FTL and LTL Transportation

Transportation by air, sea, truck and train all serve the same purpose—to get the product to the customer. Each carrier mode, however, has its own unique characteristics, and each package must be designed with the carrier mode in mind. A high protective barrier is sometimes necessary for shipping by sea, as the long journey can present corrosion and condensation issues. Traveling by truck comes with its own issues where vibration can damage products. Let’s look further at truck distribution.

Truck shipments are divided into two broad categories: less than truckload (LTL) and full truck load (FTL). For LTL, shipments do not require the space of an entire truck, so an LTL carrier only requires a company to pay for the space needed. For example, if a shipment takes one third of a truck, an LTL provider charges you for the space of one third of a truck. The remainder of the truck will be filled with other customer products. LTL is ideal for small companies, but more packaging can be required to keep the multiple size packages and products safe. Consolidating items into a large palletized shipment can also help avoid damage and reduce handling time.

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LTL and parcel have higher potential for product damage from overpackaging. Since LTL shipments are comprised of small shipments from several companies, the carrier is not organized as efficiently which creates void spaces. To compensate for the void spaces, trucks are often overpacked. LTL companies may not be as careful with handling since they have less invested in the safety of the products.

The delivery of LTL shipments is a process that involves consolidation with shipments from other companies with destinations in the same direction. If the shipment is small, sturdy, and not on a strict time schedule, then LTL is the best option.

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FTL shipments, on the other hand, consist exclusively of products from the same company. That company makes sure to load the carrier by nesting the pallets in a way that reduces void spaces. This eliminates the need for overpackaging and also lessens the amount of dunnage needed between pallets. If a shipment is large and delicate, FTL is the best option. FTL shipments are delivered by a much simpler process than LTL since everything is done through one company and the carrier is filled with only one full shipment headed to the same destination. Dunnage bags are also used in FTL carriers for the same reason, but since FTL shipments typically fit together well, void spaces are less of a problem.

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Knowledge of the distribution chain is crucial to developing proper transport packaging. For instance, if you have your own fleet or tight control over your 3PL, an FTL design can use significantly less protective packaging than something going LTL or parcel. When you have control over the full unitized load, the packaging system is much different than a box for eCommerce parcel delivery. Determining the best type of shipment for your products is based on shipment size, budget, freight fragility, and time constraints.

LTL packages also travel in a hub-like system and can be transferred multiple times before finally reaching their destination. Therefore, FTL freight arrives at its destination faster than LTL. A timetable, however, can be provided by LTL carriers to estimate delivery times. As seen in this graphic, FTL shipments are simply taken from point A to point B, while LTL makes several stops and pickups along the way.

When properly designed, transport packaging safely gets a product from the manufacturer to the customer. There are many functions and goals of transport packaging, but they all exist to ensure safe travels for a product to meet the customer’s needs.

Learn more about this in our Packaging Distribution course, or check out our other programs in the course library!

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