What to consider when your freight begins riding the rails

With changes in cost structures, the economy and supply chain attitudes over the past few years, there has been a large increase in the use of intermodal and rail shipping, which could cause a variety of unforeseen knock on effects for manufacturers.

As fuel costs increased over the past several years, the cost of shipping freight by trucks also trended up, forcing manufacturers to review all options for getting their products from their factories to the final destination. Rail and intermodal shipments became an interesting, cost effective solution to those looking for a way to efficiently move large amounts of freight across the US.

In the meantime, manufacturers were also looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint across their supply chain. Of course, this could mean anything from the materials that were chosen to manufacture the product to the method in which it was manufactured to the packaging that it travels in. Packaging is an “easy” fix. Simply reduce the amount of packing material, the overall weight to ship it and optimize how the product is packaged. Many manufacturers have made significant strides by applying this formula.

However, when you mix a growth in the use of rail and intermodal transportation with the sustainable packaging changes, there is a possibility of seeing unintended consequences; excessive damage. Shipping via intermodal requires very careful planning related to blocking and bracing of freight inside of the shipping container. Pallets of freight that aren’t carefully loaded and braced within the container are subject to the shifts and shocks that are common when transported via rail. The results of these issues equate to millions of dollars in damaged shipments every year.

Manufacturers can plan for these realities of the supply chain, however, through careful thought and design of their packaging from the primary pack all of the way up the chain to the shipping container.

Smithers Pira’s Technical Director, Mike Kuebler, will be addressing this topic at the upcoming American Association of Railroad’s 2015 Damage Prevention & Freight Claim Annual Conference in Westminster, Colorado June 15-17. The conference will be discussing the various factors that influence damage throughout rail transit ecosystem. Smithers Pira commonly addresses these challenges with clients who are looking to optimize their packaging while still ensuring its safe arrival at the destination. Through standard testing which can include shock, vibration and the application of various environmental conditions, Smithers Pira engineers can simulate real life conditions and help manufacturers get to the market faster while mitigating risk. Rail and intermodal transport can be extremely beneficial to product manufacturers…with the right amount of packaging system planning.

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