Crates and Cases

 If you are considering transporting your droid to a place far, far away, there are a few points you may wish to think about:

  1. Should I transport my droid commercially or privately?
  2. In transporting droids privately in a truck or trailer should they be on a crate or in a case?
  3. Are there any standards I should be aware of that address the level or quality of cases that affect the safety of my droid being shipped?
  4. Who makes transport cases and what price ranges can I expect to see if I have one made? Where do I go to get a crate or case for my Droid? Are there off the shelf cases that can be used or do they have to be custom made?

Private or Commercial Transport of valuable and expensive cargo

At first this seems like a fairly straight forward or easy question, right? Simply which way is the cheapest and go with that option. Right? Well….maybe??!!!There are a lot of things that can go into that simple little question but perhaps the biggest questions is that of liability.  What happens if the unthinkable occurs? Who has the insurance and the coverage to handle the loss of an accident or theft? It does happen! Who wants to handle the guilt and the pressure if something does happen if there is a delay from a breakdown? Who has the resources to get it resolved, get a replacement vehicle and there on time? Its one thing when it is yourself but quite another when you have a dozen of your comrades (or more) relying on you for a show. It becomes a critical factor in your decision process. It may very well be a non issue for some but that doesn’t make it any less of a consideration point.

To Crate or Not to Crate… That is the question

Whether or not you decide to crate or case your droid is a personal decision in a private transport. In a commercial transport it is a requirement.  With that said there are, of course, a lot of factors that should be considered before making that decision. For instance, available space on the transport, cost to make the case and additional cost incurred for shipping from the added weight, how the other droids are secured so they don’t bang into each other and degree of protection from tipping over or falling objects. In a private transport you do not have the level of exposure for abuse you would have from a commercial carrier however there are still possibilities for unforeseen factors that can be devastating; primarily MVA’s (whether single or multiple vehicle involvement).

There are some that say if you don’t have any issues carrying your droid around town trips then why bother for cross country trips? The odds are technically the same. Well, I disagree. When you are on the road longer, fatigue, as well as the weather, becomes a major factor in accidents; if not for you it could be for the other guy and this could be your very unlucky day! The longer the trip the greater the chance of something happening. Also something else to check out is the insurance issue for private droid transport. Insurance companies make money by denying claims. When you transport multiple droids they could claim you are doing a commercial venture (especially since you are getting reimbursed) which is a hotly debated issue by most home owner’s insurance carriers and regular car owner’s insurance carriers. Basically this means you need to have a commercial policy to protect yourself or they could deny your claims if any are made. I would recommend that you check that out and get an answer in writing from your company before you leave…..

Standards for Cases & Crates

ATA Certification

The ATA (Air Transport Association of America) is located in Washington, DC and works closely with all national and international commercial air carriers. The ATA sets criteria for rating the air worthiness of different types of cases and containers and has set the standard for crates that are used on land, air and sea.

A battery of tests must be passed to achieve the highest rating, ATA Specification 300, Category I. As outlined in the latest edition I can find (which is 2 years old) entitled SPEC 300: Specification for Packaging of Airline Supplies 2008.1; to pass these tests a container is submitted to an independent testing laboratory where it undergoes a battery of testing procedures.

After the test results are analyzed, the independent testing laboratory issues a test performance report. Non Compliance with any of the testing procedures and methods is cause for immediate and complete rejection. Remember, a case that truly qualifies as an ATA case container will have full documentation and test results to back it up. The term is often used as a selling tool to mislead the unknowing using the external looks to let you think that it is perhaps better than what it actually is. Be very cautious about that kind of tactic.  Cases that have passed the tests will come with a certificate. Ask for it and don’t settle for a simple claim professing to be ATA compliant. There are several levels of compliancy. If a container meets the parameters of Category 1, you can be confident that, under normal shipping conditions, your container will survive 100 airline shipments. If a container meets only Category II criteria, it is estimated that it will last only 10 airline shipments, while Category III assures only 1 airline shipment. An example of a category 3 is a cardboard box. There is another level but that has to do with military grade certifications which we will not address here.

The most common ATA case is constructed of aluminum outer edging with rounded steel ball corners, recessed spring-loaded catches and recessed spring-loaded handles. The case is constructed with multiple walls covered with any one of a number of various mar-resistant laminates joined together with riveted fasteners. The ATA case undergoes a very labor intense manufacturing process which explains, in part, why they are expensive.

 Below are some examples of the materials used in the case construction. For the wood examples please note the number of layers used. The more layers used; the stronger the wall but that may also mean more cost.  Remember, for every construction material that is used there is usually some kind of a tradeoff. For example, Birch wood is better than plywood because it has more layers in its construction per inch, so it is a stronger wall construction. However when there is impact damage; Birchwood tends to chip whereas Plywood tends to dent, making Birchwood damage is much more expensive to repair. Make sure you ask a lot of comparative questions if you have a choice in the construction of your crate. 

                 

                         Plywood with plastic ABS covering                            Birchwood with Hexabrick covering

                                        

                Flyweight (Aircraft Aluminum Flooring) with Plastic ABS covering

The flyweight material is very strong and very light weight. Remember the discussion on Dimensional vs. actual weight? Well, if your droid is heavy and you plan on shipping your droid a lot, this option could really save you a lot of money. The only real weight restriction this material has is actually on the hinges. This is the same material that is used on commercial aircraft flooring. It is very difficult to damage but it can be dented.  It is expensive to repair because the wall would need to be replaced. It cannot be repaired. It is important to note that all of these materials can be punctured with a forklift.

 Crating your Droid

There are 2 general styles for how you can ship your droid: Assembled or Unassembled.  There are benefits and disadvantages to each method depending on the state of your build or how you are shipping your droid. However, each style has dramatic design implications you will be faced with. Unassembled droids can be packed in smaller units and are easier to stack and store in tighter locations. The cost to make the smaller crates is often much less per unit and can be made by most people with little difficulty and is easier to store when not in use. However, more crates can be more expensive to ship separately and means more chances for your items to get delayed, lost, damaged or stolen if sent commercially. It would be advisable to put all of your items on a pallet so they would ship together to decrease the change of loss and damage and decrease the overall cost of your shipping fees.

Assembled droid cases or crates can range from a droid strapped to a pallet surrounded by a box boarded up with 1×4’s for protection (often inappropriately called a Mexican crate) to a full size enclosed professionally made ATA Spec 300 Cat 1 Case.  Typically they are generally NOT stackable (at least with items of equal size & weight) and are expensive.

Designs of cases range from a simple wood box with a swing door/hatch to a platform with a split shell top to a fix case with a built in ramp and door so your droid can drive itself up into the case. However your droid is placed in the case it needs to be strapped down so it cannot move or rock back and forth and there needs to be some form of vibrations dampening system so your droid isn’t shaken apart.  You want to make sure that the wall thickness is adequate and that the case has sufficient padding to protect the droid if the case gets hit or tipped over. Typically a case large enough to house a droid weighing approximately 160-200 lbs; and to pass an ATA Spec 300 Cat 1 rating has a ½” wood thickness wall case (rated to last 100 trips). Cat 2 has ¼” thick plywood (rated to last no more than 10 trips).

Who makes droid cases?

Any case manufacturer can make a case to your specifications or you can make one yourself. A&S Case, Anvil, Star and Custom Case companies are the biggest names in the industry and probably the most well known.  They have been making high end, industry leading cases for well known bands, companies and the military and all of them have current GSA government contracts.

 I have spent considerable time designing a droid case that meets the ATA spec 300 Category I specification in a drive up case. It has a ramp with locking foot shell holders and hold down straps. It has a locking rear door access to turn your droid off after you have driven it in position. It has places for accessories boxes/storage. There is a lot of protective foam to protect your droid and a hidden tracking compartment to track your shipment should it become “lost”. It will accept any dome with different foam inserts so you can use any dome style you need (R2, R4 (Lampshade) or R5 (with the antenna unscrewed/removed). All of them come with locking casters. It comes in 2 different configurations:  ½” wood or flyweight aluminum. The empty weight of the wood is 265 lbs. The empty weight of the flyweight is 190. The flyweight is the most expensive and I would only recommend that for those who travel a lot with a droid. Of course, this case can be used for other things as the inside is reconfigurable. You can easily fit the upper half of a B9 or a Robby in there without any problem. It has a fairly nominal profile at 34 ¼ x 36 ¼ x 59 (with 6” wheels attached).

Those of you interested should contact me and I can get yours made for you. I will have mine at C5.