Canadian Plastics

Shipping your product — Cube out, or gross out?

By Jim Anderton, Technical Editor   

Manufacturing in our sector is all about "pounds on the ground"... except for the slight additional issue of getting those pounds of parts to your customer.

Manufacturing in our sector is all about “pounds on the ground”… except for the slight additional issue of getting those pounds of parts to your customer.

While shipping rarely affected shop floor operations in the past, the dramatic rise in fuel prices globally has resulted in fuel surcharges and significantly higher shipping costs. If you’re pricing your product “FOB your plant” you won’t notice this cost, but your customer will. How can you reduce the shipping cost risk to successful bidding on your next contract?

Consider your production process. If you’re a typical parts producer, you’re shipping by Gaylord, tote or palletized cartons. And if your parts are large or irregularly shaped, you’re also shipping a significant amount of air. If shipping is calculated strictly by weight, that’s fine, but often there’s a formula used by freight forwarders that calculates weight and shipment volume, charging according to either the higher of the two or a combination of both. In my brief time in the shipping department, the question was, “Does it cube out, or gross out?” — meaning, “Is the shipment limited by volume, or weight?”

If your parts are coming off your equipment by gravity or conveyor, they’re randomly distributed in your packaging. How much more dense could the packing be if the parts were carefully placed or nested in the containers? While this might seem cost-prohibitive from a labour standpoint, are you sure your robotics can’t do a little more than yank the parts out of the mold?


One possibility is an outfeed table that allows the automation to drop parts strategically, nested if possible, to be either hand packed or conveyed in a more compact form. For parts without difficult form aspect ratios, don’t overlook the value of vibration. If you get a chance to visit your customer, it’s worth looking at your shipment as it arrives on your customer’s loading dock. You might be surprised at the amount of dead space that evolves as your contents “settle” during transportation. Can you take advantage of this before you ship? If you’re molding containers, how about using the draft built into the part to nest then into columns? If you can get in at the design stage, it might make sense to add draft to a part to facilitate nesting.

One pet peeve of mine is the expensive infrastructure built around customer-owned shipping containers. I’ve seen general purpose steel Gaylords used for foam core lightweight parts where I’d swear the box weighs more than the parts inside. Consider shipping solutions involving collapsible racking or Gaylords, and don’t write off non-woven poly totes and Kraft paper, either. Take a look at how you can stack paper Gaylords of resin and consider that anything molded could ship in the same type of container, at least two-up.

Sometimes you have to think inside the box!



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