How to Pack Freight and Pallets


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Freight is considered anything too large to be shipped on a small parcel truck such as FEDEX, UPS, DHL and US Postal Service. Small Parcel Maximums are as follows:

The maximum size allowed on USPS is the combination of girth, the distance around the two smallest measurements, plus the third measurement called length cannot exceed 130 inches on Standard Post and 108 inches on their priority services in the US and 79 inches and 108 inches internationally, depending on the country. The maximum weight allowed on US Post Office is 70 lbs.

The maximum size allowed on FedEx and United Parcel Service is no single measurement can exceed 108 inches in length and the combination of girth, the distance around the two smallest measurements, plus the third measurement called length cannot exceed 165 inches. The maximum weight allowed on FedEx and UPS is 150 lbs. The maximum size for DHL shipments is 120 x 120 x 150 cm and maximum weight is 70 kg. These three companies offer freight services which we will talk about now.

When it comes to shipping freight, size, weight, climate and general handling issues come into play because often it takes multiple vehicles to deliver your goods to their final destination. Freight shipments should be on a pallet, skid, or other forklift able and pallet-jack able base with a minimum clearance of 3-1/2″ for access, and should be stackable. A surcharge can apply to any piece, skid, or pallet of a FedEx Express freight shipment that is not stackable, in excess of 119″ long, or 80″ wide.. Pallet-jack entry is required on two sides of the base. Pieces should be banded to the skid with either metal strapping or unbreakable plastic straps applied around the box or skid freight on all sides. Hardened containers (plywood, metal) that are not banded should have an exterior lock or clamp. (Glue, nails and screws are not sufficient.)

Each pallet needs to have a ship to and a ship from label on it. Make sure there is a phone number(s) to reach the recipient. If multiple pieces, each label should say 1 of 2, 2 of 2. This address label is a back-up label and should be attached securely to the freight, not the shrink wrap that can become ripped.

The recipient should be aware of the shipment and prepared for receiving.   Normally, the driver will not attempt a residential delivery without first contacting the recipient. It is important that the recipient is reachable and flexible for meeting the truck or the shipper may start charging storage fees. Deliveries are normally not made inside a residential location due to insurance reasons. Therefore, if there is inclement weather, there should be a place to protect the pallet at the time of drop off.

When shipping Air Freight, temperatures vary depending on the type of aircraft, the location of each cargo compartment and the package location within each compartment, the length of flight, and the cruising altitude. For general reference, temperatures aboard most wide-body aircraft main cargo compartments vary between 65 F (18 C) and 90 F (32 C). Packages positioned in the bulk compartment, next to the aircraft’s outer structure, might be exposed to temperatures as low as 0 F (-18 C) during flight. Air pressures on FedEx Express aircraft vary from as low as 8.3 psi at cruise altitude to as much as 14.7 psi on the ground.

The cargo areas of our trucks are not temperature controlled, and temperature will vary depending on time of year, location, exposure to sunlight and other variables. In summer months, the temperature in the cargo area can be as much as 30 degrees higher than the ambient temperature outside the vehicle.

Your freight shipment will likely face forklifts, conveyor belts and multiple transport vehicles along its way to its final destination, so in addition to size, weight and climate recommendations, proper packaging also helps cushion goods to withstand ordinary care in handling. In addition, freight trucks experience continuous vibration when driving, so shock absorption materials either on the skid or inside the containers are suggested.

Don’t overhang the pallet with packaged products, because it can reduce compression strength by as much as 32 percent. Plus it subjects packages to tears, punctures and other impacts due to normal handling and sorting.

Standard Wood Pallets typically measures 40″ by 48″ and features four-way entry capabilities. Pallet minimums – 27″ minimum width, 3-1/2″ minimum height for pallet-jack entry. The pallet should be designed with adequate top board spacing so forklift blades will not impact the freight being shipped. It can be designed to carry heavy or light loads. If you are shipping your goods internationally, some countries require the wood used in pallets or crating to be treated with chemicals or heat to avoid possible pest infestation. For the latest regulations and information on shipping with wood packaging materials, go to www.usda.gov and enter the search words “wood packaging materials.”

Plastic Pallets are a viable alternative to wood pallets, plastic pallets are typically more expensive, but they are also reusable. The solid bottom deck often protects the bottom from forklift damage and helps support the load of the products stacked on it. However, the plastic surface is often slippery, which makes fastening or blocking products to prevent movement more difficult. And because plastic pallets weigh more than wood pallets, they may not be the best option if weight is a consideration.

Corrugated Pallets are not recommended because corrugated pallets are lightweight, easily recycled and preferred by some countries that restrict wood pallets, some shippers opt to use them. However, moisture often causes the corrugate to degrade, and side-to-side strength is compromised. They simply do not stand up to the rigors of the transportation environment, so corrugated pallets are not recommended.

Wood Pallets without Bottom Boards are not recommended because they do not distribute weight evenly, the stringers can warp or turn in, and side-to-side strength is compromised. These pallets simply do not stand up to the rigors of the transportation environment, so we do not recommend them.

Block-Style Pallets, which are popular more in Europe and Asia bur are growing in use here in the United States, are not recommended as the majority of pallets manufactured in Asia are made from processed wood, which lacks the sturdiness and strength of a natural-wood pallet. This pallet style does not hold up to the rigors of the transportation environment and is not recommended. If you do choose to use this pallet design, make sure it is built to hold the weight of the product, from materials that will make it sturdy and resistant to many touch points in the transportation environment.

Wood Crates and Wood crating, if constructed properly from quality lumber, can help protect your product. Preferred material is plywood, not oriented strand board (OSB),medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or particleboard. Knots should be limited, and fasteners should not be anchored in knots or other defective areas of the plywood. Diagonal braces can be used on each panel to increase the strength and integrity of the crate. It’s true that diagonal braces can have a dramatic effect on the strength of your crate. But more often than not, the way the wood is used is more important than how much wood is used. When building corners and diagonal braces, avoid weak designs and aim for the stronger construction.

Shock and vibration forces naturally occur during carriage of your goods throughout the shipping process; consequently, most products require some form of cushioning to protect them. Blocking and bracing are also important for larger single-item products that cannot be boxed or crated. To effectively stabilize your shipment, remember to choose the type and size of lumber that’s appropriate for the weight of your shipment.

Foam Cushioning – When developing crates or packaging for your palletized shipments, foam is a natural option for cushioning. As part of the end design, it should be engineered to provide the foam density required to protect the fragility level of the product.

Wood Blocking – A blocking material such as wood, fastened to prevent any movement, when shipping single heavy goods. The blocking should be placed tightly against the object with a goal of keeping it in a fixed position during all transportation and handling. As a general rule, blocking requires a minimum of two fasteners in each end to prevent pivoting and maintain adequate strength.

Bracing – Items that can roll or shift during transportation due to their shape should be braced on a forkliftable pallet base for shipping. These blocking-strength recommendations are critical when it comes to ensuring stationary orientation during shipping. Your selection of lumber should be based on the product that you are bracing and its weight. As the shipping weight increases, the grade and thickness of the bracing lumber should increase. As an example, No. 3 or utility-grade lumber is often used to construct pallets and for bracing materials. However, if the product you are shipping is very heavy, you should choose a better grade of wood, like a No. 1 or No. 2 grade (construction grade), for proper protection.

Banding and Stretch Wrapping – Typically, any damage during transit to palletized corrugated boxes occurs because the shipment was improperly stacked, bundled or secured for transport. This is a particular issue with retail goods such as TVs and DVD players. If there is cosmetic carton damage, the customer is likely to assume the contents are also damaged. As discussed earlier, pallet strength and stacking play an important role in freight shipment integrity.

Load and bottom load-protector pads(corrugated pad/tray) and Edge Boards help reduce damage to top and bottom layers of your shipment. They also help distribute the weight of top loaded freight. Bottom load protectors provide a level surface and help keep boxes from slipping into the gap between the boards on the pallet. Corner or edge boards should run the full length of the stack to help stabilize the load, increase vertical stacking strength and reduce damage to box edges that make up the load corners.

Banding is typically used to secure the bundled load to the pallet. You should band corrugated stacks on each side as shown. As a general rule, keep the banding close to the load to avoid exposure, damage or breakage. Individual pieces over 150 lbs. and large boxes and containers should be secured on all sides with heavy-duty steel, rayon, polypropylene, nylon or polyester strapping.

Stretchwrap film is critical for bundling loads and also for securing and protecting large individual pieces of freight (e.g., shelf-ready electronic components). Wrap freight tightly to prevent load shifting. Use 70-gauge stretchwrap that sticks to itself so it can be wipe-sealed as it is applied to the stack. When machine wrapping, spiral wrap the cartons with a minimum 50 percent overlap. Proper application includes a 3″ overlap over the top of the pallet base and a 3″ overlap at the top of the stack. To manually apply stretch wrap, tuck the lead wrap between the pallet and the bottom box. Spiral around the boxes in an upward direction, overlapping the film by 50 percent. When you reach the top, stretch the film diagonally over the top corners with a 3″ overlap to anchor the stack vertically before spiraling back to the bottom to finish the load with a 3″ overlap of the pallet base.

For tires band and stretchwrap a tire or multiple tires to a pallet for freight shipping. FedEx Packaging Services also recommends an anti-skid surface for tall stacks to reduce product movement. To complete your shipment, use a tie-on tag or a tire/crate label.

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