May 2009 | How-To | Ten Tips

Reducing Damaged Deliveries

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It doesn't matter if you get your customers' shipments delivered on time if they arrive at the dock unusable. Selecting a carrier that trains its employees to prevent damages is the first step, but shippers should also take a proactive approach to preparing freight for safe, secure delivery to the end user. Paul Lorensen, central area vice president of operations for Con-way Freight, offers this advice for shippers moving bags, crates, drums, totes, or cartons.

1. Label, label, label. Freight comes in different shapes and sizes with varying levels of fragility. If a package cannot be tipped, double-stacked, or laid on its side, it should be accurately labeled as such. For example, some "long" shipments require the use of extended forklift blades. Carriers can supply labels to the shipper, or shippers can purchase pre-stamped packaging materials.

2. Use four-way pallets made of sound lumber. A pallet is not sound if there is a knot in the wood that measures more than one-third the width of a piece of lumber, according to National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) standards. A knot can break or weaken the slat enough so that the pallet can break apart or the product dips below the slat, where it is susceptible to damage by the forklift blades. Shippers should inspect pallet slats for knots and use four-way pallets to ease maneuvering. Because freight is likely palletized for carriers, they cannot assess a pallet's condition—this is the shipper's responsibility.

3. Protect exposed valves. Valves affixed and extending from a drum or tote must be protected. Some large totes can contain up to 3,000 pounds of liquid, which in some instances may involve hazardous material. In the event that a valve is bumped, this liquid can spill and lead to costly cleanup and disposal fees. Using caps to prevent leaks is another small step that shippers can take to ensure that this type of freight is properly secured and prepared for carrier pickup, and transported safely.

4. Use new packaging materials unless otherwise specified. Shippers must use a carton with an appropriate burst weight. Reusing cartons that are not made for multiple use can weaken them, rendering the burst weight invalid. The eventual transition to plastic will help alleviate this issue, but in the meantime the rule is simple: If the packaging does not indicate that it can be reused, use it only once.

5. Verify that the bill of lading lists all freight being transported. This tip is similar to the need for precautionary markings. By making sure that the contents of the shipment are described on the bill of lading, carriers can help identify whether or not the packaging is appropriate and the freight is transported safely. Descriptions such as "one skid" or "one carton" are not sufficient and could lead to damaged or lost freight. Shippers can further streamline this process by using standardized bills of lading provided by the carrier.

6. Cover the ends of threaded pipe or steel tubing. Failure to cap or cover the end of stainless steel or threaded pipe could render it unusable by the customer. For example, forklift blades could enter a steel pipe and nick the end, causing damage that prevents the pipe from sealing correctly. It may also gouge the inside, causing lasting damage and making it unusable for the customer. Similarly, threaded pipe flexes in the middle and can scrape the dock when not packaged properly. If threads are damaged in any way, the pipe cannot be used.

7. Pack cartons carefully. Following a carton's burst weight is important, but it is also crucial to fill the carton and position its contents correctly. Failure to distribute product correctly leaves the carton susceptible to compression, which may cause it to split or rupture.

8. Use crates constructed with three-way locking corners. Three-way locking corners prevent crates from falling apart during transport. More structurally sound crates feature slats that are joined with nails or staples driven into the side grain of joining members. Without three-way locking corners, crates tend to break under the vibration and G-force of travel over the road.

9. Shrink-wrap the freight and the pallet. There is a specific process for palletizing and shrink-wrapping freight to ensure safe transport. Shippers often put cardboard underneath cartons on a pallet, then shrink-wrap only the cartons. Because the shrink-wrap does not surround the bottom of the pallet itself, the entire bundle of shrink-wrapped cartons can slide off the pallet. This simple tip can prevent major damage.

10. Consult NMFC standards. The NMFC provides valuable information to help shippers move freight safely and securely—including commodity descriptions, transportation rules, bill of lading formats, and requirements for the proper packaging of goods moving by motor carrier. The packaging provisions in the NMFC fall into three basic categories: general packaging definitions and specifications; specifications for packages that have been approved expressly for the transportation of certain commodities; and performance-based packaging criteria.

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