Container Shipping Using Slipsheets

World trade has grown since ancient times. Today, containers and container ships are constantly being produced to handle the enormous quantities of goods that are shipped across borders.

Containerisation has been instrumental in improving the rates and volumes of the movement of goods. Yet simple measures can be implemented to increase the efficiency of the transportation of goods using containers.

One technique involves the concept of unitised shipping, that is, the packing of goods into standard modular sizes so that these modules can be further packed into one bigger module suitable for mechanical handling by a forklift truck. This technique has the advantages of increasing the density of packing and of minimising required labour. 

Unitised shipping requires the module, which is made up of component pieces, to be supported by a base which traditionally has been the wooden pallet. However, wooden pallets have distinct disadvantages when used for the containerisation and shipping of goods. Firstly, the additional weight imposed by the wooden pallets is significant. Secondly, the additional space taken up by the wooden pallets in a container or cargo bay adds a premium to the freight charges.

Plastic slipsheets can be used in place of wooden pallets for unitised container shipping. They weigh much less than wooden pallets and the space savings from using them can be used for additional goods.

Apple Computer Corp. is one organisation which has adopted a slipsheet containerisation program [*, **]. Until Apple converted their international shipping operations in 1988, most of the computer supplies from around the world sent to Apple's distribution terminals in the United States had to be hand‐unloaded and transferred onto wooden pallets at the docks.

Although there was some initial reluctance by many of Apple's suppliers to adopt the new shipping methods, the technical support that Apple was willing to extend to them soon smoothed the transition process. The initial resistance was due mainly to the suppliers\' initial lack of knowledge about slipsheets and the required handling equipment such as the push‐pull attachment, exacerbated by the need to train operators as well. However, Apple engineers helped acquire and install the push‐pull equipment and helped train the operators. Some cases were also redesigned to fit more efficiently into the containers, and thus achieving higher density loads.

The new shipping technique produced savings of US$2.5 million during the first year. Another example [***] involved the shipment of coffee from Brazil and Colombia to the United States.


* Apple Computers, "Slip Sheets Generate Hyper‐Savings at Apple Computers", Apple Computers, Inc., California, USA. ** Ebeling, C. W., "Containerization's Next Step", National Development, USA. *** Ebeling, C. W., "Slipsheets save weight and cost in the air", Transportation & Distribution, February 1992, USA.