three stakes of pallets

How to Prepare and Palletize Shipments

How to Prepare LTL Shipments

Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) shipping depends on quickly and efficiently combining and recombining freight from different sources as it flows through a network of trucks and warehouses on its path to final delivery. Most often, this is accomplished by properly and efficiently assembling pallets of goods, which is why there are roughly 1.4 billion reusable pallets in circulation in the United States. 

Many entrepreneurs who are new to moving goods by LTL shipping rather than parcel service have little experience of freight handling, and shippers can be their own worst enemy. Palletizing freight converts many smaller products into a single, strong, and protected unit that is easily moved. This guide provides important background information and instructions on how to properly palletize freight so that it can be safely and efficiently shipped. 

Shipping on pallets costs more upfront but becomes cost-effective and efficient once prevented loss and damage are added into the equation. Some freight carriers will even refuse to ship your cargo if it is not palletized.

Details matter. The difference between correctly and incorrectly palletizing freight can be the difference between successful, cost-effective delivery to a pleased customer and lost items, damaged goods, and angry end-users.

Pallets are important to moving LTL freight because they:

  • Separate freight from many different sources into easily movable units. Pallets are designed to be moved by forklifts, which can easily load and unload trucks and containers and move at loading docks and store in multiple story shelves at warehouses. 
  • Reduce damage by providing a solid base for a consolidated, secure shipment.
  • Increase profit margins by efficiently packing goods in order to reduce volume and optimize freight class.
  • Pallet barcode IDs enable easier tracking and counting through the network of trucks and warehouses involved in LTL shipping.

It is important that you prepare your shipments properly in order to minimize the risk of loss or damage. Not only is the intact shipment at risk, but also your ability to receive compensation from the freight carrier on a claim in the event that there are problems. The freight carrier’s responsibility is to move the cargo from here to there, not correctly package it. 

a pile of cardboard boxes

Three Things You Need to Know about Boxes

  1. Make sure the boxes are strong enough to withstand stacking, starting with the age of the box. Corrugated fiberboard boxes lose up to 50% of their structural strength after only six months, and don’t maintain enough integrity to be reused.
  2. Look for the Box Maker’s Certificate (BMC) on the bottom flaps of the box, which will tell you the maximum size and weight which the box is designed to hold. If your load exceeds those limits and is damaged, it can result in a denied claim.
  3. Boxes should be packed fully, eliminating any empty space in order to avoid crushing and damaging within. Boxes can be cut to size or filled with packing materials such as bubble wrap or peanuts. Make sure each box is securely sealed

Shipping Pallets 101 

Wood pallets constructed out of southern pine or oak make up 95% of the pallets circulating in the United States. The most prevalent dimension for pallets is 40” x 48” x 6”, followed by 42” x 42” x 6” and 48” x 48” x 6”. 

Metal, plastic, and cardboard pallets are also available and may be more appropriate for specific types of loads. Cardboard pallets are much lighter and safer for workers due to the absence of nails but are also less robust. Metal or plastic pallets may or may not be a good investment for strength and reusability, despite a higher per-unit cost, depending on the type of cargo.

There are two common designs for wooden pallets. Stringer pallets have three long pieces of wood (stringers) running perpendicular to the top and bottom deck boards and are accessible for a forklift or powerjack on two sides. These are slightly less convenient for forklifts, and stringer pallets are usually used for lighter loads.

Block pallets support the top and bottom deckboards of the pallet with wooden blocks on the sides and middles of each edge. They are accessible for a forklift or powerjack on four sides and are usually used for heavier loads, as they provide a more solid support for the deck boards. They can cost twice as much as stringer pallets, and are more to repair, but are more easily handled, lowering the risk of damage.

The dimensions of pallets matter. Be careful to choose a pallet that fits your load – too small and your freight will be damaged, too large, and you will pay more than you need for shipping. Density calculations for the cost of moving freight use the maximum dimensions on all sides of a cube, so an unnecessarily large base will mean you are paying a lot more to ship empty volume. 

If you are constructing your own pallets, be sure to use commonly used dimensions to ensure that warehouses and trucks can neatly and easily incorporate your palletized loads into their space.

Never use pallets with broken boards, protruding nails, large knots, moisture damage, splintering, decay, etc. as these can result in worker injuries and damaged goods. Also be on the lookout to avoid pallets with widely spaced deck boards, which can lead to damage where boxes or other items at the base of the palletized load are not structurally supported along their bottom edges and corners. 

Make sure the type of pallet is rated correctly for the weight of the load. If your load is heavier, take care that you are familiar with the weight rating of the pallets you choose. Loads that are too heavy for their pallets can result in injuries and damages if the pallets break, and shipping companies may refuse to take them at all.

Five Key Palletizing Principles

1. Distribute Weight Evenly  

Put down a slip sheet over the pallet, or at least avoid resting the corners and edges of boxes between the pallet boards. Slip sheets are thin, pallet-sized sheets of fiberboard or plastic that protect the bottom layer from damage, and help distribute weight more evenly. As far as possible, use all of the surfaces of the pallet, distributing weight horizontally rather than vertically. Place heavier items lower, and avoid a load that is unbalanced and heavier on one side. Place flat cardboard pieces or another type of slipcover every two or three rows to help distribute weight above more evenly over the area of the boxes below.

2. Boxes Are Strong At The Corners

Stack boxes of uniform sizes and in columns where possible. The structural strength of a box is located at its corners, and stacking corner to corner allows boxes to better support weight above them. 

3. Protect Outer Surfaces

Put down a flat cardboard piece or slip sheet beneath and on top of the load if possible for protection. Use edge boards to strengthen the structure of the pallet as a consolidated unit.

4. Secure the Consolidated Load

Wrap the pallet load in 60 to 70 gauge shrink wrap 3 to 5 times. Tuck the end of the wrap between a bottom box and the pallet, then spiral upwards with a 50% overlap. Every other rotation, twist the wrap to give it more strength. At the top, similarly spiral back downwards, including the top of the pallet in order to secure the load to the pallet. Leave room for forklift accessibility. Secure the palletized load with an appropriate strapping or banding (poly cord, polyester, polypropylene, stainless steel, etc.) drawn tightly and run underneath the top deck boards of the pallet. If a slip sheet, or edge protectors or corner boards are not protecting the load from the strapping, insert protective slips at corners so that the boxes are not damaged as the strapping is tightened.

5. Label Appropriately

On all external sides of the palletized loads, pieces within the load may not be visible through the shrink wrap even if they are clearly labeled. Include any special warnings about factors such as fragility, liquids, hazardous materials, temperature sensitivity, and excessive weight along with the contact information of the shipper and consignee and appropriate information from the Bill of Lading. 

Avoid These Four Common Mistakes

  1. Do not use compromised boxes or pallets, or exceed their weight capacity. Money saved using bad or inappropriate shipping materials is lost with interest in damage and unpaid claims.
  2. Do not stack loads incorrectly. It is very common for the higher pieces of loads stacked in a pyramid to tumble and cause damage. Loads stacked more than five feet high, are more likely to topple and create damage. Avoid any protrusions – both on the sides and top of the load anything that sticks out is more likely to take and cause damage. Make sure the load is not overhanging the edge of the pallet, where it will be damaged as it becomes a bumper, banging into other pallet loads.
  3. Do not poorly label a palletized load. This increases its chances of being incorrectly handled, and claims being denied.
  4. Do not pay to ship empty air. Dimensions are a key component of shipping costs, and they are determined by measuring the height, width, and length of a load at their maximum measurable points. If the load is not built on the pallet as compactly as possible, but you pay by cubic volume, you are paying to ship empty space.

Conclusion

Properly palletizing is a key step in safely and efficiently shipping products so that they arrive in satisfactory condition. If delivery is being made to an end customer, consider using a White Glove Delivery Service like ExpressIT which specializes in first and last-mile shipping. If pick-up or delivery will reflect on your brand, it’s important that your LTL service offer dedicated delivery on a flexible, after-hours schedule, inside a home or business, and remove all the packing associated materials. At ExpressIT shipments are inspected prior to delivery, and if damage does occur, pictures are taken and the shipper is contacted to find out how they would like the situation handled.

White Glove services can be especially important for residential delivery to customers at their homes, some of whom may be living alone, elderly, or disabled. For these customers, handling big, bulky products and their packaging with professional support can substantially elevate the brand’s image. This can also apply to a brand’s return policy, where a White Glove service is able to take the pain out of disassembly, packing, and loading.