Freighting a Droid

There are 7 things you need to be aware of shipping a droid via a commercial carrier.

  1. Use a Freight Forwarder!
  2. Understand Dimensional vs. Actual Weight.
  3. Carriers/Handlers are in a rush!
  4. Forklifts are used regardless if wheels are on your crates!
  5. Insure your items, including your crate! A forklift can do a lot of damage!!
  6. Do not put Nice Flashy things on your crate – someone else might want it!!
  7. Delivery & pickup to residential addresses incur higher fees!

Freight Forwarders

When shipping a droid you want to use a carrier that is known as a freight forwarder for the cheapest rates possible.  FedEx, UPS, SAIA and DHL are NOT Freight Forwarders. A shipper that asks you what class of freight you are shipping is NOT a freight forwarder. A freight forwarder is someone that is just buying available space on someone else’s truck bed; they are not using the entire truck and then figuring out what can fit inside of it. Think of them like a only for the trucking industry. A very good one in California is BE Logistics 800-729-8115 ( ). Another one is BAX Global 866-ship 282 ( ). Transglobal Express 0871 855 7474 ( is a very good international freight forwarder. Just like any other service industry, there are good ones and there are bad ones so do your homework. If you must use a non-freight forwarder, then when they ask what class of freight you are shipping (and they will) tell them 55 if the crate is empty or 125 if you have a droid in the crate. 125 is used for entertainment equipment and our droids qualify for that class of freight. Do not say robot or they will hit you with the most expensive density charge possible and you could easily end up paying too much. 

Dimensional vs. Actual Weight

There is a calculation to determine what the actual vs. the dimensional weight of an object will be. All shippers will choose whichever is greatest in determining the weight of an object. Simply put; if the object is a certain size, a shipper will allow it to weigh only so many pounds. That is called the dimensional weight. If the item exceeds that number, they will use the actual weight. The formula to calculate dimensional weight of an object is  12LxWxH194=X’>

FYI – In figuring the height, they will include the wheels or skids attached to your case or crate. The measurements for Length, Width and height are in inches. Therefore, a crate that would hold a droid that is 34 ¼ x 36 ¼ x 59 (with wheels attached) would have a dimensional weight of 377.59 lbs.

Therefore, if your crate weighs 265 lbs empty (which just so happens to be the weight of a droid case that is made out of  ½” plywood & plastic ABS covering to the dimensions mentioned previously)  and your droid weights (for the sake of argument 180 lbs) then the case plus the droid equals to 445lbs. If you remember the dimensional weight of that case came to 377 lbs. since the actual weight is more than the dimensional weight the shipper will charge you the actual weight. Later I will show you how than can be made less (other than a lighter droid) :)

Carriers & Handlers are always in a Rush

Loaders have 1 job. Get the truck loaded as fast as possible so the driver can get on the road quickly. The line managers of UPS, Fedex & DHL deliberately try to trick the Loaders by deliberately putting the wrong items in the trucks to see if loaders are paying attention to what they are loading as a form of quality control. Yes, I was shocked as well when I found this out. This has the unintended effect of getting the loaders upset, rushed to correct the mistakes as they pull out loads to correct the sabotage their managers have inflicted upon them and the customer sometimes pays the price with delayed deliveries, lost, damaged or destroyed goods. As a result your items could have fell victim to one of those acts. Other carriers may employ similar tactics to ensure their personnel are paying attention to what they are loading which is why I am telling you this because what you don’t know can hurt you and if you are going to send your droid via a commercial carrier you need to be prepared for rough and sometimes brutal handling.

Large crates are often moved by Forklifts even if there are wheels on the cases. Sometimes, the forklifts puncture the sides of the crates, rip wheels off or flip the crates as they slide off the skids from improper handling of the crates/cases, rushing to get the load finalized or from improper use of the forklifts. Make sure your droid is well secured and protected inside the case. Heavy foam padding is often necessary to protect the droid from breaches of the case wall or from tipping, falling over or heavy shaking for vibration. Make sure you do not have any loose articles inside the case as they can become projectiles as the case is thrown about, potentially damaging your droid. Also, don’t advertise what is inside your crate. It is an open invitation to all would be thieves that you have something really cool and very expensive inside.

Residential Pickup & Delivery Fees add costs

Pickup and drop off of crates or cases to residential addresses can add as much as 100-400 dollars in most cases to the cost of your shipment; even more if you need a lift gate. If at all possible try to get your droid delivered to a business address and then pick it up from there. If you have good relations with any of the local businesses, convention center staff, etc this could save you a bundle! When sending your droid drop it off at a terminal if at all possible. If you don’t have a truck or a friend that has one you can borrow, then rent one for a day from U-Haul. Yes, it will be worth it!! U-Haul can rent a truck for 15.00 a day plus mileage. It is better than paying 100-200 (one way) just for them to come pick it up from you unless you have money to burn!!


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.

USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx

It has been a while since I’ve done an analysis of the various shipping carriers so I thought I’d do a quick update in light of key issues that have come up lately (like shipping large items to C5). It’s not my intention to cover every possible combination or service, just the most common for this club.  I have noticed there have been various assumptions by members when it comes to shipping items and I thought I might shed a little light to those unaware of the differences to help save them a little money. With the US post office raising rates every 4-6 months and cutting services  just as fast, it is important to know the differential of when to use USPS (the post office), UPS (United Parcel Service) and/or FedEx for shipping non freight items. In 2 other articles I will be sending out shortly I will cover sending heavy and very large freight items and how to get the lowest price (for example how to send a droid crate from Burbank to Orlando for 235.00 via a commercial carrier and Droid crate/case construction including who does them and a specific crate design for droids of any type or dome. This article deals with the smaller items.

There are many shipping variables that go into pricing. To that end most articles find it difficult to discuss without picking a package size to base their discussions around a comparative model. However, even choosing a size has many variations that can become very convoluted. I believe I can do that by describing when you need to use a certain carrier and why without getting too bogged down in package specifics.

One of the assumptions is that the post office is always cheaper. That is no long true. The post office knows this and is a chief reason behind their ad campaigns that focus on their flat rate boxes. So long as certain criteria are followed, the post office may still be your best bet but you need to pay attention to what you are sending. It depends on the size and the weight. These days you can easily do a price comparison on line between the 3 carriers from the comfort of your home so do yourself a favor and check it out before paying the postage. Don’t assume. You could be throwing money away. This guide may save you some time in deciding your best option.

The post office is your best source (cost wise) for sending items that required at least a 2-5 day delivery window and fit 1 of the criteria below:

  1. can fit inside one of the 3 flat rate boxes and are at least 2 lbs or greater in weight or
  2. are less than 2 lbs and are not placed in a flat rate box and the girth of the box is less than 80” or
  3. are sent first class (13oz or less) or
  4. are sent internationally

**For anything else consider sending UPS ground or Fedex Home delivery**

If you are shipping something that is heavier than 2 lbs and you have a delivery window of 2-5 days  it is cheaper to go with UPS ground. An exception to that rule would be items sent to Baltimore, Maryland. For some reason UPS fees are higher there than USPS or FedEx for like items (there may be other exceptions). Also as a general rule, if you can send your items to a business address (if using UPS or FedEx) it will be cheaper for you than if it is going to a residential address.

Something else to be aware of is how the cost of the items are calculated or how the weight of an item is assigned to your package. It is not as clear cut as you might think. Shippers will figure the cost of your package 1 of 2 ways; Dimensional weight or Actual weight. Dimensional weight is the theoretical weight of a package based on the length, width and height of a package divided by a constant (a density factor). It was adopted in 2007 by the major carriers after they discovered they were losing money using actual weight when items were large or irregularly shaped so they needed something to compensate for the lost revenue. When the items exceed the assigned dimensional weight, the carrier will charge you the actual weight. UPS, FedEx as well as most freight carriers use the same calculation for figuring the dimensional weight 12LxWxH194′> . The post office calculates it a different way, the base it on shape which makes it very hard to compare against other carriers because for some shapes they assign a flat fee surcharge on top of the actual weight. The fee varies based on the type of shape. However there is another comparative measure to show a differential when NOT to use the post office. That indicator is the girth of the package. The girth for a rectangular package is the length plus the width times 2; expressed mathematically as G=2(W+L). For a cylinder or other irregular shapes it is computed differently. Basically USPS charges you an oversize fee on smaller packages than UPS and FedEx. UPS and FedEx charge you an oversize fee for items that exceed 108″ in girth. The post office starts assessing an oversized fee for items that exceed 80″ in girth. The amount the post office charges varies based on the shape of the object.   

While USPS is the cheapest carrier for items less than 2lbs, their reliability is easily the worst among the 3 carriers. Between FedEx and UPS different areas seem to get different qualities of service. We all hear horror stories of how UPS did this or FedEx did that but as a whole they are much better and more reliable than the Post Office but as a general rule you have to weigh cost vs. reliability. USPS does not offer any tracking of the package only delivery confirmation. If insurance is purchased the post office can track the item only at periodic points along the route and only the post office can track it. You cannot see for yourself where the package is. A lot of people confuse the tracking and confirmation window of the post office as the same kind of tracking that UPS and FedEx offer. Nothing could be further from the truth. FedEx and UPS offer full web tracking capabilities.  Also when it comes to lost or damaged items, the post office manually has to search for the items. If they find it, they do not tell you. You have to contact them to see if it is found and then they usually will send the item back to the sender, not the addressee and you will not get a refund of the postage. The USPS claim process is also very cumbersome and takes a long time to recovery any monies from items that were lost or damaged often requiring multiple forms being filled out and having to go down to the post office to prove your claim. (I can personally attest to how easy or difficult it is based on the carrier).

If you are looking to send items with a guaranteed time window then you need to look at UPS or FedEx. USPS cannot guarantee a delivery time window. To get the best rates you need to pay for your postage on line. FedEx gets you the best pricing at 15% off. If you are a business shipper for UPS or FedEx then, of course, you get better pricing, and like I said earlier, if you are sending and receiving packages from business locations you get additional discounts so it helps to develop those business relationships whenever and wherever possible.

In Summary The post office is your best option for items that

  1. can fit inside one of the 3 flat rate boxes and are at least 2 lbs or greater in weight or
  2. are less than 2 lbs and are not placed in a flat rate box and the girth of the box is less than 80” or
  3. are sent first class (13oz or less) or
  4. are sent internationally

UPS ground or FedEx Home delivery will be cheaper if your package will not fit in any of the flat rate boxes and weighs greater than 2 lbs.