A New Crate for a New Era

The Age of Corrugated Crates is Here– and for Good Reason

By Rodger Mort, President of PACT

At a time when packaging weight is increasingly scrutinized and surcharged, corrugated crates are a sustainable solution. Image courtesy of PACT

Despite the much-maligned, COVID-caused supply chain slowdown, the modern history of the shipping industry is a story of inspiring innovation. Ever since standardized containers brought seamless uniformity to global goods delivery, shipping has witnessed a steady stream of creativity resulting in unprecedented efficiencies that have helped improve lifestyles and drive economic growth.

Just-in-time delivery, high-speed RFID cataloguing and blockchain-based supply chain verification are just a few of the inventions that have revolutionized the way we move goods and, not coincidentally, helped make Amazon founder Jeff Bezos the world’s wealthiest person.

But one aspect of shipping has, unfortunately, remained largely stagnant: the conventional wooden crate.

Don’t get me wrong: wood crates have been essential to shipping’s growth. The need to separate and protect bulky-yet-delicate items – household appliances, expensive furniture, even certain vehicles – is a must in modern shipping, which often emphasizes speed over the fragile handling that such high-value items deserve.

Still, all things must pass. The shipping sector is ever-evolving – a forever forward-thinking industry leading the charge on everything from supply chain security to electric delivery vehicles. It’s time that crating technology evolves along with it.

The knock on wood

For all their conventional benefits, wood crates bring a number of drawbacks that are increasingly at odds with modern shipping needs. For starters, at a time when the exponential growth of e-commerce has stretched logistics capacities to their limits, package weight is being increasingly scrutinized and surcharged.

Wood weighs a lot. In fact, wood crates frequently outweigh the products they house, meaning they add more than 100% to the total shipping weight. Hefty packages lead to hefty costs at a time when shipping fees are already historically high. It’s a simple equation, really: Weight equals fuel, and fuel equals money.

All this might be fine if wood crates delivered bang for your buck by consistently protecting high-value goods. But they don’t.

Here, wood’s bulk works against it because it’s a natural reverberator, meaning the myriad jolts and jostles packages receive along their supply chain journey rattle right through the crate’s interior. This is one reason that, despite their bulk, wood crates have damage percentage rates that are less than ideal.

Finally, wood falls flat against each of the top three trends in the packaging and shipping sectors today. In order, those trends are sustainability, sustainability, and sustainability.

Can wood be recycled and reused? Sure, it can – but context matters. And the specific circumstances of wood crates in the shipping sector lead to massive waste – and massive bonfires. Generally speaking, the wood crates crossing the globe today have a common final destination: an incinerator or, failing that, a landfill. There are a number of reasons for this, but a key factor is the just-in-time nature of today’s shipping.

Breaking down a wood crate and using it to build other items – even another wood crate – is often considered more time-consuming and costly than starting from scratch. Brand owners and logistics companies want goods ready to go on their timeline – a timeline that doesn’t include reusing crates from arriving items for departing ones.

Could that be changed with wood repurposing and repacking infrastructure? It could – but that’s a longer-term issue and, besides, one working against the almighty wallet. This is because shipping companies charge goods producers handsome crate discarding fees – a blow to both planet and purse strings.

So why has wood been the go-to crate materials for decades? Mostly because there wasn’t a better alternative. Until now.

Making the case for corrugated crates

Corrugated crating solutions offer a bevy of benefits including reduced shipping costs, maximization of warehousing space and increased sustainability. Image courtesy of PACT

In the shipping industry, materials science is finally catching up to technological advancements. Today, customized corrugated crating solutions are available that offer a bevy of benefits including reduced shipping costs, maximization of warehousing space, and increased sustainability.

While the execution is complicated (and patented), the concept is simple: rather than the cumbersome all-wood crates typically used to transport large items, their corrugated counterparts comprise a wooden base surrounded by sturdy yet pliable corrugated material. The result is a shipper that is not only a 1/3 of the weight of an all-wood container, but can collapse to be barely wider than the base wood component to take up exponentially less space.

Crucially, advanced corrugated shipping crates don’t sacrifice product protection. The containers have been proven to keep even the most fragile items secure during transport, as the structure can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure. In addition to the novel solution’s inherent sturdiness, its corrugated material is a better shock absorber than wood. Statistics show that this lighter-weight, lower-footprint option diminishes the sort of vibration-related damage that can occur throughout the supply chain.

Corrugated shipping crates also solve the sustainability issue, as its materials can be conveniently recycled, repurposed and reused several times over. No more bonfire fuel, landfill fodder and disposal fees. Utilizing internal airwall material in lieu of foam further enhances eco-friendliness.

Finally, adopting corrugated shipping crates system-wide addresses another pressing issue: the protracted labor shortage facing not only the logistics industry but many other sectors worldwide. With companies looking to do more with less manpower, the corrugated crate’s simple fold-out process significantly mitigates labor-intensive crate construction.

The benefits of corrugated crates

Sometimes sustainable solutions struggle to match the functionality of their conventional counterparts. This is decidedly not the case when it comes to next-generation corrugated crates, which have proven to not only match but rather exceed the ability of wooden crates to protect products, reduce shipping weights and therefore costs, and diminish labor intensity at a time when personnel are in high demand.

Indeed, corrugated crates would stack up well against wooden ones even if their environmental profiles were similar. But of course, they aren’t: corrugated crates are lighter, more reusable and more easily recyclable than wood, a sustainable cherry atop a bevy of other benefits.

About the Author

Rodger Mort, President of PACT, a leader in manufacturing industrial packaging and crating solutions. With over 25 years of experience, PACT has designed custom crating and packaging products for the furniture and automotive industries. PACT was founded on the idea of sustainability and continues to embrace a green future in the packing and crating industry. For more information, visit www.pactww.com.

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