Break Bulk Packing: How to Prepare Your Shipment

In the real world of shipping, break bulk cargo is easier said than done. There’s high risk involved. To minimise that risk, you have to prepare for the whole shipment with a thorough understanding of each stage and the equipment involved.

The purpose of this article is to guide you on how to prepare your break bulk shipment to protect your cargo and maximise value in the whole supply chain.

break bulk vessel being loaded

What is break bulk cargo?

Break bulk cargo refers to the shipment of unitised cargo such as boxes, bags, crates, drums, or barrels. Some shippers confuse it with shipping bulk cargo, which refers to cargo transported in loose forms like oil, grain, and ore.

Read our complete guide to break bulk shipping for more comprehensive information.

Why use break bulk cargo?

The greatest benefit of break bulk shipment is the convenience of handling super-sized cargo that cannot fit in a standard-sized container. Break shipment is also more affordable because you can ship large pieces of cargo without having to dismantle or deconsolidate it.

Break bulk shipping is generally a more economical option. Unlike full container loading or bulk cargo, you’ll be paying only for the space occupied by the goods.

break bulk goods being loaded via forklift

How to Prepare Your Break Bulk Shipment

As the shipper, you’ll need to have a decent knowledge of the end-to-end process of break bulk shipment. To guide you through the whole journey, you can follow the steps below:

1. Determine the type of break bulk cargo

To maximise your break bulk shipments, you’ll need to first know the material or equipment for transport. Generally, cargo in break bulk shipment can be classified as follows:

  • Project cargo – refers to the equipment needed for a construction project. All goods required by the project will be provided by the vessel at the destination.
  • Heavy lift cargo refers to the bulkier goods such as turbines, cranes, blades, and other massive equipment.
  • Iron and steel products are break shipment cargo that includes steel bars, coils, slabs, plates, tubes, and steel wires.
  • Forest products are materials derived from the forest such as lumber, fiberboard, plywood, firewood, honey, and rattan. This also includes forest growth like grass and shrubs, including the associated fish or livestock.
  • Parcels refer to break shipment cargo packed in parcels like fertiliser, sugar, malt, and rice.
  • Reefer items are perishable cargoes that usually require a controlled temperature to preserve their quality. Good examples of this cargo are fruits, vegetables, and meat.
  • Small break bulk shipments refer to the remaining smaller break bulk shipments that are ideal for break bulk packing like bagged and palletized cargo.

Once you have identified the type of cargo for shipment, it will be easier to determine the packing used. You should make a list of all cargo for shipment and choose the appropriate packing for each.

break bulk vessel goods onboard

2.  Identify the appropriate break bulk packing

The main purpose of packing is to protect the cargo from damage, theft, and pilferage during the break bulk shipment.

Different cargo means different methods of packing. Packed cargoes refer to those shipped in bags, cartons, or boxes while unpacked cargoes refer to those unpacked or cannot be packed. Below are examples of packing materials for break bulk cargo:

Pallets

When selecting pallets for break bulk shipment, the main consideration should be the strength of the material used. Whether the pallet is made of wood, plastic, or metal, it must have the capacity to carry the weight of the product. The standard sizes of pallets are as follows:

  • 48” x 40” – Standard size
  • 47.24” x 39.37” – Euro pallet

One great advantage of pallets in break bulk shipments is that you can get a good grasp of how much capacity the vessel can carry in terms of pallets. This is particularly used by businesses for transportation planning to calculate load and its corresponding cost.

Pallets help preserve the quality of the product or equipment by keeping it away from the ground where there is moisture and uneven surfaces. Heavy-duty as they are, they can still be carried even by one person.

wooden pallets

Before using pallets, take a look and see if they are free from pests or insects that might ruin your product. You may request a certification of fumigation to ensure that the pallet underwent treatment.

Pallets are highly manageable items because you can stack them in tall piles when not in use. In terms of longevity, plastic pallets have a longer life cycle than wooden ones.

Crates

Crates have been around since the inception of break bulk shipments and are still used today. Because of its formidable strength and high humidity resistance, shippers still prefer them for break bulk shipment. They are usually available in wood but some are made in plastic.

Crates are a good way to stack your cargo while protecting the items inside from salt, humidity, precipitation, and temperature. Like pallets, crates can help save space by allowing them to be stacked over the other. Wooden crates are specially designed to carry the weight of several crates on top of it.

Wooden crates are eco-friendly and easily recyclable. They’re considered one of the best options for break bulk shipments as far as security is concerned. Unlike cardboard, wooden crates are more secure because it takes extra effort to open them.

Slip sheets

Slip sheets are usually made of plastic or fiberboard and occupy only a small space. Similar to pallets, they are placed underneath the load for pushing or pulling the load.

Unlike pallets, slip sheets are disposable so you won’t have to transport the pallets back to the shipper after break bulk shipments. Thus, this eliminates the need to monitor its whereabouts.

Since slip sheets are lighter than pallets, it’s more cost-effective. Because they’re thinner, you’ll get a bigger storage space. Moreover, you’ll save vertical space considering the slip sheets’ thinness.

plastic slip sheet

Bales

Bales are large bundles of homogeneous items compressed tightly for transportation or break bulk shipments. Baling products allow the shipper to easily handle loose products in compact form. When packed in bales, they will be easily stackable on top of one another and it protects the products inside it.

Certain cargoes require the use of bales but there’s a risk of damage and pilferage.

bales full of wool

Bulk bags

Bulk bags are made of polypropylene threads woven together to create durable packaging. These bags are not just any normal bag; they can hold large amounts of weight. Industries like agriculture, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals are the key markets using bulk bags.

Certain commodities like grain, fertilisers, and coconut are best handled through bags during break bulk shipments. The packaging materials of bags are durable enough to withstand compression and pressure.

bulk bags

Bulk bags are easy to store so this is a wise strategy for maximising vessel space during break bulk shipments. They are also easy to carry and are fairly cheap compared to boxes.

According to Market Research Future, the market for bulk bags is projected to grow at 6.8%.

Fiberboard boxes and cartons

Many shippers prefer to use fiberboard boxes and cartons during break bulk shipments because of their affordability and durability. Depending on their quality, they can endure normal transportation hazards. If goods are not fragile, you can use them for goods inside containers.

Aside from being inexpensive, corrugated boxes are highly eco-friendly. They are biodegradable and recyclable. Right after use during the break bulk shipment, you can reuse it for a wide range of purposes.

Barrels and drums

You may use these packing materials for liquid items like chemicals, latex, oil, paint, and solid items like cement and ore. Certain alcoholic drinks are transported either through barrels or wooden casks during break bulk shipments.

Plastic drums are usually made of high-density polyethylene, which means that they are highly resistant to both high and low pH contents. This makes them good packing material for the storage and transportation of liquids, both hazardous and non-hazardous.

Steel drums are leak-proof and robust enough to withstand harsh weather or hard impact during break bulk shipments. These are ideal for toxic or hazardous materials.

In summary, below are the advantages of using barrels or drums:

  • Durable and can resist rough handling
  • Available in different sizes and models
  • Can hold both solid and liquid materials
barrels and drums

3. Identify the proper types of handling equipment

A break bulk vessel could either be gearless or geared. When you say gearless ships, these are ships that don’t have their cargo handling equipment. It follows, then, that geared ships are those that are loaded with their cargo handling equipment.

The break bulk cargo handling equipment encompasses all the gears or equipment used to load or discharge cargo to and from the vessel. The type of equipment depends on the type of cargo.

For break bulk shipments, below are the common break bulk cargo handling equipment at the port:

  • Bolsters
  • Roll Trailers
  • Multi-purpose Boogies
  • Samson Light
  • Samson heavy-lift trailer
  • Blocks and beams
  • Tug-masters
  • Van Carriers
  • Container Cranes
  • Stacking Cranes

When onboard the vessel, you can also find the following handling equipment for break bulk shipments:

  • Cranes
  • Cargo nets
  • Barrel hooks
  • Heavy lifting beams
break bulk vessel

4. Choose the break bulk fleet

The break bulk fleet is responsible for carrying your cargo and its handling equipment over the waters until it reaches the destination port. Vessels for break bulk shipments vary in size, capacity, and specialisation. Many outdated vessels have already been superseded by modern ones.

Some of the ships you can choose include:

  • Conventional Liners
  • Barge carriers – In a barge carrier system, a mothership (usually a floating dock) carries barges or containers simultaneously.
  • Container ships – Using cranes, the cargo secured by its handling equipment is hoisted onto the container vessel. Alternatively, if the items are in bags or crates, they can be stowed directly on the container ship.
  • Forest product carriers – For wood and paper products, the forest product carriers are a reliable option. These products can be in raw, semi-finished, or finished form. Examples of these products are pulp, plywood, sawn timber, and paper rolls.
  • Heavy lift and project carriers – These specialized vessels are specifically made to carry extra-large and heavy equipment like that of factories and power plants. To unload the equipment from the vessels, two methods are used: lift on-lift off (LoLo) and roll on-roll off (RoRo).
  • Conventional reefer ships – These ships usually transport valuable foodstuffs that require temperature control to prevent spoilage like fruits, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Compared to conventional dry cargo ships, reefer ships usually have more divisions to allow the separation of different products that require different temperatures.
  • Ro-Ro vessels – RoRo ships specialise in transporting wheeled cargo but they can also accommodate break bulk cargo. Equipment can be towed on board the vessel using trailer-type units. This gives RoRo vessels high flexibility in carrying a wide variety of cargo like mining equipment, agricultural machinery, project cargo, and the like.
RoRo break bulk shipment

5. Determine the break-of-bulk point

Shippers must be aware of the break-of-bulk point of the cargo during break bulk shipments. This is the specific location, usually ports, where the cargo shifts into another mode of transportation. Knowing this point gives you a clearer picture of the whole journey your break bulk shipment makes.

break bulk port

6. Choose a trusted logistics partner

Break bulk shipping is not a one-person show. It’s a synergy of close coordination and collaboration. Since we’re dealing here with mostly high-value items, it’s imperative to be meticulous in arranging the whole break bulk shipment.

Consider approaching an experienced and trusted company that can get the job done. An ideal company could already handle the break bulk and packing service in one.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for break bulk shipments is not as easy as it sounds. You’ll need a good grasp of the whole shipment process, the specific packing that corresponds to your cargo, and the methods needed to stow them on the vessel.

We’ve had decades of combined experience handling break bulk packing for businesses in Australia and across the world. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at International Cargo Express.

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