Kseniia Zatevakhina | Dreamstime
Metal pipe couplings.

Four Best Practices for Shipping Metal Parts

Feb. 23, 2023
Take care to avoid harm from handling, corrosion, or other surface damage, and consider alternative delivery options.

Metal components are shipped worldwide and represent a significant part of all import and export activities. However, the likelihood of product damage or harm to those handling the items means businesses and operators must follow best practices when shipping metal. Here are some of those best practices.

1. Consider the arrangement

The methods of shipping metal depend significantly on the size of the pieces and whether the enterprise needs to send one or several shipments. Fabricated sheet metal provides a good example. Nested parts only need paper between them during shipment. However, if you’re stacking the pieces, they need cardboard or plastic separators for protection.

Relatedly, confirm whether you’ll send parts assembled or unassembled. Companies can sometimes send partially assembled metal items in flat sheets, saving costs. However, decision-makers must assess how likely the customer will be able to put together the metal components without difficulty.

Some small pieces, such as nuts and bolts, can be shipped safely when grouped in a zip-top plastic bag and slid into a padded envelope. In that example, you can put several metal parts together and not worry about damage. But, when there’s a risk of separate metal parts coming into contact during shipment, it’s usually best to wrap each part individually with foam or bubble wrap.

2. Plan the shipping route

Some metal parts, or products containing metal parts, are so large that shipping them by truck is the primary feasible option. That’s common when shipping oversized machinery, for example, or any cargo that is so tall that it must follow shipping routes that avoid bridges, underpasses or other structures that could be hit by it.

Shipping metal safely also may mean seeking strategic partners that are highly experienced in handling certain metal goods. That situation occurred when Minnesota’s Duluth Cargo Connect cargo hub accepted wind turbine blades carried by a cargo ship that came into the Port of Duluth-Superior. They measured 260 feet long and got moved to land with two types of cranes. The Port has accepted 2 million wind energy components since it started handling them in 2006.

However, the turbine-blade journey didn’t end there. It continued via truck to a wind farm. Shipping metal can become more complicated as the journey lengthens and concerns more than one transportation mode.

That’s why many people who need to ship metal or other products use Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. They allow the shipper to set geofenced boundaries, receive alerts when shipments enter or leave certain areas. IoT sensors also can reveal a shipment’s location to within feet and give relevant updates every few seconds.

3. Safeguard against corrosion

Customers expect their metal products to arrive in excellent condition. However, that may not happen if the items get exposed to corrosive-promoting environments during shipping. Condensation on the internal walls of trucks and ships — caused by humidity and temperature fluctuations — can cause a condition called “container rain.”

However, shippers can prevent this issue by storing metal inside special bags with compounds that vaporize and add protective layers over the contents. This method is ideal when the metal products have crevices or other aspects that make it hard to add coatings with other methods.

Sprays, dips, and brush-based coatings are other ways to prevent corrosion on shipped pieces of metal. Some companies also choose peelable coatings, like those made of vinyl. Moreover, people may need to take a multifaceted approach to stop corrosion. For example, people may coat fasteners with an oil-film coating, then seal them with plastic wrapping.

The corrosion-prevention method selected will depend on various factors, including the type and geometry of the part, the length of the journey, and the likely environmental conditions during the trip.

4. Look for options to reduce

Always verify that using metal for packaging or a product is the most appropriate choice. For example, many cosmetics brands switched from plastic to aluminum containers, for sustainability. However, metal is easy to dent, and using a thicker type can raise costs due to extra weight.

That’s why some people recommend pairing aluminum cosmetics containers with refill programs to reduce costs. In that case, retailers could have strategies to exchange containers in stores rather than shipping them through postal services. Shipping still occurs in that example, but it’s a less prominent part of goods movement

The U.S. Navy has also permanently installed a 3D printer on one of its ships. It allows the crew on board to print metal parts rather than having them delivered from suppliers.

These examples don’t mean you should avoid shipping metal or using it in products or containers. However, they’re reminders that it’s always worthwhile to search for alternatives, too. After you find them, compare the options against metal and see which is the best solution.

Shipping with more confidence

Sending metal can be tricky, especially with the possibility of the items getting scratched, dented or corroded in transit. However, these four best practices will help you reduce those mishaps and keep customers happy.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the latest industrial innovations.

Latest from Shop Operations