Preventing auto part damage with custom reusable steel shipping rack


For years, automotive parts have been shipped in cardboard or wood containers, custom-made for the task, and packed in paper or plastic-based material for protection. However, these containers provide insufficient protection of large, specialised components, particularly Class A surfaces that must be protected from damage or marring. Once used, the containers and packing material are typically discarded after delivery, adding to the overall costs.

Now, a growing number of OEMs are turning to a more cost-effective, eco-friendly, solution: reusable steel shipping racking that prevents part damage and eliminates packing waste. The engineered steel rack is specifically designed to protect sensitive parts with Class A surfaces including body panels, bumpers, grills, lights, dashboard, seats and door pads while maximising storage density during shipping and warehousing.

The steel racks are also designed in configurations that orient and position parts for easy unloading and immediate assembly on the line to reduce labor costs.

Minimising Damage and Waste

Although cardboard and wood shipping containers and crates are used throughout the industry, parts can be damaged in transit or storage, which is simply not acceptable for Class A exterior surfaces and interior surfaces.

“Since Class A surfaces are ultimately seen by customers, there can’t be any scratching, scuffing, marring, or other damage visible,” says Craig Heil, a manager at Steel King Industries, a leading manufacturer of shipping rack, storage rack, and material handling products since 1970.

Cardboard, corrugated, and even wood containers also lack the strength for stacking during shipping or storage, which leaves substantial vertical space unused.

Utilizing disposable containers and packing materials also generates tons of waste. Even reusable wooden containers and crates need to be repaired frequently and eventually replaced.

“Auto manufacturers want to reduce waste and the time involved with breaking down, recycling, or disposing of cardboard and wooden containers,” says Heil. “Many manufacturers now will not allow that type of packaging in their facilities because they feel it is not a green solution.”

Custom Steel Shipping Rack

As the automotive industry moves towards more eco-friendly solutions, reusable custom steel shipping rack is gaining in popularity. This was the case when a major automotive OEM that manufactures components in the Midwest and ships to assembly plants in North America sought to minimise part damage during transit and storage.

“Using wood and cardboard boxes, parts were getting damaged because the stacked boxes weren’t holding up,” recalls the automotive executive involved with shipping.

Over a decade ago, the executive turned to Steel King for custom reusable, returnable, steel shipping racks for various components. Steel King specializes in the design and production of a variety of fabricated steel material handling products including storage rack and multi-use rigid, collapsible, and adjustable shipping rack.

The company can customise rack size, dunnage, weight capacity, construction materials, and other factors. Steel King’s in-house, professional engineers are experts at analysing OEMs’ operational systems and processes relative to the parts handled, whether for transport, assembly, or both. CAD solid modelling software and techniques are used to design the steel racks.

A variety of dunnage options can be incorporated to cushion and secure components to prevent shifting or movement of parts during shipping. The rack is structurally stable when stacked up to three levels high for shipping, and up to six levels high for warehouse storage. Empty shipping rack can be folded flat, so it takes one-third the space on the return trip.

“These [racks] are designed to protect class A or other easily damaged parts,” says the executive. “We experienced far less damage with our glass components, fiberglass components, and painted parts, as well as instrument panels and electrical parts.” 

When desired, the steel shipping rack can be designed with consideration for part loading, unloading, and assembly. This may involve orienting parts so they can be easily pulled from production and placed in the rack for transport, and then later removed in the proper orientation for quick assembly at the plant. When the rack is empty, it can be folded down to minimise the space used on a truck, returned to the supplier and refilled. 

“[Steel King] racks are built to minimise the amount of labour required all the way along the line [from the supplier to the point of unloading and assembly],” says the executive.

Over time, Steel King has customized approximately 40 configurations of shipping rack for the automotive OEM and is now their principal supplier.

Heil points out that customizing shipping rack is easier than ever today and can accommodate parts such as tires, doors, radiators, bumpers, fuel tanks, dash boards, instrument panels, glass and mirrors.

“Previously, we would design [a shipping rack] around a sample part, but now OEMs have digital 3D models of their parts that we use to expedite our CAD design. We then create a prototype to confirm that the physical part fits well,” says Heil.

In the industry, it is not uncommon for some companies that provide custom shipping rack to specialize in design while others focus on manufacturing, but this can complicate and delay the process. In contrast, providers like Steel King have the industry experience to take a custom shipping rack project from start to finish, from design to the assembly line.

Although the automotive industry has tolerated some part damage as well as container and dunnage waste as a cost of doing business, using custom engineered shipping rack can better protect products while requiring less space and labor. Manufacturers that adopt these best practice techniques can substantially boost their bottom line in an eco-friendly manner.

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