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Best choices for
global shipping of
heavy goods

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Box or crate? Wood or corrugated?
The best choices for global shipping of industrial goods

While freight rates, storage and port fees all play a major part in the cost of ocean shipping, in many ways the key component for optimising container usage is the packaging, which affects shipping costs, product quality and Co²-footprint, among other aspects.

In the global distribution chain, automotive packaging is normally made for one-way ocean transport because of the prohibitive costs of returning it. Given the effective protection offered at a relatively low cost, wooden pallet crates and boxes, or corrugated boxes or sleeves on pallets, are most commonly used. While wood is both cheaper than metal solutions and highly resilient, stackable and suitable for various climate zones, it has several disadvantages over corrugated solutions, which are generally suitable for top loads of up to one ton.

Heavy duty corrugated board is the most lightweight solution for this kind of application and is very durable. For one-way shipping concepts, it is the most cost-efficient and space and resource-saving material for packing and shipping goods. Overall, it is the most customisable and easy-to-handle solution. Nevertheless, identifying the type of packaging that best fits your needs requires an analysis of your product, distribution complexity, relevant climate zones and mode of transport.

stac-pac box

Another important consideration apart from the type of packaging itself, however, is often its impact on the load factor – the ratio between the actual or average amount loaded in a container and the maximum amount that can be loaded. The expansion of international supply chains, which has recently given rise to backlogs in ports, has increased the pressure on managers to maximise the use of ocean containers when shipping automotive and machine parts around the world.

Corrugated board is fully customisable and, even within standard dimensions, can help to increase the number of items shipped in the same space, so that it can tap the full potential of possible freight cost reduction. Corrugated is also a sensible solution for particularly heavy items because with other materials the maximum gross weight is often reached before the container is full, which rules out stacking. Thanks to wet strength gluing of the board, in sea freight applications, corrugated solutions retain the structural integrity of the packaging over a period of weeks in moist climates and when exposed to condensation.

Wood or corrugated, or even a hybrid solution?

Hybrid crates consisting of both corrugated board and wood can help to reduce costs without compromising protection, even with relatively large top load weights. For certain items and specific journeys, we can create a sturdy wooden base and use corrugated fibreboard for the sides (sleeve) and top. Sometimes a plywood panel is used to provide additional stability. Another solution is to reinforce a corrugated board construction with wooden slats placed around it as an additional frame.

One example is Mondi’s stac-pac solution. It is a hybrid crate that minimises gross weight – particularly cost-effective in air freight – and is capable of reducing material costs as well. Many of our customers are surprised to learn that corrugated board can be used in multiple supply cycles without sacrificing protection. In some instances – again in air freight in particular – wooden pallets can even be replaced by corrugated pallets, which further reduces costs and eases the supply chain complexity within your shipping system.

Pros and cons of wood:

plus icon PROS minus icon CONS
Highly stackable (typically up to two tons) Space consuming in transport to your facility and in storage
Lighter than metal Up to 80% heavier than corrugated
Lower cost than metal and therefore suitable for one-way shipping containers Difficult to open – not suitable for repacking scenarios
Re-usability IPPC-regulated because wood solutions can spread pests

Suitable for all climate conditions

High costs
Recyclable Difficult handling and difficult disposal.

Wooden boxes and crates either occupy precious warehouse space before use or, if purchased in a ready-to-assemble condition, increase labour costs. They also entail the risk of injury, typically when they are being lifted or assembled using nails. Although corrugated CKD designs can be fairly large when packed, clever design allows them to be delivered as slim kits for easy assembly in a short time and with little resources. 

A lightweighting story
Corrugated air freight container for a global logistics enterprise

An alternative to wooden shipping boxes was devised following Mondi’s discussions with a global distribution customer based in Sweden. For many years the customer had been using wooden crates for air cargo but, in view of rising freight costs, was looking for a lighter solution. The customer’s wooden crates were also relatively difficult to recycle because they contained metal splints which had to be separated from the frame before disposal at the destination.

Cutting air freight transportation costs by up to 80%

The new solution consists of a 15 mm triple-wall cardboard sleeve that is glued to a standard pallet with internal 7 mm PC flaps. 90-degree external corner flaps of corrugated board allow the user to place another sleeve over the top without glue, using up to five 15 mm sleeves to create a bespoke height. Using a plywood panel as a cover, these boxes can then be stacked for transportation. The new solution is much more cost-effective because it is 80% lighter than the previous wood solution, cutting air freight transportation costs by up to 80% while also reducing CO2 output – and is strong enough to carry up to 500 kg.

A process optimisation story
Corrugated CKD box for automotive parts at Volvo Cars Sweden

Volvo Cars was looking to improve its packaging approach for bonnets and other components that were being shipped in wooden crates. Deliveries to a destination in China were taking place three times a day in order to minimise inventory and facilitate handling. The wooden solution placed a considerable strain on staff, the environment, costs and efficiency in the manufacturing facilities.

The work associated with assembling and dismantling the packaging involved heavy lifting, nail removal and other laborious and time-consuming processes. The mission was to improve the current packaging process by increasing efficiency, lowering costs, improving working conditions and reducing environmental impact without jeopardising the overall quality of deliveries.

Set up for packing in just two minutes instead of 20 minutes 

Together with aPak, Mondi was selected as the packaging supplier after presenting the best solution. The pre-assembled corrugated kits delivered to Volvo Cars can be set up for packing by two employees in just two minutes instead of 20 minutes without any screws, glue or staples. The construction is assembled by “turn to lock” fasteners, which also make disassembly fast, safe and easy. The frame of the packaging solution consists of a lid, bottom and sides produced from custom-made heavy duty board that can withstand the humidity and condensation encountered when shipping overseas. The construction resists pressures equivalent to those withstood by significantly heavier and more expensive wooden solutions. Apart from reducing shipping costs, the low tare weight eases the workload of employees, who are no longer involved in onerous lifting duties.

The construction has been adapted to reflect container dimensions in order to avoid extra cargo insurance costs and unnecessary work. The various modules can be built together in various constellations to optimise fill rates, so that the solution can eliminate the empty space that usually occurs in container shipping. When the packaging has fulfilled its purpose, the parts are sorted and resold as recyclable materials.

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