In the not so distant past, the shipping department would get a new product from the conveyor, find a large enough box from stock, insert the product, add packing material, seal it and label it for pickup by the carrier. This method often meant that the shipper paid a higher cost than necessary. Today an experienced shipper will consider a few important things BEFORE reaching for a box and the packing tape.
Some types of shipments require special
packaging and handling. Hazardous material for instance, can call for fiber drums, wood crating or over-packs on certain products. When special packaging is required there are more limitations to custom package design. The rest of this article deals with shipping products that do not incur unique packaging restraints.
Safety vs. weight
In general, as you add safety material you also add weight to the package. The trade-off is between the lowest price and the highest protection. Somewhere in between the two extremes is probably the right choice for you. For fragile shipments, extra packing material is a must, but for non-breakable products perhaps a lighter layer of shock absorbing material will work. In today’s world some lighter packaging is still strong enough and even recyclable.
US domestic small package carriers limit package size to 108 inches in length, 150 pounds in weight, and 165 inches in length plus girth (2 * width) + (2 * height). For some international shipments maximum allowable weights may be less than 150 lbs. Domestic and international hazardous material packages are limited to a maximum of 70 pounds.
Large package surcharge and additional handling fees
Even if a package is within the small package carrier’s size limitations, it may incur an additional charge. Large package surcharges apply if the package’s length plus girth is between 130 and 165 inches, or if the package weighs more than 90 lbs.
Additional handling fees apply if the package is more than 70 lbs OR if the package has a longest side greater than 60 inches OR the second longest side is greater than 30 inches OR the package is not encased in corrugated cardboard. If using a slightly smaller box helps you avoid these fees, the savings can be significant.
Actual weight vs. dim weight
Small package carriers use the greater of the actual weight or dimensional weight to calculate charges. Actual weight is the actual scale weight of a shipment. Dimensional weight (DIM) is a way of factoring in the density of the shipment so that the carrier is adequately compensated for larger packages with relatively low weights.
DIM weight is calculated as (Length x Width x Height) divided by Dimensional Factor. The standard international DIM factor is 139 and the standard U.S. domestic DIM factor is 166.
So a domestic shipment with actual weight of 15 pounds and dimensions of 11x15x22 inches will result in a DIM weight of 22 pounds and a 42% higher freight cost. The international DIM weight would be 27 pounds or 12 kilograms, which is 80% higher than the actual weight. (Note that for ground service, the small package carriers only charge DIM weight on shipments greater than 5,184 cubic inches.)
Your packaging must be sturdy enough to withstand the shock of shipping, but you don’t want it to be so strong that that you add unnecessary size or weight to the shipment. Depending on the type of product you are shipping, consulting a packaging engineer can be well worth the investment of time and money before you reach for a box and tape.