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7th September 2017

Posted In: Guides & Advice | Transit Protection

Choosing the Right Shipping Case.

Selecting a shipping case suitable for your specific freight requirements

Shipping cases can be invaluable to your business success.

The fact that this can sometimes be overlooked doesn’t make it any less true. And if you do understand the impact they can have on your business, it doesn’t make it any easier to select the most appropriate option for your business.

If you need to protect high-value kit at any cost, the obvious choice is a waterproof equipment case.

If you don’t quite need that level of protection, you are shipping volumes that makes using these cases uneconomical, or the weight of your shipment is of critical importance (international air freight for just one example), then what type of case do you choose?

Simply answering “shipping cases” isn’t enough.

Do you use aluminium containers? Wooden crates? A traditional flight case? Do you even need to consider traditional packaging materials such as corrugated cardboard?

The answer to this can have a significant impact not only on your transit costs but also the levels of damage in transit experienced, customer satisfaction levels and your ongoing business success.

Shipping cases
Shipping cases play an important role in protecting your products in transit, but also in controlling your costs

Considerations for successful shipping

Before deciding on the type of shipping case that will be most suitable for your business, it is important to map out the major considerations that will influence your choice.

For example, the weight of your shipment is likely to be important as this can directly impact your transit costs. Do you, therefore, need to consider lightweight shipping cases?

Another potential cost when shipping is the “volumetric” size (in effect how much volume the shipment accounts for). This where the size choice of your cases or containers can be important.

Alternatively, if you know that your items are prone to damage, are high in value or likely to experience poor handling, then a heavy duty shipping case may be your best option. Similarly to this, the type and duration of transit (ranging from relatively short lorry journey too months in sea freight) will have a bearing on the protection levels required.

Besides this, will the cases also be single-use, or returnable?

Other features such as how easy the cases are to handle, whether they can be stacked, will protect from corrosion during long term storage / shipment (i.e. sea freight) and of course the overall cost, are also important to consider.

Once you have ascertained your key criteria, you can begin to identify the shipping case options that will be most suited to your shipping / freight requirements.

The 5 main shipping case options

So, with an idea of how your shipping cases must perform during their journey (or journeys), you will most likely find that one of the below options will be particularly suited to your requirements:

Aluminium cases
Flight cases
EXOCase
Roto-Mould
Wooden Crates

The remainder of this guide highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options, allowing you to make an informed decision on the shipping case that is right for your business.

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Best lightweight shipping case: Aluminium cases

Aluminium cases, trunks and containers are often used for shipping for one main reason – their weight.

Aluminium is exceptionally light relative to its strength (and when compared with alternative protective cases), meaning that for freight applications where weight needs to be kept to a minimum, they are a great choice.

This makes them especially suitable for air freight.

However, aluminium cases – such as those manufactured by Zarges – offer a number of additional benefits too.

Aluminium shipping cases
Aluminium shipping cases are the best option for international air freight due to their light weight

They feature handles for easy handling, secure clasps and catches which also allow for the cases to be pad-locked and have stacking corners for safe stacking and to eliminate movement during transit. Wheels, castors and dollys can also be added to make movement much easier too.

Besides the inherent properties of aluminium means the cases are easy to clean (useful if they are to be used over multiple journeys in a supply chain), they will not rust and they will absorb shock and impact.

They are also suitable for use at very high and very low temperatures too, unlike plastic cases with can become brittle or melt if exposed to these conditions.

This final point does, however, highlight the fact that, for any particularly expensive or delicate items the cases will need to be modified with foam inserts to provide a suitable level of protection.

The only downsides to using aluminium cases are the upfront cost (they are relatively expensive compared with some other shipping case options), they can begin to look a bit worn reasonably quickly (only important if presentation to the end user is a consideration), and they are not a great choice if you are transporting items that could be prone to static charges (although ESD safe foam can address this).

However, if being light in weight is your key consideration, then aluminium cases will provide a very suitable solution for your business.

Best heavy duty shipping case: Roto-Mould

Being almost the complete opposite of aluminium cases, roto mould cases (rotationally moulded) are very heavy and also quite expensive too.

So why would you use them?

Well, if your items simply cannot become damaged in transit (for example critical military communications equipment, or very high value / specialist parts or products), then Roto mould cases provide the highest levels of protection available.

They are completely watertight (a genuine waterproof case with a high IP Rating), exceptionally tough and tested extensively to military standards. They also offer great cushioning protection for their contents if enhanced with custom foam inserts.

Saying that they also have a number of features that lends them to shipping of items over long distances. This includes a moulded in stacking pattern on the tops of the cases, allowing them to be safely stacked and allowing different sized cases to be stacked together safely too).

Roto mould shipping cases
Roto mould shipping cases are the best choice for heavy duty applications, due to their tough and durable construction

They can also be specified with handles, pressure relief valves, specialist housing for electronics and even feet that allow for easy handling by forklift.

They are also available in a wide range of sizes and will survive over many many journeys, making them a good choice if reusability is important.

The disadvantages, as already highlighted, are that if you are paying for your shipping by weight, the cases will add considerably to your overall costs. When coupled with the high cost of the cases, this can be even more significant (although this can easily be offset if the cost of potential damage to the contents is factored in).

The cases can also be difficult to handle due to their weight.

However, if you need heavy-duty shipping cases – and your equipment or product simply cannot be damaged – then Hardigg roto mould cases are probably your best option.

Best shipping cases for equipment: EXOCase

An alternative shipping case for equipment – if you do not need the levels of protection provided by Roto Mould – is EXOCase.

EXOCase is in effect a waterproof flight case. What this means, in reality, is that it provides very good levels of protection from dust, mishandling and moisture (as Roto Mould cases do), but are considerably lighter and more cost-effective as well.

Another major benefit of EXOCase is that it can be manufactured to virtually any size.

With stock cases, you need to select the nearest approximate size – which is therefore always slightly (at least) too big. This means not only are you paying to ship additional, wasted space with each consignment but that the cases will also contain more foam or void fill, also driving up costs.

Waterproof equipment shipping cases
EXOCase is arguably the best waterproof equipment shipping cases, as they can be specified to virtually any size

As EXOCase can be tailored to the exact size of what it is that you need to ship, you will have a space optimised case that will help to reduce overall costs.

EXOCases can also be customised with a number of features (handles, wheels etc.) and are unarguably the most attractive of all the shipping case options.

In terms of disadvantages, EXOCases are not as durable as roto mould cases, so will not last over as many trips, whilst the protection they provide also isn’t quite as high either.

They are also considerably heavier than aluminium cases (although offer a weight saving against roto-mould), and although cheaper than Roto Mould, they are still relatively costly.

All in all however, they offer a good compromise between protection and weight, whilst the dimensional flexibility can have a positive impact on your shipping costs.

Best custom shipping case: Flight cases

The next step down from EXOCase is a traditional flight case.

Originally used for the transit and shipping audio / visual rigs for concerts, broadcast and performances, their main benefit is ease of handling and the ability to manufacture to them to virtually any size.

As mentioned above with EXOCase, custom size cases allow for the most efficient use of space during shipping as you are not paying to ship empty space within the container, or paying extra to fill this with foam such as Plastazote and then ship that unnecessary foam.

Being custom designed / built also means that they can benefit from a number of features being added, including wheels, handles, lifting straps, feet (to allow for lifting with a forklift) and so on. They can also have branding added to the exterior surfaces easily too.

Whilst providing a decent level of protection when combined with foam inserts, they are considerably less durable than both roto mould and EXOCase cases. They will also only offer limited protection against moisture and dust ingress.

They are however cheaper than both of the aforementioned cases (and aluminium cases too) and are lighter as well (although aluminium is still the best option if weight is a concern).

Flight cases are therefore a reasonable compromise between cost of purchase, cost of shipping and protection levels for the contents.

Flight cases
Flight cases have long been popular in a number of industries due to both their cost and customisable nature
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Cheapest shipping cases: Wooden crates

Wooden crates and boxes (usually manufactured from Plywood) are the most cost effecting shipping case option (unless you start to look at corrugated cardboard boxes – which may be suitable depending on the volume, fragility and transit type – but are not really classified as a shipping case).

They are also relatively light, weighing about the same as a typical flight case, and are also relatively robust. They can be used over multiple trips, but will become worn / damaged more quickly than any of the other options listed above.

They can also be manufactured to your desired size, eliminating the issue of shipping fresh air within the container.

Wooden shipping crates
Wooden shipping crates are a low cost option, but provide less protection than other cases

Saying that the protection levels offered to the contents are the lowest of any option listed here.

Whilst they will absorb impact, they have a tendency to splinter or split, and they will also absorb water, potentially leading to damage of their contents.

As a result, if you are on a really tight budget, or you do not require particularly high levels of protection for the cases contents (either as the items are robust, or you are in control of the handling processes within the supply chain), these can be a viable option.

Other options to consider

There are of course other options for shipping items that do not really fall under that category of “cases”.

For example, if you are shipping very high volume of items, and their value / fragility isn’t particularly high, then corrugated cardboard boxes can be used.

These – whilst incredibly cost effective – will not offer anywhere near the protection levels of a dedicated case (being affected by moisture and being easily split / punctured).

Alternative to shipping cases
You may find that returnable packaging - such as Correx totes - are a feasible alternative to shipping cases

Besides this, for multi trip applications, a material like Correx can be used. Handling totes and shipping boxes can be fabricated from Correx, and offers increased strength and resistance to moisture when compared with corrugated cardboard. Whilst often used for in plant and line side handling, they can be adapted for transit between manufacturing sites too.

It would still not offer the protection levels of the cases highlighted earlier the guide however, and therefore tend to be used for the transportation of mid / high volume components and parts.

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In Summary.

Choosing the right shipping case for your business

The main considerations when choosing your shipping case are how well will it protect your products, how much will the weight add to the shipping cost, and what is your overall budget.

By answering all three of these questions, you should be able to select an appropriate shipping case for your requirements.

However, should you have any questions or be unsure about any aspect of your transit requirements, a member of the team at GWP will be happy to advise on the most appropriate solution for your specific application.

Chris Bond, Sales Engineer at GWP Protective

About the Author: Chris Bond

Sales Engineer | GWP Protective

Chris, having worked in various positions at GWP Protective, has  a very detailed and well-rounded knowledge of protective case & foam products [Read full bio…]

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