Unless you’re in the business of shipping air, knowing how to calculate linear feet for shipping to maximize your package space is a must.
Imagine a Jenga stack with pieces missing, then imagine the same stack with all its pieces in tact. With no wasted space, the latter is the equivalent of a fully maximized, cost-effective truckload, whereas the former represents un-utilized space – which can ultimately cost you in inefficient freight charges.
Packing a freight truck is an art and science. If you understand how to calculate the linear feet of the cargo, you’ll achieve maximum efficiency, and help ensure your shipment is delivered on time.
Additionally, carrier companies rely heavily on accurate freight measurements – miscalculations can be disastrous. And it happens often, resulting in large fines which could have been avoided using some simple calculations.
Therefor it’s important to understand the different methods of loading shipments, and how the linear foot fits into the process of freight shipping.
What is a Linear Foot?
There are a few ways to measure a linear foot, but in simple terms, a linear foot is 12 inches – the length of a standard ruler.
The word “linear” means straight.
For those in the United States or Canada, certain measurements are referred to using the Imperial system. For instance if someone asks you your height, your reply would typically be in linear feet and inches.
For practical purposes, a common tool for measuring linear feet for shipping would be a tape measure.
How does linear feet differ from other measurements?
With freight shipping, another common term applied has to do with volume – the measurement of three-dimensional space often noted as “cubic feet.” With these 3D measurements, carriers are better able to package the goods they need to ship.
Linear feet may be a simpler equation, but it’s most important for you as a shipper.
Why Are Linear Feet Important for Shipping?
When you need to supply the number of linear feet your cargo will take up, you’re being asked to measure how long in terms of square feet, the total length of your shipment uses. In other words, its footprint.
There’s only so much space in a truck trailer. If you accurately know how many linear feet your cargo occupies, your quote will be that much more specific which helps you plan the rest of your budget.
Based on your measurements supplied as the shipper, there are two common quote methods:
- Cost Estimation. Carriers give you the most accurate quote that they can. In order to do that they must know how much space you’re taking up on the truck. Therefor, providing an accurate measurement in linear feet allows them to make that estimation.
- Per-Foot Adjustment Rate. Many companies will offer a per-foot adjustment rate, which means if you exceed or take up less space than originally accounted for, you’ll either be charged or deducted a certain amount.
The actual cost values for these quotes will depend on the carrier company, and how much flexibility you want in your own shipping process.
How to calculate linear feet
Calculating linear feet is really quite easy:
- Divide the total number of pallets by 2.
- Take this number and multiply it by the pallet length in inches.
- Divide this number by 12, and you’ll have the shipment’s linear feet!
The Linear Foot Rule
The linear foot rule is a standardized way to charge shippers for the goods they transport. Applied to LTL (less-than truckload) shipments, it’s an affordable option that allows your freight to share the same truck space with other shipments.
The linear foot rule states that shipments occupying 10 linear feet or more of trailer space are charged for 1,000lb per foot. This rule usually applies when there are at least five pallets single-stacked or 10 pallets double-stacked.
In other words, if your palletized freight is not stackable, it has a larger footprint and therefor costs more to ship.
The Cube Rule
The cube rule applies to freight that’s light and low density, but takes up a lot of space. In terms of packaging items like paper towels can take up a lot of physical space but don’t weigh very much.
Cubic feet differ from linear feet in that it’s a three-dimensional measurement. Using a formula which includes three dimensions, plus a weight factor, allows the carrier to assign a freight class that matches the goods to be shipped.
While there are several variations on both of the shipping options mentioned, there are essentially two main methods that the entire carrier industry utilizes – LTL and TL, or less-than-truckload and full truckload.
Understanding the differences between the two can save you a lot of money. Knowing how to leverage your linear foot measurements can help you take advantage of the space available within the truck.
Avoiding Extra Fees By Using the Linear Foot Rule
When shippers fill out the paperwork for the carrier, they typically have to state how many linear feet the shipment will take up.
Simply put, understanding how to properly measure and document this dimension will help prevent you from paying unnecessary fees.
Take Accurate Measurements
Human error is, unfortunately, far too common. For instance, the shipper takes inaccurate measurements simply because they don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be measuring.
If your freight is going to be placed on a pallet, it’s essential that you include the pallet size size in your final estimation.
As a shipper, it’s also critical that you provide accurate measurements, or face adjustment delays and additional fees. Not to mention the upset it causes to the normal flow in the supply chain.
Clarify Your Specific Freight Needs
Because of the vast difference in package and product sizes, there has to be flexibility in the loading process – therefor not all freight is loaded in the same way.
When you’re filling out the paperwork beforehand, make sure you specify that your freight requires special treatment if necessary.
Know the Dimensions of the Trailer
Not all trailers are the same size. What fits easily in one might not come close to fitting in another.
Before you attempt to load your freight at a terminal, make sure you’ve checked the trailer dimensions and confirmed your shipment will fit.
If you’re the one loading your shipment on a trailer, there are a few things to do to make sure the trailer is ready to carry your shipment safely.
- Be honest with yourself about your ability to load the shipment. Shippers tend to take on too much weight, improperly use tools, or end up seriously hurting themselves. Good advice would be to leave such tasks to the professionals.
- Double-check the area is clean and dry. If you’re shipping sensitive dry goods, moisture can ruin your products and result in a wasted shipment.
Straight loading is the simplest and quickest way to load pallets – lifting and sliding them directly into the trailer. But it may not be the most effective use of space.
Most pallets are 48×40 inches.
Given these dimensions, loading pallets straight into the trailer results in empty space. Empty space also makes it possible for pallets shift during transport creating a hazard.
However, straight loading can still have gaps. Therfore many companies have decided to maximize space whenever possible by pinwheeling (see below) for more efficient straight loading.
Side loading, as the name suggests, loads the pallets into the truck sideways. Using this method, you end up consuming all the room between the inner walls of the truck, but you still run the risk of having the pallets slide around.
Pallets don’t interlock, and as a result, can potentially create a hazard during transportation.
Pinwheeling is the most effective method for loading palletized freight into a truck.
It’s achieved by altering the direction of every pallet in turn so that they fit snugly against one another – therefore maximizing trailer space. When you pinwheel, the interlocking pattern creates additional stability.
With a comprehensive understanding of how to calculate linear feet fo shipping and its place in the supply chain, you should be able to save yourself aggravation, time, and money on your shipments.
The concept of linear feet may be simple, but its application in shipping is extensive and will prove enormously helpful next time you plan a shipment.