LTL 101: Best Practices

LTL 101: Best Practices

Less than truckload shipments make up a huge part of the freight industry, with $35.4 billion in revenue in 2014, according to Pittsburgh-based SJ Consulting Group.

Small businesses contribute significantly to LTL revenue and benefit most from it. LTL is cargo that does not fill a standard 48- or 53-foot trailer. Rather than paying for a full truckload (FTL), many businesses share a truck and pay only for the portion of the trailer that contains their goods.

There’s a well-defined method to shipping LTL. Doing it right can save time and money; doing it wrong can lead to the opposite. Here are some best practices for sending less than truckload cargo:

Know your stuff. Determine exactly what is being shipped, how much it weighs and the number of pallets the products will move on. Most LTL loads range from 100 to 10,000 lbs., and the number of pallets that can ship LTL varies with each carrier. In general, most offer up to 12 feet of space.

Know your class. The class of a freight shipment is based on its contents, and cost is determined by value, density, ease of handling, and stowability (the ability to mix well with other shipments). The National Motor Freight Classification guide, created by the National Motor Traffic Association, has 18 freight classes ranging from 50, the least expensive, to 500, the most expensive. These classes help shippers standardize pricing when working with various carriers, warehouses and brokers, according to freight logistics company Cerasis, which is based in Minnesota.

Pack properly. Shipments must be packaged according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s standards, especially hazardous materials. Claims and damages occur because of incorrect packing, so follow these tips from ADC Technologies, a supply chain solutions company based in Irvine, California:

  • Place heavy, bulky items on pallets for improved handling.
  • Stack cartons on the pallets vertically to maximize carton strength.
  • Secure cartons to a pallet with banding, shrink-wrap, stretch-wrap or breakaway adhesive.
  • Stack cartons squarely on the skid, with no overhang. Box flaps and corrugations should face up, and the top surface should be flat.
  • Place single containers on an outside corner or ship them loose.

Get your paperwork right. Labels should be on every item being shipped, preferably on both the long and short sides of each piece. When shipping hazardous materials, DOT hazardous material labels are required.

A bill of lading is the most important document in the shipping industry, says PLS Logistics. It serves as a receipt for goods, a contract between carrier and shipper, and as a document of title. A correct bill of lading can also be the difference between an invoice paid on time and one that takes way too long.