Unitisation. To “unitise” cargo is to combine different goods or even different elements of the same goods, into one “group” or “unit” of a regular size.

The idea of unitisation is not new. Even breakbulk cargo was unitised. For example, if a carton contained a number of tins of paint, the carton was a unit. The carton could then be one of many similar cartons loaded on board a general cargo vessel. The purpose of unitisation was to facilitate handling of the tins of paint, to improve the rate of loading and discharging the cargo of paint and to simplify stowage and storage. The individual cartons could be strapped together or placed in a sling or on a pallet and covered with “shrink wrap plastic” so as to facilitate the mechanical handling of this “unit load”. (A pallet is a wooden or metal platform usually having plan dimensions of 1.2 x lm, and composed of two “decks” separated by “bearers”. This permits the handling by fork-lifts and pallet trucks and special pallet slings.)

The modern application of the word is more relevant when the cartons are placed in a container or on a pallet. Therefore it is more appropriate to manufactured or processed goods which may have been considered as “break bulk” cargo in the past. However, the phrase can also apply to bulk cargo where a quantity of bulk cargo may be loaded into a barge and the barge is then loaded on board a barge carrier, such as a LASH-vessel, where the mode of transport is “lighter aboard ship”. In fact, bulk cargo can also be unitised in containers.

Unitisation may be expensive, but when the advantages are considered the expense may be justified.

The advantages may be viewed from the side of the transport system operator, the transport system user and in general. For example, the ease and speed of handling, thus reducing labour costs, the improvement in using the stowage space on board the vessel, the potential in providing a “door-to-door” service, and so on, may assist in increasing profit margins and reducing liability. For the system user (that is, the shipper or consignee), unitisation permits the use of a single carrier, reduces transit time, reduces pilferage and damage and thus reduces the costs of cargo insurance and improves storage in warehouses and also inventoty control, among other advantages which must be present. In general, unitisation permits a more simplified system of transport and a better use of resources, both capital and labour.


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