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A better pallet

Airmen secure a palletUDRI to design recyclable cargo pallet for Air Force, advantages include cost-savings, environmental benefits

The University of Dayton Research Institute has been awarded a $1.25 million Rapid Innovation Fund award to develop a next-generation, fully-recyclable cargo pallet for the Department of Defense cargo transport fleet. The pallet will be designed to provide cost-savings to the Air Force, be less damaging to the environment than the current model, and create a more competitive manufacturing market.

Under the 21-month Air Force contract, researchers will design, prototype and qualify an all-aluminum cargo pallet for use in transport aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy. The new pallet could potentially replace the current pallet, which is made of aluminum with a balsa-wood core, said Dan Bowman, a distinguished research engineer in UDRI’s Aerospace Mechanics division. The current pallet is the “workhorse of the cargo transport system” and has served its purpose well, but needs updated because of maintenance costs and service-life limitations related to the current design, Bowman said, adding that there are between 200,000 and 250,000 pallets in use at any given time.

 “The current design is about­­ 50 years old, and pallets last about five years before needing repaired,” said Bowman, who serves as group leader for System Sustainment and Engineering. “The problem is that the cost to refurbish represents a high percentage of the cost to build a new pallet. We knew we could design a pallet that would substantially increase that service life. We also anticipate that our design will be less expensive to manufacture.­­

“Because the new pallet will not have a wood core, it will be 100-percent recyclable, eliminating the need for refurbishing.” The non-wood, recyclable nature of the pallet also makes it better for the environment, as does the absence of adhesive in the design, Bowman said. “The process to prepare the aluminum for adhesive bonding, as well as the adhesive itself, create a hazardous waste stream. Our design will eliminate that waste stream.”

Removing adhesives from the design will also allow a greater number of manufacturers to compete for future pallet-manufacturing contracts, Bowman said. The technical data package we ultimately deliver to the Air Force will provide everything a manufacturer will need to know to build pallets using the new design.”

Department of Defense cargo pallets are 88 inches by 108 inches, a standard size to work with handling equipment and the rail systems currently in place on transport aircraft. Current pallets weigh just under 300 pounds and can carry a 5-ton load. The new pallets will have the same nominal weight as the current design and will have the same load capacity.

Jan. 5, 2015

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