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Part 2: The Palletizing Process

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Many of the objects were damaged due to storage in the poorest of conditions without humidity and temperature controls, collapsed storage containers, and limited pest management. As a result, all were fumigated (most with C02, some with Vikane) prior to transfer to the palletization work area.

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Before we began actual palletization of objects, technical staff detailed by the Move Office to work on the project received basic wood working training at the SI Office of Exhibits Central as many wood working skills transfer to working with aluminum. In addition, all staff received rigging training and forklift operation training. Transfer of some of the oversized collections to the palletization work area presented challenges because of their size.

Once in the palletization work area each object was reviewed for condition and fragility and lightly cleaned using a HEPA vacuum with a variety of attachments. Each object was then palletized addressing its unique and individual concerns. Generally the following steps were adhered to:

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Each object was first weighed and measured. A digital pallet jack scale was typically used to weigh each object. Accurate weight was necessary to determine the correct number of foam cushions needed to provide proper cushioning (optimum loading per square inch). We chose a 36” drop height and 50 G fragility to calculate this using the Dow Ethafoam™ dynamic cushioning curves. Storage orientation was determined based on the condition of each object, but the “normal, in use” orientation was preferred to accommodate ease of researcher access. An object’s specific needs were addressed in the pallet design. The operating rule of thumb was "the less handling needed during access and the less handling, the less chance for damage."

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Once the proper number and height of foam cushions was determined for each object, customized cushions were cut using a band saw.

Object/foam contact was accurately determined using contour gauges and then cut to precisely fit each object. Depending on the condition of object surfaces, each foam cushion was padded with polyester batting and Pellon® and then covered with polyester pongee.  Fabrication of the padded cushions was a painstaking process in order to assure a neatly finished product
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The position of the foam cushions was taped off on the pallet surface using 3M low adhesive painter’s tape to guide the application of the adhesive. The cushions were adhered using 3M High Strength 90 adhesive and were additionally secured using pop riveted metal reinforcement ties. Framing to support a Nomex® drape and bracing to secure objects in place were individually designed. Frame parts and bracing were cut from aluminum stock with a carbide tipped miter saw. Metal edges and corners were smoothed and polished using a modified belt sander.
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Pieces of the frame and braces were assembled using aluminum pop rivets and a compressed air powered rivet gun Corners were triple riveted for strength and security. Frames were designed to allow for adequate clearance above each object, as well as sides and ends.


The frames were designed to be lightweight and easily removed and reattached to pallets. They were either secured to pallets with web strapping or were bolted to pallets at all corners. All frames were labeled on two opposing corners usually with letters “A” and “B”, as were the pallets, to facilitate proper orientation of the frame on the pallet after disassembly. The frame above has a standard arched construction on the top that will support a Nomex® drape and will facilitate the shedding of water if necessary. This construction also prevents the stacking of pallets, a common occurrence when storage space becomes limited and a situation in which objects are frequently damaged.

pod4_20_tn.jpgIf needed, padded bracing was attached to the frame and could be designed to provide stabilization from the top. Padded end stops and/or side stops also could be secured to the pallet itself, restricting movement of objects and causing no damaging point pressure.

Each pallet was measured for a custom fit Nomex® drape that was individually fabricated using a variety of Bernina overlocker/sergers and industrial sewing machines. Most drapes were designed to easily cap over the frame while others were designed with a side flap to facilitate ease of opening and removal.


The drape was secured to the pallet along the bottom edge using 6 to 8 inch strips of 3-inch wide Velcro®, one piece stitched to the drape and the opposing piece adhered to the pallet with High Strength 90 adhesive additionally secured with pop rivets. The Velcro® strips are spaced no more than 24 inches apart to ensure adequate covering. Each draped was permanently marked with the catalog number of the object(s) on each pallet, the pallet number, and two opposing corner markings (usually “A” and “B”) that correspond to the similar pallet markings to aid in the re-draping of pallets.

Upon completion each pallet underwent a quality control evaluation with the project conservator prior to storage. Pallets were reviewed for adequate riveting, neatness of foam covering, rough surfaces that could snag the drape or cut a collections handler, adequate object support, orientation markings to assure proper return of objects to pallets, and preparation of handling instructions for removal and return of objects to pallets. A condition report also was added by the conservator to this set of instructions. A packet of specific information was attached to each pallet for future reference and included an object handling instruction sheet, the quality control final checklist, a cushioning worksheet, and other pallet instructions.

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pod4_30_tn.jpgLastly, a barcode was added to the pallet and a digital image was taken for the database that would track the storage location of each pallet and would provide necessary information such as weight and the center of gravity for unevenly loaded pallets to the future forklift operator asked to retrieve pallets from the racking system. Finally, each pallet was fork lifted into its storage location in the racking system.



Examples of completed pallets

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Nicaraguan stone carving weighing 800 lbs.
Thai manusxcript cabinet, gilt and laquered. 1581 lbs.
Tibetan "Goddess of Mercy." Gilt lacquer. 101 lbs.


This project could not have been accomplished without the initial assistance of Craig Huzway, Exhibits Specialist of Office of Exhibits Central, whose ingenuity helped guide our preliminary concepts during the first several years of the project and a dedicated and endlessly creative Move staff including Joel Allen, Criis Geer Chagnon, Deb Chory, Mike Frank, Leann Lewis, Patrick Martin, and Richard Stoyer. Many of the images were provided by the Move staff.


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