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How to determine my freight class?

[fa icon="calendar"] Feb 17, 2017 9:00:00 AM / by David Stevens

David Stevens

If you are shipping LTL freight knowing your freight class is important. Most common carrier LTL freight companies is the National Motor Freight Classification system to categorize freight being shipped for pricing purposes. The class system groups commodities based on 4 characteristics: liability, handling, stowability and often most importantly density. There are 18 different groups that are ideintified by a freight class number ranging from 50 (low class) to 500 (highclass). The lower the class, the lower the freight rate and carrier liability. The higher the class, the higher the freight rate and carrier liability. 

Getting your Freight Class

Most of this article will discuss the characteristics used by the NMFTA to determine a specific commodities freight class. If you are just wanting to know what the class is for your commodity, you have a few options to choose from:

  1. Purchase an NMFC book in the NMFTA store. The book will cost you upto $310.00 depending on if  you are a participant in the NMFC.
  2. Purchase a login to the NMFC ClassIT system. This will cost you upto $328.00 depending on your participant status.
  3. Purchase an interpretation from the NMFTA. This will cost you $30 for one upto $450.00 for a block of 25.
  4. Speak with a participant who has purchased these items. Most common LTL carriers are participants. Some of the larger logistics companies are participants. BAM Freight is a participant.

As you seek to determine your freight class you will want to understand these factors about your goods being shipped:

  • Description of the goods being shipped.
  • What is the product made of?
  • How is the product commonly used?
  • How will the freight be packaged?
  • What is the value of the goods?
  • What is the density of the shipment?
  • Are the goods new or used?

Freight Class Development

The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) system is used to group commodities for for LTL shipping. The classification system contains over 8,000 commodity descriptions. It is used by professionals in the LTL industry as a standard for bill of lading descriptions, packaging requirements and freight class for pricing purposes. It is maintained by an autonomous board called the Commodity Classification Standards Board (CCSB). They manage and develop the policies, guidelines and directives that encompass the freight class system. Resources and other information is provided to the CCSB by the Classification Resource Committee (CRC). This committee is made up of approximately 100 NMFTA member carriers. These carriers may formulate and submit proposals to amend the NMFC but are not involved in the decision making process in regards to disposition of the proposals. The NMFC is regulary reviewed to determine if changes are needed. Any person or group can propose changes to the NMFC on the NMFTA website. Any pending changes or proposals can be viewed their as well. Changes can result from interpretation of descriptions, tranportation characteristics information, need for clarification, packaging improvements, removal of obsolete provisions and research projects. The research project list can be found on the NMFTA site.

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Transportation Characteristics

The freight class for a particular commodity is determined by evaluating the characteristics of a commodity that influence it's ability to be transported effectively by LTL carriers. These four characteristics are Density, Handling, Stowability and Liability. While these are the factors that influence the freight class and the freight class is used by LTL carriers in developing their pricing it is not on the only factor a shipper should consider when learning about LTL pricing.

Density

The base of the freight class is determined by the average density of the commodity when shipped. The class is then further adjusted for the other three factors. There is a misconception in the LTL industry that density is the only factor. In fact, freight class density calculators can be easily found on the internet. Full disclosure, we have one on our site (guilty as charged)! Most of them will have the "characteristics" disclaimer like ours does. It is important to take this seriously and best to get your freight class from the NMFC book or online system, ClassIT. That said, density is a major factor and for commodities that are easily to handle, stow and fall within the liability / value guidelines, density is generally a good indicator of freight class. Simply stated, density = pounds / cubic feet.

To calculate the density of your shipment, follow these steps:

  1. Measure the Length, Width and Height of your shipment in inches. Make sure that you measure it at the greatest point, not just the pallet dimensions (i.e. include any overhang). Also, when measuring the height, measure from the highest point. If there is a single box on top or a "do not stack cone" you must measure the height to the top of that item.
  2. Calculate the cubic feet of the shipment. This can be done by multiplying the lenght x width x height and then dividing by 1728 (1728 = # of inches in 1 cubic foot).
  3. Weigh your shipment using a calibrated, certified scale. If you don't have a scale you can use the dimensional weight of the shipment but this really is only for estimating purposes. If you use the dimensional weight as part of part of the desnity equation or your freight quote, please know it may not be 100% accurate.
  4. Divide the weight of your shipment by the cubic feet and voila, you have the density!

A consideration often not dicussed but definitely an influcing factor of density is if the freight is shipped stood up (SU) or knocked down (KD). Stood up means the items being shipped are assembled and knocked down means flattened.  

freight class density calculator

Handling

Handling characteristics are factors that determine how difficult or easy it is for dock workers to move the cargo around the warehouse or load/unload it. There are different aspects of handling that are considered when determining freight class. 

Excessive Length or Weight

Length is a major consideration in LTL shipping. A standard pallet is 40" x 48" and consequently the standard length of forks on fork lifts and pallet jacks are 4 feet. Cargo that is longer then 4 feet is not considered "standard." Most warehouses will have specialized forklift attachments that are 8' feet long. Cargo that is longer then the standard length requires special handling and equipment. In some cases the only way to move cargo that is excessively long is to drag it. Most carrier's do not penalize cargo for length until it exceeds 12' linear feet. Weight becomes a major consideration when it requires special permits for handling. 

Shipper Instructions

Classification can be influenced for commodities that have special shipper requirements for handling. Examples would be:

  1. Fragile or handle with care warnings.
  2. Restrictions excluding the use of a fork lift.
  3. Hazardous or dangerous materials.
  4. Other requirements like two person handling.

Palletized or Loose

Whether a piece of cargo is shipped on a pallet or not can impact the class. On one hand cargo that is shipped loose, where there are a lot of separate pieces, can be hard to handle. On the other hand one big piece that is shipped on a pallet may have a lower density (lower density = higher class) because the pallet extends beyone the piece itself. Generally speaking though, it is better to palletize your cargo or crate it rather then shipping it loose. 

Mechanical or Hand Loading

Cargo that generally requires hand loading will be classed higher primarly becuase it takes more work, time and has more risk of injury. Cargo that can be moved mechanically using a forklift or pallet jack is classed more favorably.

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Stowability

Stowability has to do with the way the freight must be loaded on the trailer. A primary goal of all LTL carriers is the maximize the space in a trailer. To this they need to be able to load the freight high or to the top of the trailer and tight or taking up the full width of the trailer with little space in between. Freight that can be easily fit in and around other freight allowing the carrier to use every inch of the trailer will be classed more favorably. 

Stackable and/or Load Bearing

Carriers like freight that has a flat load bearing service on top where other freight can be stacked on top. If the height of a handling unit does not reach the ceiling of the trailer, and other freight can not be stacked ontop of the handling unit, the space above it is considered wasted space. To a carrier, this is the same as lost revenue.

Oddly Shaped Pieces

Cargo that is oddly shaped or has protruding parts can make it very difficult to stack other freight around or on top of. This will be considered a negative stowability factor.

Stowing Restriction

Cargo that has restrictions regarding where it must be stowed on a trailer or the kinds of freight it can be stowed with present a significant constraint to carriers as they try to maximize the cubic feet of their trailer. An good example is hazardous freight that must be loaded in the tail of the trailer or away from other freight.

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Liability

When thinking of liability the most common concern is the fragility of the product. While this is a definite liability concern it is not the only one. In adition to the factors mentioned here, packaging is a consideration as well. The concern with packaging is how well it protects the freight from damage and keeps it from damaging other shipments around it.

Fragile Items

The LTL shipping environment is constantly moving. As shipments move through a carriers Hub and Spoke network it will be handled multiple times. It is likely to be bumped, set down and picked up several times while in the carrier's care. Also, while in transit it will be jostled around as the truck hits speed bumps, pot holes and other road hazards. Items that are fragile are more suseptible to damage and therefore classed less favorably.

Perishable Items

Items that can spoil while in transit pose an obvious risk to LTL carriers. Few (if any) LTL trailers are temperature controlled. In addition to spoilage is expiration. This could be food items that have a limited shelf life or other time sensitive commodities like magazine that have a specific publishing window.

Susceptible to Theft

Items that are small, compact and valuable in the market can be a risk of theft. Examples would include watches, jewelry, artwork and consumer electronics. Other items that alcohol and tobacco products are prone to theft as well. These items require special handling and pose an increased liability risk.

Likely to Damage Other Freight

Cargo that has a potential to damage cargo around it is viewed negatively from a liability perspective as well. The item itself may not be easily damaged but because of the way it is packaged it has sharp or hard protrusions that can puncture or damage surrounding cargo. Another consideration is hazardous cargo that can harm other cargos. 

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Topics: LTL Freight

David Stevens

Written by David Stevens

Transportation Executive with experience in developing processes and controls for early stage start up companies. Specialties include: Sales, Marketing, Transportation, Trucking, Brokerage, Project Transport and Rail Operations.,Organizational Design, Process Development, Accounts Receivable Management, Leadership, and Business Start-ups.