How to Ship Anything – A Guide to the Freight Industry

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Custom Pallets | San Diego, CA | Box Brothers San Diego

This guide will have you fully prepared when the truck arrives.

If you are reading this guide, the chances are that you have not shipped before, or you are new to how the process works; however, you could be part of a warehouse crew and are familiar with most of this stuff already. This guide will cover all of the cornerstones of the freight industry and will map out the road to preparedness for shippers. For people who have less than 150 pounds (68 kilograms) in total commodity weight (something in a small box), service has to be requested from a parcel carrier such as UPS, FedEx, or DHX. Small items for parcel carriers are not the subject of this shipping guide. This is about shipping pallets, crates, and big trucks carrying big things. The shipping industry is highly detail-oriented, and it is important to be ready in full confidence by getting an understanding of how to be ready to ship your items effectively.

I: Short Glossary of Essential Terms

shipper – the origin party to the shipment from where the freight is picking up.
consignee – the destination/receiving party where the freight is delivering.
freight class – the rating assigned to LTL shipments based upon density
density – the amount of space a shipment occupies (a measurement in pounds per cubic foot)
FTL – full truckload
LTL – less than truck load

II: What type of truck is required?

There may be vehicle and trailer requirements depending on the weight and dimensions of the commodity being transported. There are many various types of trailers that are attached to the truck. For example, a flatbed is an open air platform with no covering. Also, a step-deck flatbed has a lowered center so as to acquire enough vertical space for tall items in order to clear bridges. A dry van is the most typical type of enclosed trailer, which is what you would consider to be a typical semi-truck trailer or commonly called a 53-foot van. Many smaller delivery box trucks of 40′ or 24′ in length are more accessible for small business and residential deliveries where a longer vehicle attempting to exit a tight street/facility access is difficult and dangerous.

The weight and dimensions of the load will determine whether the shipment is a full truckload (FTL), a less than truckload (LTL), or a volume/partial truckload (VPTL or PTL). A shipment totaling only a few pallets or a few crates, generally not using more than 10 to 16 feet of trailer space (depending on carrier), means that your shipment qualifies as LTL. These types of shipments require your commodity be assigned a freight class via an item classification system. Note for FTL or flatbed customers, prepare to make arrangements to load and unload the shipment from the truck especially if the desired goal is to save money. The maximum weight for a truckload is usually around 40 to 44 thousand pounds (18 to ~20 thousand kilograms ). If your shipment occupies 12-14 linear feet or more of trailer space, then it qualifies as a volume or partial load.

III: Getting ready to ship

a. Do you need to palletize or crate your item?

The first step to preparing for a shipment is selecting a handling unit that allows for your item(s) to be transported efficiently and safely. A handling unit is considered a forklift-ready preparation of the item to be shipped with. Oftentimes, the slot where forklifts and pallet jacks are inserted under the freight is called “cribbing”. In a lot of cases, however, large items to be loaded on a flatbed truck can just be hoisted on to the truck with a forklift or other loading equipment and moved as a piece and strapped to the platform appropriately (and possibly even covered with tarps for weather protection). Sometimes, ramps may even be available to drive or move vehicles or equipment on to the truck bed. In general cases when you need to palletize the shipment, standard pallets most commonly suffice to accommodate the handling of the items, but the following is an extensive list of the types of shipping handling units:

– Pallets, also known as skids, are forklift-maneuverable platforms, the standard sizes being 40″ x 48″ or 48″ x 48″ (length by width) and most commonly composed of plywood, though metal pallets are often used, too. They are usually about 40 pounds in weight. One can easily locate them behind most retail outlets or shopping centers, and they can also be obtained for free at other places. A general rule when loading your pallet is to not try to stack up the pallets any taller than 6-8 feet. Shrink wrap and/or straps are then commonly used to secure the items to the pallet. We recommend the items always boxed up or covered with cardboard. In the example of engines, motor, and transmissions, a standard pallet with straps will usually suffice perfectly.

– Crates are forklift-maneuverable plywood boxes constructed by either the shipper or appropriate local crating service or even purchased from a vendor of pre-assembled crates. Crating is frequently necessary for furniture like sofas and couches and is a logical practice in order to protect any bulky or delicate items during the shipping process. Open crates are sometimes used as well, which is a box of wood framed around the item(s) on the pallet instead of completely enclosed in plywood as with a normal crate. Further, the crate’s contents more than likely need to be secured or strapped down inside as well.

– Carton is the industry term for cardboard boxes for the items. It’s not often, but sometimes a carrier will accept a loose box or two without palletizing.

– Containers are metal trailers that are loaded onto flatbed trucks and most often used in international shipping. When your item moves by sea and doesn’t occupy a full container, it is consolidated with other items inside of a container. When the container is moved short distances (for example, from the port), this is called drayage.

– Reels are used for wire, cable, and other wrapped material. They are usually placed on the truck as a standalone piece, but if there is a significant quantity of them or weigh over 75 pounds (about 34 kilograms), they will need to be palletized prior to dispatch.

– Rolls, similar to reels, are used to move items that are wrapped around like hoses, bubble wrap, etc. Carpet is often shipped as standalone rolls without palletizing.

– Drums and cylinders are great containers to go on top of pallets or small skids- many already have cribbing on them. The only difference between drums and cylinders would be the material it’s made from.

– Tubes are used often for shipments that are not very heavy. The most common ones are made with cardboard, with plastic end caps to hold the items inside. A shipper may want to put some tape over the sealed lids for extra security. Tubes are not shipped very often on LTL carriers. This is mainly used to ship via parcel carriers.

– Totes are similar to buckets, typically made of a plastic derivative with the cribbing prepared at the bottom for forklift and pallet jack access.

– Loose pieces are not usually allowed by LTL carriers as a pallet provides stability from pieces bouncing around in a truck and getting damaged. This is usually just listed on the shipping documentation and confirmed by the carrier for acceptance. The items may have wheels and are loaded on the truck as they are. Pieces are also counted by how many boxes are being shipped or the number of objects inside a box.

b. Shipment is ready!

So far, we have mentioned several different types of preparations for shipping, but learning to think with a mindset in terms of item protection and logistics will improve your overall experience in shipping. Learn to realize when ramps on a flatbed are required to load, say, golf carts (or other wheeled items or vehicles) on to the truck. Another scenario might demand a step deck truck if the freight is 9 feet in height or even a little taller. Putting the freight in cardboard boxes and strapping pallet is often a great and simple way to ship. There are even foam packing materials you can stuff inside the packaging for extra protection. Definitely recommended! We also suggest strapping or tying down the freight as well. For furniture shippers, another great solution is to get some foam furniture pads to strap to your pieces on the pallet for protection. Sometimes, people place blankets over the surface of the items for protection purposes. Again, in any LTL shipment, the freight shall be secured on to the skid or made forklift-ready with another handling unit prior to time of pickup. In FTL shipments, the shipper needs to be prepared to load and unload with a logistics strategy for such.

Now you have decided the appropriate way to ship. Your freight is secured and ready to be loaded. Choosing the right handling unit, packing the shipment appropriately, and choosing any necessary special services are the most integral stages of being prepared to ship. People need to be innovative as to any packing materials they utilize for protecting the commodity. It’s important to keep safety of the cargo in mind and to allow proper time to prepare for shipping. Later on we will discuss comprehensive liability insurance options, but now, let’s discuss what constitutes a special service.

c. Weighing and measuring the shipment

Obtaining a precise weight measurement for the freight can often present difficulties as LTL carriers price shipments based upon the weight as well as the freight class. You may be a shipping veteran reading this article with an industrial weight scale at your skid shipping warehouse, so this may be a topic you are familiar with, but residential shippers do not often have access to a scale, and we have some tips on how to obtain an accurate weight measurement. Try locating the details of any and all model numbers for your products online, and a weight measurement may be found. In cases when you only have boxes to palletize, stand on a scale and weigh yourself first. Then, stand on the scale with boxes and subtract your body weight from the measurement, and you can target an accurate weight that way. Remember, the pallet will add about 40 pounds to the shipment, and crates may add up to or even more than 50-60 pounds. When you have your shipment prepared, it is time to bring out the tape measure and obtain the length, width, and height (L x W x H).

d. Special services

The industry is shaped around a regular model of business-to-business shipments. Anything else required is typically assessed in an accessorial surcharge. There are a number of accessorial types such as liftgates, residential service, inside pickups & deliveries, limited access entry, or appointment surcharges.

The prime example of this is for those who require a method to load the items on or off of the truck will need to order a hydraulic liftgate, which is a steel mechanical platform on the back of a truck. If a liftgate has been requested, the truck driver will come equipped with a pallet jack, another type of heavy lifting device used by LTL carriers used to wheel the freight into the proper position for loading/unloading. If the shipment is light enough to be lifted manually on to the truck or the shipper has a forklift or other hoisting device, customers can forego this excess cost.

Residential pickups and deliveries mean an automatic appointment is scheduled to ensure the someone is present at time of service and usually imply that a liftgate truck will be required as well. Carriers will sometime send a smaller, 24-foot truck to accommodate the tighter turns associated with residential streets; however, this is not always the case. You may also have your freight ready in your garage (as long as there aren’t any huge hills on the driveway).

Another accessorial is classified as an inside pickup or delivery when the truck driver is asked to enter inside a building for pickup or delivery when the freight is not prepared at the roadside or the loading dock.

Oftentimes, trucks are requested to enter into limited access areas like storage facilities, schools, farms, churches, prisons, and other places with gated entry. As a visit to a construction site or trade show may be classified distinctly, it is still comparable in nature and costs nearly the same.

When the commodity needs to stay chilled or even frozen, this may require a refrigerated truck (also known as “reefer”) if you need to ship with multimodal shipping services, which lowers carrier availability and raises fuel and resource requirements. The use of dry ice for a pallet or two may help you circumvent excess costs of frozen shipping while still keeping your items chilled during transit.

Appointments for pickups and/or deliveries are included in residential service fees, but you should have the means to determine if there will be a small extra cost from the carrier. Usually, a call can be made to the consignee for delivery within 30 minutes to an hour prior to truck arrival, but if you wish to hold it for appointment time, you will get a phone call and a precise time for pickup, instead of a 3-4 hour time window.

There are special regulations when shipping hazardous materials (HAZMAT). Anything that is considered flammable receives a small HAZMAT charge, and documentation will be needed to determine the UN (United Nations) number. Any active batteries will also need to be disconnected prior to pickup. Paint, fertilizer, glue and sealants, ammonia, or oil are all examples of commodities that are classified as HAZMAT.

Comprehensive insurance policies may be purchased to secure yourself against damages and losses. For new items, the liability included with a basic freight quote is set at $10/pound. For used or pre-owned items, that figure comes down to about $.10/pound. It’s important to ensure that you have accounted for the value of the commodity. Remember, the freight must still be prepared/palletized for shipping to qualify for coverage. Also, don’t forget to inspect for damages on arrival and notate anything visible to the delivery receipt when signing at delivery time.

Occasionally, companies will ship over maximum weight and over-dimensional objects. These may require permits and, if applicable, police escorts for the driver. These are only in certain, special cases when the shipment is huge or occupies over 8 feet in width.

e. International ocean & air shipping

International freight usually transports via ocean container to save the most on freight costs. This is referred to as FCL (full containerized load) and LCL (less than containerized load). Container ship freight as well as air freight are rated by volume in cubic meters except to Hawaii and other major U.S. island freight lanes which are rated in cubic feet. Alaska is a notable exception for which freight is rated by the pound in the busy ocean barge lanes between Seattle-Tacoma harbors to Alaska’s major port cities. Air cargo is frequently used on products that must be expedited to prevent business loss due to delays in other modes of freight transportation and is more expensive than shipping by boat; however, this still requires business days transit times on both ends, unlike airline passenger traffic. Air cargo uses different volume-based measurements depending on the carrier but are basically calculated from cubic centimeters or inches.

When shipping internationally, the main added element to be understood is importation costs which is assumed by the Importer of Record (generally the consignee), but this could be a third party as well. Often the actual freight charges are less than the combined import costs of the destination charges paid by the consignee in local currency and customs, duties, and local sales tax in addition to a customs broker’s service fees. Clearly, these larger set of details and costs are dependent on the country of import in addition to the carrier. It’s often required and best advised to use a local customs broker when importing in order to correctly assess total import costs with duties and taxes in addition to properly filing entry paperwork with the government of the country of import.

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