Your Worry-Free Guide to Packing Palletized Freight

Peter Prior
Oct 8, 2019 · 5 min read

We’ve all received that package before, the one that looks like it’s a miracle it arrived intact. The box with a punched-in corner or peeling tape. Sometimes it’s a pallet with a leaning tower of boxes that looks to be seconds away from toppling over. And if you’ve received cargo that’s damaged on arrival due to improper packaging, you truly understand how important it is to pack freight properly.

Packing freight is a precise process that is the foundation for successful freight shipments. When it’s not done right, shipments can be delayed, damaged, or incur additional fees. The team at Mothership created this step-by-step freight packing guide so you can feel extra confident in preparing your shipment for pickup.

Preparing to Ship Palletized Freight

The first step in packing like a pro and avoiding shipment surprises is to gather proper materials. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Shipping tape — you’ll need plenty to tightly seal boxes and apply labels.
  • Packing materials — bubble wrap, air pillows, packing peanuts, and/or cardboard corners to cushion surfaces.
  • Boxes and pallets within an appropriate weight range — these items degrade as they’re used, so check for signs of age and quality of condition.
  • Wood and plastic pallets are most commonly used for freight shipping. You’ll want to ensure that the material and pallet itself are in good condition so there’s no risk of destabilizing the palletized freight.
  • Strong, quality shrink wrap to hold everything together.

Choosing the right pallet comes with some additional considerations for safety.

Fun Fact: The earliest forms of pallets were used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Large canal-building projects used simple types of skids to move materials with ease. During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers began discussing the usage of standardized materials across state lines to make shipping more efficient. Following World War II, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was established to help facilitate trade. Since then, the ISO has dictated standards for dimensions and quality standards.

Of the six recognized international pallet sizes, North America uses two: 40 x 48 and 42 x 42. The 42 x 42 size is also used in Europe and Asia. These standard pallet dimensions ensure pallets can move between regions efficiently. Following standard dimensions, construction and quality standards is the next concern.

For North America, the major concern for pallet safety is fire prevention. Certification bodies make sure high-quality wood and plastic pallets meet approval standards for fire tests. When choosing your pallet, you’ll want to look for a UL or FM compliance mark. This indicates the pallet is not hazardous in fire scenarios.

Packing and Securing Your Freight Shipment

First, start with boxes cut to a size that best fits the items being shipped. Add items to the boxes in even weight distribution.

Next, add packing materials so boxes are full with no room for trapped air. Pockets of air can cause items to shift which puts cargo at risk of becoming crushed or damaged during shipping. Make sure to seal your boxes using packing tape.

Then, Start stacking boxes on your pallet. Heavier boxes should always go on the bottom with lighter boxes layered on top. Remember to distribute weight evenly across the pallet.

Make sure boxes don’t hang over the pallet have gaps in between. Staggering box sizes and laying a flat cardboard piece between rows also helps make a stable and secure pallet.

Secure the boxes as one unit on the pallet. Cardboard corners placed along the edges of the boxes can help to strengthen the unit.

Wrap the entire structure with shrink wrap. To do this, you’ll first want to pull out about a foot of the wrap and twist it together to create a loose rope. Thread this through a corner of your pallet and secure it as your starting point for shrink wrapping. Start wrapping the pallet going around the corners at least 4–5 times, always stretching the roll tightly. Don’t wrap too much of the pallet itself as a forklift will need access to the slats underneath.

Continue wrapping in the same direction. As you work your way up the boxes, add enough layers of shrink wrap to maintain a firm stretch and stabilize the boxes. This ensures that the wrap won’t pull loose or slip off as it’s in transit.

Test out the stability of your structure. Push a little on the top boxes and notice if they feel loose or tight. If your plastic wrap shifted or the stack seemed to wobble, you have some more work to do. You either didn’t wrap tightly enough or it needs more layers. If it needs more layers, simply work your way down and then back up again if necessary.

Place documentation on the outside of the unit. Labels with shipper and consignee information from the bill of lading will clearly identify the shipment.

Add labels that indicate special handling requirements for your package. Labels such as “Fragile,” “This side up,” and “Do not stack” ensure the carrier knows exactly how to handle your shipment for a successful delivery.

Pro tip: Place labels on all four sides of the package so they can’t be missed.

That’s it! Now you’re prepared to save your business time, money, and worry with the perfectly packed freight shipment. After you’re done packing your freight, be sure to measure and weigh your freight before heading to Mothership to pull an instant quote. Make sure that you are always entering the most accurate weights and dimensions, as inaccurate information can lead to costly re-bills.

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