Shipping steel members either straight or curved often requires packaging. With certain original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) special reusable containers are designed to hold a certain number of parts securely. Some are part of a kanban system common to companies using lean manufacturing. The containers can also be used as a counting device: fill it up and you know you have x number of pieces. That eliminates the wasted time of counting.
The containers can also be configured to fit efficiently on a flatbed truck or in a van. And they can be stackable. OEMs have learned that the benefits of standardizing the best designs for packaging often outweigh the additional freight costs incurred even if the containers are shipped back to the supplier empty. For example, the packaging could also be designed for the optimal handling of material inside the OEM shop. And once emptied, the container could be designed to collapse for ease of return.
Even wooden crates that previously might be considered a consumable can be recycled. We had a steel service center 2.5 miles from our plant that regularly sent us large pallets loaded with steel sheet to be rolled into cylinders. The pallets were disposed of in special containers for wood waste. There was a considerable expense involved in having the wood taken away. We contacted the steel service center to see if they would take back what were perfectly good pallets sparing us the cost of disposal and sparing them the cost of the labor and material to build new crates. It was a win/win for the two companies and indeed for the environment. We simply loaded the pallets on the truck from the service center which was returning to its plant empty anyway. So the freight back was “free”.