How can a company forestall the astronomical costs associated with goods damaged in shipping? The answer, my friend, ain’t just blowin’ in the wind. It’s in the air bags offered by ITW Shippers. Dan Harvey reports how the Tennessee-based company’s load securement products benefitcustomers over the long haul.
However companies decide to ship their goods upon this blue-green earth – whether it’s on the land or on the sea, on the road or on the rail, by ship or by truck or by train – ITW Shippers will make sure that load reaches its destination unshaken, unstirred and undamaged.
For more than 40 years, ITW Shippers has been a leader in the load-securement industry, enabling captains of other industries to sleep well, knowing that their products are in good hands.
Filling the Voids
ITW Shippers accomplishes this by providing dunnage, a technical term for materials used to protect cargo contained in ship holds, boxcars, truck trailers and sea containers. Specifically, the Mount Pleasant, Tenn.-headquartered company offers dunnage air bags, its claim to fame. These devices have proven to be the most efficient and effective bracing and cushioning method available to companies shipping their products via different modes of transportation. “Damage easily occurs when goods are shipped over roads and on rail tracks, which can be in very bad shape, causing heavy vibrations,” says Vincent Raucoules, ITW Shippers’ marketing manager, “and the oceans can be very rough, causing cargo to shift back and forth. Load securement prevents this damage from happening.”
Dunnage air bags address the damage problem by filling the so-called voids present between stored and stacked goods. After the bags are placed within the voids of the goods being shipped, they’re then inflated. Raucoules emphasizes that while this “filling the void” helps cushion a load, the air bags are much more than simply a cushioner. “In this industry, when you talk about cushioning, it suggests using an air bag as a pillow,” he indicates. “But our bags do more than that. They brace a load, totally securing it from movement. That is a critical point.”
After inflation, the bags push the loads against the walls of a truck trailer or a rail car, creating a bulkhead. “Bulkhead is the key word,” indicates Raucoules. “It creates a retention wall, so to speak, which fully secures the load so it can’t move, thus preventing any damage.”
ITW Shippers provides a full line of such bags (in a variety of sizes and styles) as well as other methods of securing loads. Besides the obvious benefit of reducing costs associated with damaged goods, the company’s dunnage devices reduce labor, loading time, and shipping materials. In addition, many of them are reusable and they’re all recyclable.
Blowing past Benchmarks
ITW Shippers, which is part of Illinois Tool Works, has been in the air bag business for more than 40 years and has been recognized as product innovator and quality provider. Today, ITW Shippers has four manufacturing facilities, including one at its Mount Pleasant headquarters, as well as one in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., one in Sheridan, Ark., and one located at its subsidiary in Carnieres, Belgium.
Each facility adheres to Statistical Process Controls to ensure that product meets the customers’ needs and that benchmark quality levels are met. Further, to foster continuous development, the company constantly re-establishes those benchmark levels once they’ve been met.
ITW Shippers’ products serve customers in the industries you’d most expect would benefit from dunnage capabilities: food & beverage, transportation, rigid containers, retail, furniture, appliances and electronics in the light weight category and forest products and building materials and chemicals in the heavy weight category.
For lighter loads (e.g., less than 500 pounds per pallet space in a trailer), ITW Shippers’ offers an array of choices, including the newest bag in its product line: the Zebra SL, used for loads shipped only by truck. For medium-weight loads (over 500 pounds and less than 1,000 pounds per pallet space in trailer) shipped by truck or by intermodal means, ITW Shippers offers customers the Zebra SE/DEF bag model. The Zebra products get their name from the zebra stripes emblazoned on their exterior. These strategically placed stripes enable an operator to determine if the correct size air bag is being used and if the bag is properly inflated.
Heavyweight air bags are designed to help loads survive the substantial oscillation and lateral and longitudinal movements endured in transit inside rail cars and in ships. The bags, either made of paper or poly-woven, have been verified under the most recent American Association of Railroads Product Performance Profile for Pneumatic Dunnage guidelines. Typical heavyweight bag applications include paper & forest products, bricks, chemicals, flat glass, and OSB boards. The line include L3W bags to accommodate loads between 75,000 and 160,000 pounds, L4W bags for loads between 160,000 and 205,000 pounds, and L5W for horizontal application in roll paper up to 205,000 pounds.
ITW Shippers’ products also include the Superflow™ line of reusable bags. These consist of a valve and inflator that deliver speed and consistency of inflation and eliminate risk of bursting. For example: an air bag measuring 48 inches by 48 inches can be inflated with the Superflow in eight seconds; a conventional bag of the same size would inflate in 15 to 20 seconds, making the Superflow 50-60 percent faster. In addition, the Superflow provides consistent results. Setting the desired pressure on the airline regulator will achieve consistent inflation – no more over-inflated or under-inflated air bag. In addition, the SuperFlow air bag can be used multiple times. By pushing a unique, patented blue valve flapper, operators can quickly deflate the air bag and store it for reuse. Reusing the air bags can significantly reducing the cost per use.
Increased Awareness = Increased Revenues
Revenue growth for the company has been as steady as an air bag-bolstered container bulkheaded inside a trailer traveling a rough road. This strength is attributable to developing market factors. First, as Raucoules indicates, more and more companies are increasingly aware of how damaged packaging can negatively impact a customer’s perception – even if the product inside the packaging is pristine.
“Companies are placing themselves in the shoes of a customer who goes to Best Buy to spend two or three thousand dollars on a flat-screen television or an equally expensive electronics purchase,” says Raucoules. “The customer will be buying off the shelf, and they’re not going to pick up something that’s packaged inside a beat-up looking box. When customers see damaged packaging, they immediately think that there’ll be potential problems with the product.”
ITW Shippers’ products, of course, can help preserve the packaging as well as the packaged product. “Companies are anticipating negative customer perceptions and, by using air bags, proactively dealing with those perceptions,” comments Raucoules.
The second factor is the increasing awareness of companies about the high costs that come with shipping damage. “More companies are aggressively addressing this damage, because they’re starting to realize just how costly it is,” says Raucoules. “For instance, large food conglomerates have assessed these costs in the tens of millions of dollars. That’s a huge amount. They’ve also found out that they can reduce the damage, and associated cost, by 90 percent—and that’s a huge amount, too.”
The customers that ITW Shippers serves have invested vast amounts of money in researching, designing, developing and producing their product. With its line of dunnage products, ITW Shippers helps those customers protect that precious investment.