Major Metal Fabrication Shipping Challenges and Solutions

Semi-truck with a large load on a highway.

Imagine a large, complex metal fabrication that needs to be engineered and manufactured to meet a 0.010 inch tolerance. It’s no small feat, requiring strict adherence to processes, an expert team of welders, and multiple inspections along the way. The process can take months or even years from concept to completion.

Despite the best laid plans, a project's success could be put in jeopardy if the shipping methods and materials used to transport large metal fabrications from the manufacturer to the end customer are not taken into account.

Understand the challenges of how to ship large metal fabrications and measures that need to be taken to ensure a product arrives undamaged and meets the design intent.

Metal Fabrication Shipping Methods and Costs

Shipping is sometimes a higher than expected cost of the metal fabrication process. Depending on their size, most large metal fabrications are shipped on either flatbed trucks or Conestoga trailers, a specialized flatbed trailer with an accordion-style tarping system to protect cargo and maximize space. 

Products that are manufactured for Naval vessels and other Department of Defense (DoD) applications are typically shipped to coastal cities on the East or West Coasts. Depending on where they are fabricated, products could be on the road for thousands of miles over various terrains and road conditions.

High gas and diesel prices are an obvious consideration, and the larger the fabrication, the costlier the shipping. Some products that exceed 8.5 feet wide require oversized loads which come with additional regulatory requirements and costs.

To save on shipping costs, customers need to consider whether products can be shipped by a less expensive less than truckload (LTL) method versus a dedicated truckload. Either way, consolidating orders onto a full truckload rather than a partial load can reduce costs. 

Customers that routinely have products shipped to them typically work with a broker or designated carrier to obtain negotiated rates. They may also prefer freight on board (FOB) shipping, meaning they take responsibility for the load once it leaves the manufacturer. Fox Valley Metal-Tech can also broker shipments as a service when needed. 

Having a detailed shipping plan for where each part goes on the truck rather than having a truck show up and trying to figure out how to fit everything will save time and money. Trucking companies may charge extra for waiting.

Since many DoD contractors who receive shipments need to send them on to their final destination, it also helps to ensure that shipping materials, fixtures, and crating can be reused for that purpose. Another cost-saving measure for those who order multiple items from the same fabricator is to send back costly shipping materials to be refurbished and reused for future projects. 

Engineering of Shipping Materials

Extensive expertise goes into designing and engineering custom metal fabrications. What some don’t realize, however, is that equal attention needs to be paid to designing and engineering the protective shipping materials

Large fabrications with tight tolerances can get jostled during transport and bring them out of tolerance. Fabrications that are made of softer materials like aluminum are especially susceptible to twisting and bending. 

To overcome this challenge, metal fabrication engineers design special fixtures to reinforce the exterior of an item. Plates may also be designed to fit the interior cavity of a fabrication, such as in a large electrical enclosure. The plates must be bolted down using existing holes to keep the original design intent. If it’s a threaded hole that requires a specific bolt, that same type of threaded bolt will be used to affix the shipping materials.

Because of the complexity of some fixtures, designers will also need to create detailed instructions for disassembling the shipping materials once the product reaches its destination. At Fox Valley Metal-Tech, our engineering team works with customers to develop, design, and manufacture shipping fixtures to help ensure products arrive in perfect condition. Many shipping materials are made in our facility to ensure a proper fit, and additional materials like shrink wrap, protective corners, foam, pallets, tie downs, and cellular cardboard are used to prevent damage. 

Shipping materials alone can come with a considerable price tag depending on their complexity and customer requirements, so be sure to work closely with the metal fabricator during the RFQ process to ensure everything is included in your quote.

RELATED: Get RFQ Tips in our RFQ Planning Guide

The Planning Process

Even though shipping is one of the last steps in a manufacturing process, planning for it must begin during the estimating phase to account for related expenses. 

Traditionally, the customer is responsible for the shipping method, but the fabricator will need to include costs for crates, tie downs, and other shipping materials in their bid. It’s best to have a conversation with a potential metal fabrication partner during the RFQ process to clearly define requirements and who is responsible for each aspect of delivery. 

Contact the experts at Fox Valley Metal-Tech to discuss your project details, including shipping methods and materials. It’s the best way to ensure your project shows up at your door exactly the way you want it. Remember to download our RFQ checklist with these and other discussion topics as well.

Metal Fabrication RFQ Guide