What is Freight Pallet Shipping?

Published on
Sep 15, 2018
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The transportation industry looks at your shipment based on several different factors, and the distance and means of transportation will determine a large portion of your cost. Basically, how you package your shipment for ease of movement, stow-ability aboard a ship, plane, or truck, the value (liability), and the weight and volume of your product(s) will factor into a majority of your expense. Using a palletizing system can greatly decrease your costs.

What do I need to know about pallets?

The first thing to understand about pallet freight shipping is that all pallets are not created equal. They're made of different quality and materials, weighing anywhere from 20 to 70 pounds. You see wood pallets as well as plastic pallets in use, depending on a shipper's needs. There are standard pallet sizes available, but you can choose a different type of pallet depending on your shipping needs.

You will want to choose pallets that are large enough to prevent any overhang, and sturdy enough to handle the volume of your shipment. Shipping pallets that have a four-way forklift entry are desirable because they make shipments easier to load and unload, reducing the risk of damage.

Why is a Packing System Important?

Once an appropriate pallet has been selected the next consideration is to create a controlled system of packing that is easy to follow for anyone handling your product. You will want to optimize space and weight and establish a standard of protection that will ensure your product suffers no damage. The carriers job is to move your product from point A to point B, not to prepare it for shipment and own responsibility for any imbalanced or improperly secured items.

Packing your boxes

The next step in pallet freight shipping is to pack your products inside and out for strength. To palletize your shipment, you would fill all the space inside the package to avoid movement. Wherever there is air in a box, there is a risk that the box may be crushed and the product damaged. You can cut the box to adjust the size, or use paper, bubble wrap, popcorn, or search for environmentally responsible fillers. Use enough tape to properly secure the boxes, affix proper labels on each box or material, and prepare to load your pallet(s).


To ensure that products have a successful voyage aboard their pallet, it becomes your responsibility to create a system of packing that will become a hallmark of your business. This is known as palletizing. Not only will you all but eliminate damage, but you will allow the carriers to proceed in a professional and timely manner, and deliver your shipment without issues. Here are some methods to focus while building pallets, whether they will be transported by air, across the ocean, or on an FTL (Full-Truck-Load) or LTL (Less-than full truckload).

  • Step. 1. Wrap high-quality shrink wrap through the inside of the pallet and around the top level a few times. Twist the wrap for additional strength. Make sure you left room for the forklift. Do not cut the stretch-wrap but have it ready for when you are done stacking. Now you are ready to begin assembling your boxes.
  • Use a flat cardboard slip sheet under the load and throughout the layers to help distribute the weight and solidify loose boxes.
  • Align your boxes, heaviest on the bottom, in columns, corner-to-corner on the pallet. This will give you the greatest stacking strength. Avoid any irregular or interlocking layer patterns.
  • Do not create a pyramid, even if it means removing packages to be dispatched with the next shipment. Always keep the top layer flat to prevent damage from top loads.
  • Boxes should not extend beyond the pallet’s edge, or there is a good chance they will get crushed. Different sized containers may not be uniform enough to have unit strength and there would be no support for it in transit.
  • Do not align the corners of boxes in the gaps between pallet boards. This could create an unstable balance, and also runs the risk of damage from the forklift, or possibly immovability.
  • Use cardboard corner-boards at each corner of the entire shipment for added strength and a final cardboard slip sheet on top.
  • Use the stretch-wrap you set aside to cover the shipment, at least 5 revolutions in each direction to prevent pieces from getting separated from the load. Remember to twist for more strength. Note: stretch-wrap is intended to stabilize the load, not fully secure it to the pallet.
  • Use your judgment as to whether your shipment will need extra stability or protection and use bands or nylon straps to hold it all down if necessary, tightening them through the middle of the pallet.
  • Affix proper labels to the shipment and include all necessary documents.

At this point, a pallet is ready to be shipped. It is important to direct your packing team to guarantee yourself the safest, easiest handled transit for your freight shipment. By establishing a fluid system of packing, you will save costs and be able to forecast the best methods for getting your product into the hands of consumers.

Cubic Meter Volume (CBM)

If shipping internationally, over the sea or in the air, you must be aware of the CBM, or Cubic Meter volume of your pallet freight.

The CBM can be calculated by multiplying the width (W) x height (H) x length (L). If your shipment has different sized volumes, just repeat the process for each and add up the total. If using pallet shipping, you can measure the entire pallet for CBM.

If using irregular or cylindrical packages, check with the carrier to determine whether they “square” the package (the diameter is considered the width and height) or you will have to multiply the radius of the package by Pi and then again by 2. Then multiply that number by the length of the package. This will give you the volume, or CBM.

The CBM is used to calculate other volume-based dimensions used by carriers:

Dimensional Weight, which is used to create a theoretical mass when measuring bulky but light shipments, such as a pallet of ping pong balls. Even though the load is light, it will take up a lot of room on a freight.

Chargeable Weight is the greater number of the actual weight and the dimensional weight.

Freight Class is used in the United States as a system of classification, mostly for truck transportation. Your shipment will be categorized into one of 18 Freight Classes as determined by NMFC (National Motor Freight Classification). Your load will be classified based on (1.) Density, (2.) Stow-ability, (3.) Handling, and (4.) Liability.

Knowing your CBM can also help you determine how many products will fit into a shipping container. The most common sized shipping containers are 20’, 40’, 40’ HC (High Cube), and 45’ HC (High Cube). Although it is nearly impossible to use every piece of space in a shipping container, the amount of usable space roughly amounts to 80% of the container’s maximum capacity.

Container SizeLengthWidthHeightCapacityMaximum20’589 cm234 cm238 cm26-28 CBM33 CBM40’1200 cm234 cm238 cm56-58 CBM66 CBM40’ HC1200 cm234 cm269 cm60-68 CBM72 CBM45’ HC1251 cm245 cm269 cm72-78 CBM86 CBM

Importing Pallet Freight

The other side of the coin in freight shipping is importing goods, and if your business purchases raw materials, merchandise, or any commodity overseas, you will need to know how to prepare documents to receive your goods without any surprises or delays.

Documents for International Pallet Freight Shipping

Believe it or not, there are over a hundred unique documents dedicated to freight shipping. Most of these are specifically intended for specialty items, perishable or rare materials, items with unique government or tariff regulations, or any number of distinct situations. In general, these will be of middling concern to you personally. If you typically import the same type of product consistently, you will become familiar with the forms necessary for each dispatch.

Here are several key documents required for international freight shipping:

Freight Quote

Just like an estimate from an auto mechanic, your freight quote establishes the basis or the agreement between you and your freight forwarder. The quote is broken down into the individual legs of the journey and includes all estimated surcharges.

Within the Freight Quote, you should find:

-Routing information. This is where the haul is being shipped from, and each location it will arrive, including its’ final destination.

-Transportation mode and equipment.

-Shipment details, including dimensions and weight, whether or not there are any hazardous materials included, and a general description of the goods.

Based on the Freight Quote, you should be able to provide several of the following documents to your Freight Forwarder:

Commercial Invoice

Like other invoices, this is a proof of sale and will include information found on most invoices, in addition to freight-related information as required by Customs.

Within the Commercial Invoice are:

- The buyer and seller details, including a consignee if different from the buyer.

  • Notifying Parties, people who need to be notified about the transport such as customs agents.
  • Description of the goods, including quantity and weight.
  • HS codes, which are a standardized international system of numbers to classify globally traded products, much like Freight Class is used in the United States.
  • The value of the goods.

Certificate of Origin (COO)

This documentation is necessary in most countries to pass customs, to determine what duties may be applied, and for reporting of cargo to the government. This document allows countries to determine if goods are banned from import or require additional documentation (like leather goods, which require wildlife certification).

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

As apparent from its title, this document is provided to alert handlers of hazardous materials contained within. Hazardous goods will most likely incur additional shipping costs. Included in the MSDS is:

- Product name and how it’s used

- A UN (United nations) Number, which classifies the material.

- Physical data such as liquid, pressure, etc.

- Fire and explosion information.

- Reactivity data.

Shipper's Letter of Instruction (SLI)

This document should be prepared once the above forms have been completed. This is an order form and a verification of your purchase. You must have this form to have the goods released to you at pickup. Contained within the SLI are:

- Consignor (exporter), Consignee (importer), and the Principal or the arranging party if there is one, such as a parent company. All members contact information is included.

- Routing information.

- Transportation modes and equipment.

- Incoterms or International Commercial Terms which describe who is paying, insuring, and arranging customs clearance of the goods.

- Details of shipment, dimensions, and weight, and a UN number if the goods are hazardous.

- HS codes.

Booking Confirmation

This is your receipt for the primary leg of the shipment, by ocean or air. Each carrier provides this to your freight forwarder, who will then send it on to you. It will include the booking number (which can be used to track the shipment), equipment (pallet size and number), transportation itinerary, and loading/unloading schedule.

Bill of Lading (for ocean freight) or Air Waybill (for air freight)

The forwarder prepares this document for you and it acts as a contract between the carrier and the shipper and a proof of ownership of the goods. It also acts as a receipt of freight services. It is a legally binding document providing all the details needed to process the freight shipment correctly, including the shipper, consignee, and notifying party, the carrier, shipment details, and charges between agents.

Packing List

When the shipment arrives, it may be necessary for the receiver to sign this document, as prepared by the exporter or freight forwarder. Basically, it details the inventory if the goods were re-packed at a warehouse or if goods are packed into larger units.

Letter of Credit

As a buyer, a letter of credit may be required from an overseas bank to pay the seller once the delivery has been made. This is done to expedite the often-substantial delays of international trade and is used to show good intention from the buyer. This document includes an instruction to pay the seller on receipt of the goods.

Pallet Freight Shipping can greatly increase your profit margin as your business grows and you learn how goods are priced for transportation in the domestic and international shipping industry. Developing a system for importing and exporting products will benefit your business for the long haul.