Pallets are portable, rigid wood or plastic platforms that are used to consolidate shipments and make freight easier to transport. Palletizing cargo ensures that multi-piece shipments remain together throughout their journey, which helps protect your cargo, makes loading and unloading easier and faster, and enables carriers to maximize space inside the trailer.
Whether you should ship your cargo on a pallet depends on the number and nature of the items being shipped, as well as their total weight and size. Shipments of several smaller items, such as 15 or more boxes, are ideal for pallet shipping—palletizing such shipments is often more cost-effective than shipping them separately, especially if the cargo is large or heavy. Palletizing is also ideal for single items that are large, heavy, or fragile, such as furniture, equipment, or artwork.
Pallets are typically shipped through less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping. A shipping carrier’s job is to get your pallet safely from its origin to its final destination—they are not responsible for properly packing and preparing your pallet for shipment (unless you pay extra for this level of service).
What is LTL shipping? When your cargo does not completely fill the truck, it will be shipped using less-than-truckload shipping. You’ll only be charged for space your cargo takes up in the back of the truck.
To help make sure your pallet is securely packed and prepared, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common pallet shipping mistakes—and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Using the wrong size pallet
Pallets are available in a standard size of 40” x 48”, but larger or smaller pallets are also available. No matter what you are shipping, your pallet should be large enough to accommodate your cargo without any overhang—overhang is subject to impact, puncture, abrasion, or compression damage.
Measure your cargo before you buy or build a pallet so that you can be sure you are using the correctly sized pallet.
Mistake #2. Exceeding your pallet’s weight capacity
Pallets are designed to support a certain amount of weight—typically 4,600 lbs. The maximum weight capacity should be clearly labeled on the bottom of the pallet. Your cargo should never exceed a pallet’s rated capacity.
Before you pack your cargo, weigh your shipment and make sure your pallet can handle the total weight.
Mistake #3: Not packing cargo properly
Palletizing your cargo offers some protection, but the best protection comes from properly packing your cargo before securing it to the pallet. If you are shipping boxes, this means:
- Using strong, new boxes that are securely sealed with high-quality packing tape (more on this next).
- Padding boxes internally with adequate packing materials, such as packing paper, bubble wrap, or air pillows. This will help prevent shifting in transit.
- Using the right-sized box, with enough space to fit your cargo as well a 2” allowance for padding on all sides.
- Balancing cargo within the box as much as possible.
For especially delicate or valuable cargo, such as antique furniture, artwork, engines, or medical equipment, consider crating. Crating offers the most protection, and is always recommended for valuable or fragile items.
Make sure you pack your cargo securely and safely before securing it to the pallet. Follow these instructions to learn how to pack a box properly. For detailed instructions on packing other large items, check out our “How Do I Ship That?” series.
Mistake #4: Using poor-quality packing materials
Poor quality packing materials increase the risk of damage to your cargo. Keep an eye out for:
- Broken pallets—they’re likely to break even further in transit
- Protruding nail heads—they can damage your cargo, or cause injury
- Used boxes—cargo should be packed into new boxes and secured with high-quality packing tape. Cheap tape will lose adhesion in transit.
Inspect your pallet for damage or protruding nail heads, and use new boxes and high-quality packing materials.
Mistake #5: Stacking boxes improperly
If you are shipping multiple boxes on a pallet, they need to be stacked properly to ensure safe transit. Here’s how:
- Align boxes in columns from corner to corner for the greatest stacking strength. Staggering your boxes is okay too, as long as you avoid interlocking or rotating layer patterns.
- Do not align box corners over the empty space between pallet deck boards.
- Use a slip sheet (a flat layer of cardboard) between every third layer at a minimum to help distribute weight and protect the bottom layer, especially if you are shipping several smaller boxes or items.
- Keep the top layer flat to prevent damage from any other cargo that may be loaded above your pallet.
- Ensure that your pallet is balanced, both inside each box and on the pallet itself.
- Place heavier boxes on the bottom, and lighter boxes near the top.
Look for a pallet with closely-spaced pallet deck boards, especially if you are shipping heavy items. Use a slip sheet between layers, and load heavy boxes first.
Mistake #6: Not protecting your load
There are a number of tools at your disposal that will help protect your cargo:
- Load protectors are made of corrugated fiberboard or heavy paperboard. Use them like a slip sheet to help distribute weight so your shipment can be securely stacked.
- Corner or edge boards increase vertical stacking strength, prevent damage to corners, and help stabilize your load. They should extend to the full height and width of the load, and should be used on all corners.
- Crush cones are small, often triangular warning signs that you can attach to the top of your shipment using straps or packing tape. If nothing should be loaded on top of your cargo, crush cones will tell your carrier not to stack items on top.
Use load protectors, corner or edge boards, or crush cones to protect your cargo.
Mistake #7: Improperly securing your load
No matter what cargo you are shipping, it should be secured firmly to the pallet using strong strapping or bands, then wrapped in stretch wrap to prevent the pieces from getting separated.
- Strapping should be tightly drawn and is most secure if you run it underneath the top deck boards of the pallet. Use at least two straps.
- Stretch wrap is designed to stabilize the load and keep it contained, but not secure it to the pallet—that’s why you have straps. Stretch wrap should be a minimum of 60 gauge and should be wrapped around the load, as well as upwards around the top, including the pallet. It must be tight to prevent shifting and can be twisted like rope for greater strength.
Use at least two strong straps to secure the load to the pallet. Use at least 5 layers of stretch wrap (minimum 60 gauge) to stabilize and contain your cargo.
Mistake #8: Not measuring cargo
Estimating the weight and dimensions of your packed pallet is risky, and could easily result in extra fees if your cargo weighs more than you anticipated or takes up more space in the back of the truck.
Properly weigh and measure your cargo to ensure that your carrier won’t need to re-class your shipment, which often results in additional fees.
Mistake #9: Ignoring minimum billable weight
Some carriers have a minimum billable weight that you will be charged no matter what your shipment weighs. If your pallet contains five items that weigh 20 lbs each for a total of 100 lbs and your carrier’s minimum billable weight is 151 lbs (such as UPS), you’ll be charged for the full 151 lbs even though your shipment weighs less.
Ask your carrier about minimum billable weight. There’s not much you can do if they do have a minimum billable weight (unless you can find other items to add to your shipment), but at least you’ll know what to expect.
Mistake #10: Not labeling your pallet properly
Every item on your pallet—yes, that means every single box—must be individually labeled. Each side of the pallet should also be labeled according to your carrier’s instructions. This typically means including phone numbers for both the sender and the recipient, as well as address information (including ZIP code).
Label each item individually, and clearly label each side of the pallet, including the top, with the proper information.
Mistake #11: Not having your bill of lading ready
The bill of lading acts as a receipt for the goods being shipped. It includes information about the sender, the recipient, the date of shipment, and details about what is being shipped. Your carrier will require the bill of lading before they can move your cargo—if you don’t have it, your cargo isn’t going anywhere.
Securely attach your bill of lading to the packaged freight. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself as well.
Mistake #12: Skipping insurance
They’re rare, but mistakes happen. If your freight sustains damage in transit but isn’t adequately insured, you likely won’t be covered for its full value.
Purchase additional insurance to cover the full value of your cargo, especially if you’re shipping valuable or fragile items like antiques, artwork, or engines.
Seasoned pallet shippers are already familiar with the ins and outs of properly packing and shipping a pallet. But if you’ve never shipped a pallet before, it can be hard to navigate the process. The trick to successfully shipping your cargo is to prepare it properly using high-quality materials that are designed to support what you are transporting.
If you need help packing and shipping a pallet, TSI can help. Contact our shipping experts today to find out how we can help.
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