Distribution Crates


Rental/Low Volume Purchasers

If you are renting, you may be invited to be part of a pool of users. You will be limited to using the existing pool, which may consist of one crate size, or may include a “family” of sizes. The same applies if you are purchasing – you are limited to what is available.

If you are planning to use them for retailing then consider carefully the colour of the crates.

High Volume Rentals

The rental company may agree to purchase a new distinct fleet just for your supply chain. In fact, a rental company may come into existence in order to rent you crates.

If they are to own the crates, they will want the final say on the design. They will have one eye on extending the rental service to other companies, subject to the agreement you have with them. If you have an interest in the rental company attracting more users, you may need to compromise on the design so that it is not too exclusive. This includes the colour. Don’t forget the colour! Most crates are seen primarily as logistics products. There have been some spectacularly ugly crate colours that were never intended to go onto a retail floor, or where retail wasn’t considered. If there is even a remote chance that they will get into a retail store, consider using decent colours – or issue sunglasses to each customer.

High Volume Purchasers

Most important: get the design absolutely right, remembering always that the design can never be right.

This contradiction is a reflection of the tremendous cost in retrofitting, scrapping or trying to sell off a fleet of unwanted crates versus the cost of the resources required trying to get the specification right.

Folding v Nesting

There are two main categories that distribution crates fall into, folding (or “collapsible”) and nesting.

The folding crate will have sides that can be laid flat when not in use. Usually this crate has perpendicular sides when erected.

The nesting crate has sloping sides so that the footprint at the rim is bigger than at the base. They simply nest into each other when not in use.

Both have advantages and disadvantages:

Folding Pros

  • Good nesting ratio
  • Uniform dimensions, allowing rigid primary packaging to be cubed efficiently
  • Generally very space efficient on both the full journey and the empty journey

Folding Cons

  • Generally more expensive
  • More moving parts may reduce its working life or require more maintenance
  • Folded crates may be hard to stack efficiently (depending on design)
  • More labour is required to erect and collapse the crates
  • Not easy (e.g. expensive) for automation to be designed to erect and fold the crates
  • There are more “dirt traps” in the complicated structure and cleaning will cost more

Nesting Pros

  • Generally lower cost than folding (usually moulded as one piece)
  • Less moving parts means a longer life and less maintenance
  • Nesting empties is simple and easy
  • No erection or folding required (those nesting crates with bale arms may require the bale arms to be closed after filling)
  • Automation can accommodate nesting crates more easily (at less cost) then folding crates
  • Cleaning is easier and less costly

Nesting Cons

  • Nesting ratio is generally not as good as folding crates
  • The sloping sides can play havoc with efficient filling of the crate and with logistics planning. Rigid products are guaranteed NOT to fit efficiently into the crate.

Space Efficiency

Although there are more pros and less cons for nesting crates, bear in mind that the first two pros for folding crates may be decisive as they deal with the all-important aspect of space efficiency.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the higher your volumes, the greater part the cubing factor will play.

If you have limited reverse logistics capacity then empties need greater consideration: On one extreme, some crates may not fold or nest at all. At the other extreme, 6 empty nesting crates could take up the same space as 1 full crate (6 to 1 ratio), or there could be a 10 to 1 ratio with folding crates.

The Best Deal


Before deciding on which company to use it is important to consider what you are trying to achieve. You are trying to reduce your cost per trip, right?

Compare the new cost/benefit scenario with the current cost benefit and don’t get too hung up on comparing supplier with supplier.

Don’t forget CPT – cost per trip!

Have a well prepared tender. Do not get hand-held and coached by the supplier. You are in charge. If you do not have in-house expertise, then hire us. In due course you will save multiples of this figure and you can rest assured that we will spend the money wisely! Contact us.


You need to know who is out there and what kind of organisation they are. Do you buy in from a lower cost source overseas or buy from closer to home?

Do you use an off-the-peg product (perhaps with some modifications) or is new tooling required? DON’T re-invent the wheel! We keep a large database of tools/products from around the world. You may not need to commission new tooling. There may somewhere be a mothballed or under-used tool waiting to be brought into production. Contact us.

It is important to consider what will happen in the future. Is this a lifetime purchase or do you see the new crates being upgraded or swapped in a few years? Does the manufacturer have the capacity to regrind old crates into new ones? Some manufacturers/suppliers will guarantee a buy-back value for the crates. Which supplier can provide decent models for distribution trials? What is their track record?

If you decide to use radio frequency tagging (RFID), do you develop/procure the chips/system/hardware, and get the RF chip manufacturer to fit them, or do you ask the crate manufacturer to do this (or something in between). Do you have RFID expertise to contribute to the tender?

Once again, make sure the tender is detailed and well prepared. Call us to help/advise on tender compilation. Contact details here.

National/International System

Governments and international bodies can incorporate a re-usable packaging system in their jurisdictions. If this is extended to primary packaging, most single-use packaging will be eliminated and land-fill will be substantially reduced.

Such a system will dramatically reduce automation costs allowing imports to be substantially reduced.

By removing single-use packaging and severely curtailing imports, both the economy and the environment will see dramatic improvements.