“Pallet Spear” innovation saves time, enhances safety

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rachel Ingram
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Two innovative 445th Airlift Wing Airmen are at it again. Staff Sgt. Kirk Laytart, 87th Aerial Port Squadron passenger service representative, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Schnaars, 87th APS air freight representative, previously developed creative solutions relating to base facilities, maintenance, and personal protective equipment while on deployment. Now the pair is finalizing a prototype for their Pallet Spear, a tool they designed specifically for Airmen in their career field to build and breakdown tall pallets in austere locations in a safer, quicker manner.

“It’s assistive. It’s not going to replace anything entirely,” said Schnaars, emphasizing that the tool won’t likely have a place of prominence in home station operations because cargo processing warehouses usually have pallet pits, where Airmen can lower a pallet into the floor with a hydraulic lift, and more easily reach the top of tall pallets.

“You’re not taking away the traditional way,” Laytart echoed. “With the Pallet Spear, you’re just adding an additional tool to your arsenal. It’s an alternative for when you’re in an environment where you’d otherwise need to use a ladder.”

It was a ladder that sparked the idea originally. During a unit training assembly last year, Airmen in the 87th APS were building pallets outside the cargo warehouse on skids on the ground. When it came time to put the top net on an 8-foot-tall pallet, the team had only one ladder available.

“It was musical chairs,” Schnaars recalled. “Either you’re hopping up on a ladder and then repositioning it again, and again, and again, until the net is in place, or you grab a Pallet Spear and coax the net over those corners.”

It’s not always a simple process to correctly place a top net, he explained. Sometimes it takes several attempts, physically throwing a net, with its attached metal rings and hooks, up and overhead, before the cargo can be properly secured and tightened down.

This can be a laborious task; the nets are heavy and become easily tangled. Airmen then must untwist the net and its hooks by hand before moving on to the next step.

If a net becomes too twisted, or is off-centered, Airmen may have to pull the net completely off the pallet and start over by spreading the net out on the ground and then tossing it up again.

“After watching Airmen throw top nets three or four times just to build one pallet, you start thinking, there has to be a better way to do this,” Schnaars said.

Beyond promoting time efficiency and reducing physical labor, the Pallet Spear enhances safety on two fronts: reducing both the dependence on ladders, and the subsequent fall hazard, and the risks associated with throwing metal appendages over a large object into a blind spot.

“Usually two or three people work together to build a pallet and attach the nets,” Laytart said. “With the Pallet Spear, you’re alleviating the risk of someone getting hit in the head with a piece of metal flying over the top.”

In developing the Pallet Spear, a process they began in October 2023, Laytart and Schnaars spent about $125 in supplies and 25 man-hours. They plan to share their prototype specifications, and they embrace a collaborative approach to innovation.

“We’ve involved 15 different people in this process of brainstorming and testing,” Schnaars said. “Just whoever was around, we’d invite them into the process and just ask, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’”

For them, this is just the starting point for the Pallet Spear. They are fine tuning the details of the prototype they’ve found works best, but are quick to admit their limitations.

“If this were to be fabricated, I don’t know what the ideal material would be,” Schnaars said. “I settled on wood because that’s a material I’m familiar with and have the tools to work with. Maybe a titanium pole with welded hooks is the better tool. I just don’t have the ability to produce that in my home workshop.

“I would love for someone to see this idea, take it and improve it,” he added. “All we’re trying to do is make something a little bit better.”