5 alternatives to heavy timber crates

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Timber crates, also known as wooden boxes or crates, are used by manufacturers to ship heavy industrial machinery and equipment parts. These protective cases keep fragile items safe during transportation.

Wooden crates are typically built to order and meet international shipping standards for export.  They’re a popular packaging product across a range of industries. For example, large wooden crates are often used for shipping everything from aerospace parts through to medical instruments.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to using timber crates, which we will unpick in this blog. 

timber crate

The benefits of using timber crates for shipment

Wooden crates have been used for the packaging and transportation of goods for many years. Their strength and durability make them a reliable option for safeguarding goods during transit, particularly for heavier or fragile items.

Strength and durability

Timber crates provide robust protection for goods during transit. Their sturdy construction withstands handling, stacking, and transportation, reducing the risk of damage to fragile or valuable items.

Customising timber crates

Timber crates can be tailored to fit the specific dimensions and requirements of the goods being shipped.

As well as being built to accommodate the precise size and shape of the cargo, they can also be fitted with:

  • internal padding to protect your product
  • timber struts to screw machinery in place
  • handling features like bars, handholes or hooks to enable lifting or winching

Sustainable and reusable  

Timber crates come from forests managed responsibly and certified by organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These crates offer a sustainable packaging option. Wood is a renewable resource, and proper forestry practices promote forest conservation and biodiversity.

Wooden crates are reusable and can withstand multiple shipping cycles with minimal wear and tear. Once they are no longer needed, they can be recycled or reused. This helps to reduce waste and lessen the environmental impact. This is in comparison to single-use packaging materials.

timber crate

The challenges of shipping in timber crates

Whilst timber crates offer many benefits, it’s worth noting that there are drawbacks too:

Labour intensive process

Timber crates can be labour intensive to build, load and close. Typically, a skilled operator with tools and hand protection is required to hammer in nails to assemble the crate. Packing takes up valuable time. It can also pose health and safety risks. These risks include manual handling and the risk of injury from wood splinters and sharp nails.

When the goods are delivered to their destination and the crate requires unpacking, they have the same impact.

Regulatory compliance for exporting goods

When exporting timber crates outside of the UK, they need to meet international shipping regulations and ISPM standards. This includes using heat treated wood or fumigated wood that is certified to the receiving country’s requirements.

The IPPC has established a regulation known as ISPM15. This rule mandates that wood used for international shipping must undergo treatment. Specifically, wood with a thickness of 6mm or more must be subjected to heat treatment to guarantee it is devoid of pests.

The impact on shipment weight

Timber crates tend to be heavier and bulkier compared to alternative packaging materials such as cardboard or plastic. This can raise your shipping costs significantly, especially for air freight.

It may also restrict the amount of cargo in one shipment.

Site storage of timber crates

Crates are a great option for heavy or fragile products, but they may not be the most versatile choice.  Storing them on site before shipping can use up a lot of warehouse space. It can also be a problem for customers if they are not part of a closed loop supply chain.

timber crate alternatives

The advantages of replacing timber crates

Lighter materials can match or even surpass the resilience and protection of timber crates.  They can also improve how you store and assemble your pack. You can achieve this while still providing the same level of protection and reduce shipment weight and cost too!

Designers can create alternative packaging materials to withstand the challenges of transportation and provide excellent protection against impacts, moisture, and other potential hazards.

Switching from wood crating to a more user-friendly option can lead to cost savings in labour and shipping.

timber crate alternatives

5 timber crate alternatives

When replacing timber crates, you need to consider a variety of factors. Choosing the right packaging material is crucial for enhancing sustainability and providing the right level of protection.

If you are shipping delicate items, you’ll need to incorporate material that provides excellent cushioning and shock absorption. Conversely, if you’re shipping heavy or bulky goods, you’ll need robust structural support.

Several alternatives to timber crates exist. These include:

Heavy duty corrugated cardboard

Corrugated cardboard is lightweight, inexpensive, and recyclable, making it a popular choice for shipping a wide variety of products. Heavy-duty corrugated material provides excellent protection and can include lockable fittings to secure products in place. These fittings not only make assembly quick and easy but also enhance the unpacking process upon arrival.

Corrugated cardboard provides the option to use recycled materials and is easily recyclable. It can be used as a foam replacement for corner protection and holding products in place too.

For storage, corrugated cardboard has the potential to fold flat, reducing the amount of warehouse space required.

Tri-Mite system

Tri-Mite containers are made with strong triple wall corrugated cardboard. They are built with precise joints for extra strength and easy stacking and make substantial use of recyclable materials. Containing multi-trip locking fasteners, they are suitable for reusable applications.

Tri-Mite cases can be fitted with internal supports and partitions made from corrugated board, foam or rigid plastics. Additional fitments, like handles, can be added to improve manual handling.

Airsac® lined polyethylene fibre packs

For businesses circulating equipment for temporary loan, a lightweight alternative is a high-density polyethylene pack with removeable Airsac liners.

The packs can be made with castor wheels, pull straps, Velcro and clips for easy closure.  When not in use, the Airsac is removed and the pack can be laid flat in storage.  The pack is highly reusable, lightweight, easy to manoeuvre and significantly reduces manual handling risks.

Plastic crates

Plastic crates are lightweight, durable, and resistant to moisture, making them suitable for a wide range of products. Highly reusable, they can are water resistant and washable for reuse.  It’s a great option for closed loop operations.

Metal crates

Metal crates, typically made from aluminium or steel, offer excellent strength and durability. They are resistant to moisture, pests, and damage, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications or transporting delicate goods. However, depending on the metal crates selected, they can be heavier and may require additional surface treatments to prevent corrosion.

timber crate alternatives

How Macfarlane Packaging can help with timber crate replacement

At Macfarlane, we help customers minimise the impact of packaging on their logistics operation with lightweight replacements that offer high levels of protection, reduce weight, labour and storage costs associated with bulky timber crates.

Contact us today to find out more.