Unit load

Unit load

A unit load combines packages or items into a single "unit" of a few thousand kilograms that can be moved easily with simple equipment. A unit load packs tightly into warehouse racks, containers, trucks, and railcars, yet can be easily broken apart at a distribution point, usually a distribution center, wholesaleer, retail store, etc.


Most consumer and industrial products move through the supply chain in unitized or unit load form for at least part of their distribution cycle.Unit loads make handling, storage, and distribution more efficient. They help reduce handling costs and damage by reducing individual handling.

A typical unit load might consist of corrugated fiberboard boxes stacked on a pallet and stabilized with stretch wrap, straps or other materials. About 2 billion unit loads are in daily use in the United States (Ward 1993).

Unit Load Design

There are three kinds of unit load design: Component based, systems based, and standards compliant. These have different applications.

Component Based Design

Component based design is the outmoded ad-hoc method of unit load design. Components are sometimes over specified to get assured performance, or tested to get inexpensive economic performance.

Unit load storage and distribution systems consist of several interacting parts:
* Packaging (with product),
* Pallet, and
* Handling/Storage Equipment
* The distribution environment (shock, vibration, humidity, temperature, etc)

Considerable knowledge exists regarding the design of each of these components: their interactions have more recently been studied. When packaging, pallet, and handling systems are designed separately at different locations by different teams, the result might be inefficient unit load systems.

The consequences of independent component based design in the supply chain can include:

Unsafe Workplaces
Product Damage
High Packaging Costs
Reduced Handling Efficiency
Wasted Natural Resources
Reduction of Environmental Quality

ystems Based Design

Systems Based Design is a proven process of unit load component cost optimization based on an understanding of how the pallet, packaging and material handling equipment interact during product distribution and storage to design the unit load component parts.

Very often a few inexpensive additions to the packaging can stabilize or stiffen a critical part and give good unit-load performance at a low cost. [ [http://www.palletenterprise.com/articledatabase/articles/page90.pdf] Systems Based Design Eliminates Product Damage, Pallet Enterprise, pg. 90]

Factors considered in unit load systems based design include:

Distribution Vibration and Resonance
Load Bridging and Deformation
Unit Load Deflections
Interfacial friction and load stability
Compression stress and product protection
Vertical and horizontal stabilization

tandards-Compliant Design

Standards permit a unit load to be designed and tested to meet a written specification or test method. A unit load can be verified to comply with a standard and validated to determine that the unit load is indeed effective.

Unit loads move by an unpredictable mix of many types of vehicles and storage areas, the exact set is difficult to predict. Therefore, unit loads must be designed to travel by any such vehicles, and be stored in a wide variety of places. There are therefore many similarities in the requirements for long term storage and long distance transportation of unit loads.

Standards provide institutional memory of the many conditions in real logistic trains, and collect the best practices for design and testing unit loads. Standards also describe load requirements, so that logistic providers can plan to meet them.
* Material based standards describe proven designs for particular circumstances. These are often used to describe unit load components such as pallets, strapping, seals, caps, retaining rings and battens.
* Performance testing standards describe needs and allow flexibility in the choice of matierials. These are applied to particular unit load designs.

ASTM D4169 has standard test protocols for unit loads. These vary based on the value of the load, the expected hazards, and the distribution environment. This is a performance based standard.

Another standard for unit loads is MIL-STD-1660 [Citation
publication-date = 8 April 1970
title = Design Criteria for Ammunition Unit Loads
publisher = U.S. DOD, Dept of the Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command
id = MIL-STD-1660
url = http://www.combatindex.com/mil_docs/mil_std_1600.html
accessdate = 2008-1-1
] , a standard for ammunition unit loads. DOD unit loads generally use 40x48" pallets, which pack efficiently into ISO containers. They weigh less than 4000lbs (1800kg) to limit the stresses on handling equipment. They are weatherproof, and stack 16' (4.9m) high. They often use steel pallets, steel straps with notched seals, outdoor plywood, and plastic film. Interestingly, MIL-STD-1660 mandates that loads must never be less than the width of a pallet, while permitting some overhang. The markings are logmars bar codes and standard inventory numbers. The standard describes major parts of the logistic path, including storage, ship, air, truck, forklift and sling (i.e. ship-to-ship and parachute). There are auxiliary standards for ship-to-ship transfers, and amphibious transfers. There are tests for stacking, transport, sling, forklift and pallet jack, impact, drop tests, tip, water-retention (i.e. weather), and safe disassembly.

MIL-STD-1660 at first looks like ridiculous overdesign to commercial unit-load designers. However, similar marking standards, safety, stability, volumetric efficiency, weight limits and impact resistance are routinely needed in commercial logistics. Sling handling is routine for small ports and noncontainer transports. Weatherproofness could be optional. It's sometimes valuable, and the baggies are cheap. High, standardized stacking could be optional as well. It's expensive, but sometimes valuable for rackless and military customers.

External links

* [http://www.unitload.vt.edu] Virginia Tech Center For Unit Load Design


Further reading

* Ward, R.E. 1993. Perspectives on material handling form the United States. Presentation at INTERMAX 93. Material Handling Industry of America, Charlotte, NC. www.MHIA.org.
* Brody, A. L., and Marsh, K, S., "Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology", John Wiley & Sons, 1997, ISBN 0-471-06397-5
* ASTM D6055 Mechanical Handling of Unitized Loads
* ASTM D6179 Rough Handling of Unitized Loads

ee also

* 463L master pallet, a wood and aluminium air cargo pallet primarily used by the US Air Force
* Concrete block
* Crane (machine)
* IPPC, guidelines that affect the treatment of pallets used for international shipments.
* Packaging
* Palletized load system
* Pallet
* Stretch wrap
* ULD, lightweight aluminium and plastic pallet or container for aircraft.

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