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Plywood and OSB Deliver Materials Handling Solutions
Smart Packaging Design: Learn the basics of using plywood and OSB to develop custom pallets, contains and bins. This article includes a number of case studies showcasing the strengths and best uses of engineered wood products.

By Dana Ohler, APA
Date Posted: 6/1/2014

                When it comes to making transport packaging that is strong, cost effective and lightweight, containers and bins made with engineered wood products can be a smart solution. Consider these scenarios and see if they fit your current challenges.

                A manufacturer of high-speed automated mail processing machinery needed crates that supported the weight of the equipment and protected delicate electronic gear. High material handling costs prompted a manufacturer of paints, soaps, and detergents to look for a suitable alternative to steel drums and plastic containers. The owner of an apple orchard needed strong, durable, and lightweight bins to store and transport his fruit.

                The needs for each product were different, but in all three cases, crates or containers manufactured from wood structural panels, such as plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), delivered an optimal materials handling solution.


Container Case Studies

                Manufacturing a great product is just one step toward satisfying the customer. Ensuring that products are delivered in excellent condition is also essential.

                When products are expensive and fragile, packaging can present a challenge. For example, a manufacturer of high-speed automated mail insertion machines needed to ship machines and parts of different sizes and weights—some very large and heavy, but also fragile due to inner electronics—to a variety of domestic and international locations. The need for protective, customizable, and dimensionally stable shipping containers led them to choose plywood. Manufactured in a variety of thicknesses and sizes, plywood is resistant to rough handling and is well-suited to international shipping; plywood and OSB are exempt from ISPM-15 plant health regulations requiring debarking, heat treatment or fumigation.

                Liquid products present a different set of challenges. After using stainless steel drums and plastic containers for years, a manufacturer of paints, soaps, detergents, and other liquid materials needed to reduce their packaging and delivery costs. The manufacturer switched to collapsible OSB tote boxes with two-ply plastic liners. The boxes were

more economical to purchase and had a longer life-cycle, increasing the number of inventory turns per box. The easily collapsible bins also saved space during return shipment. An added benefit: when the boxes reach the end of

their useful life, OSB panels are easily recycled. 

                A pear and apple farmer needed to ship his harvest in durable, reusable, and stackable bins. He chose plywood bins, which provide strong protection for fragile contents and stand up to repeated handling—in this case, including shipping on trucks, going in and out of cold storage, and being stacked in blazing heat. The bins are both light and dimensionally stable enough to stack up to 12 high. They have an average lifespan of 10 years, sometimes much longer; if a side is damaged and needs to be replaced, repairs are easy. Also, modifications to the bin design, such as adding slots for cooling or holes for draining water, are easily accomplished.


Design and Configuration

                Plywood and OSB panels are available in a variety of sizes, grades and surface treatments. Multiple factors— product dimensions and weight of load, mode of transportation, type of handling equipment, frequency of use— affect specifications for materials handling products. Because these factors are so important and variable, each application should be considered independently when considering panel type.  


Design Flexibility

                APA performance rated panels—North American wood structural panels certified by APA – The Engineered Wood Association – are typically produced in two bond classifications, Exposure 1 and Exterior grades. For most crates and bins, Exposure 1 panels are suitable. For export or outdoor use, Exterior panels may be necessary. Exterior panels have bonds capable of withstanding repeated wetting and re-drying, long-term exposure to weather, and other conditions of similar severity. Sanded plywood or panels with overlaid surfaces, such as High Density Overlay (HDO) and Medium Density Plywood (MDO) plywood, can be used when an extra-smooth surface is desired. By joining the wood components with simple hardware, manufacturers can match the specifications of a crate or bin with the requirements of specific products and materials handling equipment.


Configuration Flexibility

                Plywood and OSB crates and bins can be designed in a variety of sizes and functional configurations, adaptable to virtually any materials handling equipment, from forklifts to conveyors to racks and automated storage and retrieval systems. Collapsible bins, containers with plastic liners for liquids, bag-in-a-box containers, containers with built-in pallets—these can ship everything from heavy machine parts to delicate agricultural products. Collapsible boxes allow for efficient return shipment or storage when not in use. When equipped with a plastic liner bag, containers can be filled with a variety of liquids and granular materials.


Design Considerations and Specifications

                Design data for wood structural panel containers is based on the individual members of the crate structure working as an integral unit. For example, a particular skid size considered alone may appear too light for the supported load. But the wood structural panel crate sides, fastened securely to the skids, form the web of a box beam. When the crate is sling-lifted from its ends, this beam carries the load in a simple span. When the crate is forklifted from its center, the beam carries the load in a semi-cantilever.

                PerformancePanels.com, APA’s online resource for engineered wood products in materials handling and other industrial applications, provides access to design information and specification recommendations, including APA’s Containers and Bins Industrial Use Guide, Materials Handling Industrial Use Guide, and the Performance Rated Panels Product Guide. Visit www.performancepanels.com for additional information.


Attributes of Wood Structural Panels

                Plywood (cross-laminated wood veneer) and OSB (oriented strand board) are engineered wood structural panels that possess intrinsic advantages preferred by many manufacturers and shippers of boxes, crates and containers.



                Plywood and OSB possess inherent strength and durability. They resist bending or deflection, racking or shape distortion, and impact damage. Because of their split resistance, these products also provide excellent fastener-holding properties and can be nailed very near panel edges. Plywood and OSB panels, relative to their strength, are lightweight and easy to handle, work, and install.



                Excellent stiffness—measured as resistance to deflection under uniform and concentrated loads and to forces that would tend to distort the panel from its rectangular shape (rack resistance)—is another advantage of plywood and OSB. This stiffness often permits the panels to be used with less framing or bracing than required by other materials.

Thermal, Acoustical, and

Fire-resistant Properties

                Because wood is a natural insulator, plywood and OSB provide good protection against heat loss and condensation. Large panel size also minimizes the number of joints that can “leak” heat, airborne noise, or flames.


Impact Resistance

                Plywood and OSB improve on wood’s well-known ability to absorb shock. Even when supported on only two edges, the panel’s construction and large size distribute impact loads. The advantages are even greater when the panel is supported on all four edges.



                Ordinary tools and basic carpentry skills are all that are required to work with plywood and OSB panels, which can be cut, drilled, routed, jointed, glued, and fastened. In addition, these products can be bent to form curved surfaces without loss of strength. Fabric or plastic materials can be stitched to wood structural panels up to 3/8-inch thick with industrial sewing machines.

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