 20% and about 35%. It should be appreciated that, as the pallet dimensions increase, these percentages drop.

At the same time, the amount of surface area of the deck surface 102 that lies within a cavity defined by one of the support legs 110-160 is relatively less than the surface area that lies within a cavity defined by the relatively larger support legs used in the conventional plastic pallets. In particular, in various exemplary embodiments, for a 40″×48″ pallet, the amount of surface area of the deck surface 102 that lies within the cavity defined by one of the support legs 110-160, as a percentage of the total surface area of the deck surface 102 is between about 0.5% and about 12%. It should be appreciated that, as the pallet dimensions increase, these percentages also drop.

It should be appreciated that the exemplary embodiment of the pallet 100 shown in FIGS. 1-9 as outlined above, is merely one exemplary embodiment of a light-weight and/or low-profile pallet according to this invention. That is, many of the specific details discussed above with respect to the pallet 100 are optional and can be omitted or altered. In general, a plastic pallet according to this invention has a relatively large number of relatively small support legs that are located generally closer to each other and/or each take up less area of the deck surface upon which the goods to be palletized are placed. Such relatively larger number of relatively smaller legs support the load better by providing more evenly distributed support under the entire load.

In contrast, most conventional light-weight plastic pallets have support legs in only nine locations, with larger distances between the legs. In such conventional light-weight pallets, heavy loads tend to cause the pallet deck to sag between the legs where the load is unsupported. In contrast, in various exemplary embodiments of the pallet according to this invention, the distance between the support legs is reduced, which consequently reduces the downward deflection of the support deck for a given load. At the same time by, reducing the size of the opening of each of the support legs 110-160 on the support deck 102 relative to the opening sizes of the conventional support legs, the goods carried on the deck surface 102 are better supported and less likely to adversely interact with the openings of the support legs 110-160.

The greater total support surface area provided by the support surfaces 115, 125, 135, 145, 155 and 165 tends to more evenly distribute, to the floor or other load-bearing surface, the load of the goods that are stacked onto a pallet. The increased total surface area within the support legs 110-160 also allows the load to be more evenly distributed when a pallet is stacked upon the goods carried by another pallet. Such double stacking occurs when loads are stored in a warehouse, or are placed onto a tractor trailer or a shipping container.

In general, as shown in FIGS. 1-9, the protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 are generally semi-circular in shape, as are the protrusions 118, 138 and 158. However, it should be appreciated that any desired and appropriate shape, such as a part of a circle, a part of an oval or an ellipse, or a section of a polygon can be used for the various protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 and/or the various secondary protrusions 118, 138 and 158. It should also be appreciated that the protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 and/or the secondary protrusions 118, 138 and 158 do not need to all have the same shape. It should be appreciated that any desired shape that can be appropriately connected to the side walls of the support leg or to the primary protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 can be used for the primary protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 or the secondary protrusions 118, 138 and 158, respectively. If a polygonal shape is used, the vertices can be either sharp or rounded.

It should be appreciated that the protrusions 116, 126, 136 and 146 help the pallet resist bending of the walls of the support legs when the pallet is loaded. These protrusions also increase the deck surface area. As outlined above, some of the support legs, such as the support legs 110, 130 and 150, have a web formed between the secondary protrusions. This tends to increase strength by preventing the support leg walls from flexing when a load is applied to the pallet. The secondary protrusions and/or the webs also can act as anti-jam elements that keep empty pallets from sticking together when nested. The narrow annular support leg 150 generally stiffens the support deck and decreases deflection of the support deck. The relatively narrow channels 172 and 174 act as stiffening ribs near the center of the pallet.

It should also be appreciated that, while various ones of the support legs 110-140 are described as having various shapes and structures, these support legs 110-140 need not have the exact shapes shown in the embodiment outlined with respect to FIGS. 1-4. Thus, it is possible that different ones of the support legs have the lower protrusions and/or are positioned in different locations around the periphery of a pallet.

It should further be appreciated that the support legs 110-160 are configured such that the tines of a forklift may access the pallet 100 near the periphery. This forces the majority of the unsupported load to be carried between the two tines of the forklift, which is the stiffer section of the pallet due to the narrow leg mentioned above. This results in a more stable load, as the strongest portion of the pallet carries the majority of the weight. Any deflection of the pallet is thus likely to be toward the center of the pallet, forcing the load to shift toward the center of the pallet rather than outward away from the pallet. The various channels 172 and 174 create bridges between the support legs 110-160. These bridges or channels 172 and 174 are positioned such that they will tend to resist bending when the pallet 100 is resting on the floor or is being transported by a forklift.

Test pallets that are 40 inches wide by 48 inches long were made according to the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-9 out of thermoformable plastic sheets having initial nominal thicknesses of 0.150 inches and 0.200 inches. In these test pallets, the fork clearance, i.e., the height between the ground on which the support legs 110-160 rest and the bottom of the channels 172 and 174 and/or the edge 175, whichever is lower, is about two inches. The distance between the tops of the channels 172 and 174 and the top of the deck surface 102 and the height of the edge 175 are both about 1.5 inches. Accordingly, the total profile height of the test pallets is about 3 inches to about 3.5 inches, which is less than the total profile height of similarly-sized conventional plastic pallets and the total profile height of similarly-sized conventional wood pallets, which have total profile heights of about 4.5 inches and about 6 inches, respectively.

While this invention has been described in conjunction with the exemplary embodiments outlined above, various alternatives, modifications, variations, improvements and/or substantial equivalents, whether known or that are or may be presently foreseen, may become apparent to those having at least ordinary skill in the art. Accordingly, the exemplary embodiments of the invention, as set forth above, are intended to be illustrative, not limiting. Various changes may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention. Therefore, the invention is intended to embrace all known or earlier developed alternatives, modifications, variations, improvements and/or substantial equivalents.