This article was originally published at ReloRow.com on March 26, 2006 under the moniker OpsEd http://www.relorow.com/GH_ShowArticle.asp?HID=22&CATID=3|4|5|8|9|12|13
Necessity is the Mother of Invention…but its Imagination that drives the process.
The Type II lift van has been the preferred workhorse of the moving industry for the worldwide shipping and storage of boxed household goods for the last 50 years.
These wooden “crates” were originally required to meet the Federal Supply Service and Government Services Administration sampling procedures and inspection attributes outlined in military specification MIL-STD-105.
The “standard” lift (PPP-B-580) vans were required to be demountable, constructed of plywood and lumber so that the exterior dimensions were 87”L x 47-1/2”W x 84-1/2”H (202 cu. ft.), and have a capacity of 1500 lbs. They were required to permit four-way forklift and sling-hoist handling. The tare weight of the finished box could not exceed 460 lbs.
The interior seams had to be weather stripped or caulked and the walls lined with a plastic moisture barrier to ensure water tightness. According to the standard, assembly was to be easily accomplished by two workers with screwdrivers in 20 minutes.
Disposal of these boxes (in order of preference) was to be accomplished by: reuse, sale, recycle for use of components, pyrolysis, burning, shredding, composting, and sanitary landfill.
For years wooden lift vans were generally considered dependable transportation containers for moving household goods. Despite their rugged construction, however, they did have a number of drawbacks.
Before portable power tools, two men would wrestle with the bulky components for an hour constructing each unit using screws, nails, screwdrivers, drills, and hammers. Each assembled, 350 lb. box then had to be weather proofed, and permanently marked with shipping instructions.
Rough handling often took its toll on the rigid construction of these boxes. A used lift van’s appearance, however, was convincing testimony to its durability. Frequently these crates were painted with a half dozen overlapping coats of different colored paint to “erase” the permanent stencils of shipping instructions from previous usages. Split and broken pallet bases, splintered or separated walls, and rusting hardware were often ignored as the boxes were prepped to service another shipment. Local ordinances and high disposal costs made it easier and cheaper to patch a dilapidated box and prepare it for reuse than consider one of the other preferred disposal methods.
When they couldn’t be avoided, wooden lift van repairs were tedious and expensive. The time to dismantle them was often twice what it took construct the unit. Frequently the replacement parts obtained from other cannibalized containers didn’t exactly fit and the screws and nails used in the original assembly broke or were lost, only to be found by a movers truck tires.
For years the industry shuffled these contraptions between continents because there wasn’t any other economically viable or approved conveyance method that could be used.
The idea of a new shipping container system that would provide acceptable capacity flexibility grew out of the realization that large, expensive high tech computers and heavy machines were routinely being shipped worldwide using boxes constructed of plastic polymer and reinforced tri-wall fiberboard.
North American Van Lines, then owned by Norfolk Southern Railway, developed the first alternate prototype of a lift van for smaller domestic household goods shipments when they released their patented PROPAC container system in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The PROPAC was extremely durable. Constructed of 1” thick structural plastic polymer walls installed on a 4-way entry plastic base pallet, each unit consisted of numerous interlocking pieces that could be used to build different sized containers. Depending on the size, each unit weighed between 400-700 lbs.
The PROPAC containers came in four sizes:
Tall Large: 44”W x 88”L x 100”H 190 cu. ft
Reg. Large: 44”W x 88”L x 87”H 167 cu. ft
Tall Medium: 44”W x 44”L x 100”H 95 cu. ft
Reg. Medium: 44”W x 44”L x 87”H 82 cu. ft
The full sized containers could be stacked 3 high and included built-in document holders and changeable inserts for logos. Depending on the individual load weight, casters could be placed on some models. The instructions said that the PROPAC was collapsible and could be easily assembled and knocked down.
These rugged containers, built to hold 2000 lbs., were initially designed to move containerized household goods domestically but their construction allowed a variety of products to be stored and then easily transported in moving vans, special products or freight trailers or intermodal containers transported on rail flat cars.
Like their wooden predecessor, however, the PROPAC also suffered from several disadvantages. The units were complicated to assemble – impossible if the custom made pieces were missing. The heavy, dense construction and higher gross shipping weight increased transportation costs by approximately 25%. When empty, they were hoarded fully assembled and used for local storage. Many of these expensive units were “lost” in the system because of mismanagement of equipment resources and poor inventory control.
Unfortunately shortly after NAVL began distributing their stock of these light blue lift vans, the need PROPACs slowed as the Cold War came to an end. An industry that had been experiencing a worldwide shortage of military type II lift vans suddenly found the empty behemoths taking up valuable warehouse space or sitting behind the warehouse rotting in the weather.
In February, 1995, the military sampling procedures and inspection attributes outlined in MIL-STD-105 were officially cancelled with a recommendation that future acquisitions should refer to an acceptable non-Government standard on sampling procedures and tables for inspection by attributes, such as ANSI/ASQC.
It didn’t take long for the packaging industry to take notice. The Servants, Inc., a small corrugated manufacturer in Jasper, Indiana, developed one of the first corrugated lift vans by modifying a manufacturing process that allowed their customers to ship large truck engines and new pianos in reinforced cardboard boxes. The pallet base had to be redesigned several times to allow access from any side on the full sized container. A plastic reinforced base topped with a piece of Masonite created a sturdy pallet and floor able to support 2500 lbs.
Mayflower was involved in the initial development of the Power-Pak and tested various prototypes of the container in their domestic small shipment program during the mid-90s. Interconex was involved in about 100 international moves.
was produced in four sizes, but the most popular was the standard full lift van.
Full Pak Exterior 88”L x 45”W x 88”H Interior 86”L x 41.5”W x 83”H
Air Pak Exterior 88”L x 45”W x 60”H Interior 86” L x 41.5”W x 54.5’H
Sm Air Pak Exterior 46”L x 45”W x 60”H Interior 43”L X 42.5”W x 54.5”H
Quarter Pak Exterior 46”L x 45”W x 44”H Interior 43”L x 42.5”W x 39”H
Knocked down one Power-Pak took the approximate space of two single mattress cartons set up. Five KDd Paks could be stored in the same space as one assembled wooden lift van.
This new fangled lift van Pak took two guys who didn’t know what they were doing five minutes to assemble or disassemble. Since they didn’t require any tools or hardware, these boxes could be stored knocked down in the warehouse, local trucks or in OTR vans.
The full size lift van weighed just 172 lbs. – approximately ½ the container weight of its wooden counterpart. This reduced the gross transportation weight and shipping cost of the container by approximately 13% below a comparable military Type II box and 19% under its plastic cousin, the PROPAC.
The Power-Pak was designed and manufactured to meet or exceed the existing Federal Specification PPP-B-580D for boxed, containerized household goods. Each container was designed to achieve four uses. Two versions were tested to military specifications at gh Packaging and Product Testing in Cincinnati, Ohio in January, 1996.
The test included Random Truck Vibration, Rotary (Oscillatory) Vibration, Incline/Impact, Compression (stacking) Testing, Edge and Corner Drops, Racking tests, Pendulum Puncture Testing and Water Tightness Testing using the ASTM-D4169 Standard Practice for Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems (Active Standard
), T.A.P.P.I., D.O.T./U.N., and Federal and Military Specifications. Each test was video taped. Both containers met or exceeded all of the test criteria.
Six months later The Servants demonstrated the Power-Pak for a group of DOD and GSA officials and international account representatives at Hilldrup Moving and Storage’s new training facility in Stafford, Virginia. The meeting was arranged to hasten Military Traffic Management Command’s (MTMC) approval for the new containers. A Hilldrup crew not familiar with the product demonstrated how the full sized corrugated lift van container could be unpacked, and easily assembled without tools in less than 4 minutes.
Most of the attendees were impressed with the demonstration and product test results submitted by gH’s lab. The DOD, however, was leery of shipping household goods in cardboard boxes, especially overseas, and called for an extended test involving 400 shipments from Washington, DC to Hawaii and Guam.
A disappointing bump occurred in the approval process in February, 1997 when the Department of the Army advised the Servants that Power-Paks that exceeded 103 cu. ft. would not be approved for DOD sponsored personal property shipments because they had experienced problems with “chaining down” or securing the cardboard crates on flatbed type equipment used to haul boxed household goods. This negative feedback came at the same time that most lift vans were being transported inside vans or containers and were secured on flatbeds with new nylon ratchet straps.
Meanwhile, the State Department (who had also attended the Hilldrup demonstration) contacted the Servants and purchased a cargo plane load of the full sized Power-Pak containers and flew them to South Africa. They were shipped with a variety of standard HHG cartons stored inside and were deployed as evacuation packs in U.S. offices because of their capacity and ease of assembly.
MTMC relented and gave temporary approval for the use of all Paks. They formally issued the Servants a MTMC approval identification number in December, 1998. Three companies (Schumacher Wellpappi located Ansbach, ; Beghim-Say based in Kayserberg, ; and Service Packaging Company of Honolulu, Hawaii) also received MTMC approval for their versions of fiberboard containers.
Unfortunately, The Servants weren’t able to sell the concept of a corrugated lift van to a U.S. industry awash in a huge inventory of wooden boxes. The company entered into an agreement and sold the marketing rights to Georgia Pacific, one of the world's leading manufacturers and distributors of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, and building products.
GP became very interested in the concept and design of the Power-Pak because of legislation being considered in the EU in the late ‘90s that would put heavy restrictions and financial penalties on use of untreated wooden lift vans in an effort to control the worldwide spread of the pinewood nematode. These microscopic roundworms are vectored or carried by pine sawyer beetles that invade the stems and branches of pines causing a sudden wilting and death of the tree irrespective of its age or size. By 1999, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus had been identified in 33 states in the U.S.
Countries in the Pacific Rim and EU quickly warmed to the idea of the lighter weight, simple to assemble, and easier to dispose of corrugated container as new shipping restrictions on the existing inventory of untreated wooden boxes were considered worldwide. Many removal companies on the other side of the pond started to flush their untreated wooden inventories by shipping them out of the country. In 1996, the cost of disposing of a standard wooden container in the UK was $250 – more than the price of the original new container.
In October, 2001, the EU announced emergency restrictions requiring special heat treatment and marking of all new and used coniferous non-manufactured wood packing material originating in the United States, Canada, China and Japan aimed at preventing the introduction of this pest into Europe’s woodlands.
Recently WoodFree Crating Systems began producing corrugated and paper products for the moving industry at their plants in Pennsylvania and California. New Haven Moving Equipment Corp distributes them in the U.S.; SofraPack, a sister company outside Paris, , handles the EU.
WoodFree makes two versions of their patented corrugated lift van – the CLV-48 Commercial Lift Van and the DLV-22 DOD Lift Van. The DOD product is 80 lbs. heavier because of the plastic coated corrugated pallet. WoodFree also had their container tested at gh Package & Product Testing in Cincinnati where it met ASTM D4169, Distribution Cycle 18, Assurance level II standards.
Dimensions (LxWxH) 87" x 48" x 87"
Inside Cubic Dimension 180 cubic feet
Weight 160 lbs.
Load Capacity 2,500 Lbs (When evenly distributed)
Stacking Capacity 5,061 Lbs (Max 4000 Lbs. Recommended)
Max 2,000 Lbs. each when stacked 3 high
Specifications DLV-22 DOD Lift Van
Dimensions (LxWxH) 87" x 48" x 87"
Inside Cubic Dimension 170 cubic feet
Weight 240 lbs.
Load Capacity 2,000 Lbs (When evenly distributed)
Stacking Capacity 5,061 Lbs (Max 4000 Lbs. Recommended)
Max 2,000 Lbs. each when stacked 3 high
Military approval #SDDC-240
The primary difference between the Power-Pak and the WoodFree lift vans is the way the tray (pallet) is constructed. The Power-Pak uses Velcro to attach the end flaps at the doorway and reinforced, six ply corrugated beams in the corners to make the unit more stable. WoodFree’s plastic coated base provides a more durable tray. http://www.woodfreecrating.com
Victory Packaging recently developed and tested their own version of the corrugated lift van container – the CORRcrate – after they recognized the industry interest and market potential for these cardboard contraptions. This 205 cube container weighs in at 175 lbs. and boast of two identical side walls which overlap on two sides producing a double layer of triple wall protection in opposite corners. This construction essentially provides the same corner support achieved in the original Power-Pak.
Victory is also capitalizing on the fact that their box can be cut down to reduce size. Wooden lift vans have always been filled with dunnage to reduce movement of the contents when they weren’t full loaded. This not only increased the shipping weight of the container but created an unprofessional image and disposal problem at destination. The material and construction of all three of these corrugated boxes allows them to be trimmed down and custom fit to prevent movement thus reducing their weight, density and shipping costs.
For a different twist, the CORRcrate can be purchased with a 6ml waterproof shroud that can be applied loose to the outside or secured with the use of a heat gun.
(According to a company spokesman, however, Victory Packaging has NOT qualified their CORRcrate container for use on domestic or international military or GSA arranged moves as of February 1, 2011. Although management has confirmed that industry interest in the CORRcrate is growing, they have not responded to inquiries into the inventory status and availability of their product nationwide.)
It only took a microscopic worm a couple of years to quickly convince the international relocation community that a corrugated lift van was a practical, cost effective alternative to the standard Type II container. However, since its worldwide introduction a decade ago, the more traditional members in the U.S. moving industry have been slower to accept the idea of using a “cardboard” box as a viable shipping and storage option.
Value is the primary reason for their reluctance. Why should a mover pay the same amount for a tri-wall fiberboard container that requires no tools to assemble that they would spend on a durable wooden box that is secured with screws and nails? What isn’t considered it the “soft” cost of the Type II crate – the labor that is required to assemble/disassemble each unit, the sacrifice of usable warehouse storage space when kept inside, higher insurance and fire code compliance requirements when stored outdoors, the repair and disposal cost, and finally the limited use functionality of the container. In side-to-side comparisons, the corrugated container costs less to use in the long run.
Cardboard isn’t perceived as being as strong or durable as wood. While this is true if building a house, the well designed corrugated lift van actually protects the contents better than a wooden crate because the material is more forgiving when subjected to the normal rigors of warehouse and cross dock handling. This claim has been repeatedly supported by the vibration, compression, impact and puncture testing performed on the versions currently on the market. When a component of a corrugated lift van is compromised by rough handling, it can be easily and inexpensively replaced in minutes with a similar piece.
The corrugated lift van is multi-functional. Because of their construction, compact storage characteristics, simpler assembly, and lighter weight, these versatile units can be used in a wide variety of shipping and storage environments by the full service moving industry, self-storage facilities and DITY shippers.
Some movers have outfitted their local trucks with several of these units so that any crew can be easily dispatched to pick up an overflow or small shipment that fails to meet their carrier’s minimum weight requirements. After being loaded, each box is banded, marked and can be quickly routed via their van line or by common, contract, or intermodal carrier.
A small, enterprising New England mover has been delivering a van load of different sized KD corrugated containers to local college campuses in the spring for the last eight years. Students are allowed to pack up their belongings at their dormitory. The lift vans are then sealed and stored until classes resume in the fall. The boxes are provided free of charge for four years, but each student is required to pay for three months of storage and the pick up and delivery service. Many out-of-state students pay to use the same containers to ship their stuff home at the end of their college careers. Guess who the grads call when they move up in the real world.
An astute Texas independent mover provided several sizes of corrugated containers to a national real estate development firm that was on the fast tract for opening new, upscale residential communities. The lift vans were used to move the project manager’s personal belongings and office equipment between job sites. The mover received free referrals when each of the $2,500, 000 – $4, 000,000 properties were sold.
Several years ago a well known packaging company couldn’t sell their traditional moving and storage customers on the value of their corrugated lift van product so they hawked their kit to the self storage industry. It seemed like a great idea at the time except that most mini storage facilities didn’t have the lift capacity required to handle the loading and unloading of the containers at their facilities. The same isn’t true anymore.
Today many potential customers can’t afford the high cost of a full service move. The traditional revenues that are the life blood of the moving industry are being threatened as today’s mobile, global and disposable consumers increasingly embrace the various portable self storage and DIY containerized shipping alternatives now available to them. Since these companies enjoy limited service exclusions under the Household Goods Mover Oversight Enforcement and Reform Act of 2005, they can offer a variety of service options and more affordable pricing than household goods motor carriers.
To avoid missed income opportunities, some established movers are scrambling to react to this new competition by investing heavily in the new equipment and handling resources required to accommodate these large, rigid “portable” containers.
In reality it would be much less expensive and more resourceful to combine existing manpower, warehouse and moving equipment assets with the functional simplicity of the corrugated lift van to expand their local, domestic and international relocation service options for all of their customers.