Custom Shipping Containers Eliminate Damage and Take Out the Trash


For years, automotive parts were shipped in either corrugated or wood containers, custom-made for the task. Inside the containers, they were packed in paper or plastic-based material for protection. The problems were multiple: First, the containers and packing materials were not adequate to the task and goods were often damaged. Second, and perhaps most importantly, tons of waste were created because these containers, and the packing materials, were simply discarded once the parts reached the assembly plants and were unpacked. Steel custom shipping containers are now solving this problem for many manufacturers.

Bernard Vercillo is the Senior Packaging Engineer at Volvo’s North American Manufacturing Engineering (NAME). This division of Volvo is involved with the manufacture of parts for Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks, parts which are manufactured in the Midwest and shipped to three different assembly plants in North America. The assembly plants turn out both highway trucks (Class A 18-wheelers used for freight transport) and vocational trucks (cement mixers, dump trucks and other specialty vehicles). Parts are also shipped to some of Volvo’s overseas plants as well. Vercillo recalls the problems he was having prior to using steel custom shipping containers. “We were using a lot of wood and cardboard boxes, and it was damaging parts because these boxes were stacked and they weren’t holding up.”

Thirteen years ago, Vercillo discovered a company called Steel King which custom manufactures steel shipping containers, based directly on the material they will contain and the space requirements of the customer. Since that time, Steel King has customized some 40 different lines of containers for NAME and has become the principal supplier for them.

“These containers are able to protect the class A parts as well as the easily-damaged parts,” Vercillo says. “We experienced far less damage with our glass components, fiberglass components, our painted parts, as well as instrument panels and electrical parts.” Other parts shipped include virtually everything that eventually becomes a truck, including hoods and exterior panels, engine parts, cab parts, and mirrors.

The containers must be efficient everywhere they are used, and are designed for such. “Steel King regularly works with us to design specific shipping racks,” Vercillo continues. “The key is to optimize transportation for the various parts as well as fit in our workstations. We have racks built from the point of unloading and work backward to the supplier so that there’s the least amount of work for our direct labor all the way along the line.” Also taken into account are the space occupied on inventory floors and within shipping trailers.

These containers can also be easily broken down flat when empty, and many are designed so that when flattened 3 of the containers take up the space normally occupied by 1 full container. They are then quickly set up again when they reach the beginning of the line. Besides the automotive industry, these containers are in use in many other types of manufacturing industries including windows and doors, glass, and even currency containers for the United States Federal Reserve Banks.

Customized steel shipping containers solve the most crucial problems associated with manufactured parts shipping: Parts are protected so damage is eliminated, and the enormous waste which used to end up as only landfill is completely eliminated.

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