Some LTL (Less-Than-Truckload) carriers will exclusively set their rates through your product's National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) Freight Class, some will use a pricing scheme based on density, and some will employ a combination of the two. Therefore, knowing how to calculate density will help you estimate your shipping costs.
1. Weighing Your Product
Ideally, employ a certified floor scale or a forklift scale to weigh your freight. Knowing the weight of your product is necessary in order to determine density. If you do not have access to an appropriate scale, you can estimate your total weight by adding the weight of individual pieces. Your LTL carrier will weigh the shipment, so the more accurate the information you provide in getting your LTL Quote, the more accurately you will be able to estimate your cost.
2. Taking Measurements
LTL shippers usually prefer that your product is secured to a pallet. A standard pallet is 48" x 40". It is not ideal to have your product hanging over the edges of the pallet if you can help it. When this happens, the chances of your freight being damanged, and paying more than expected, both go up because it will make it more difficult for the carrier to load with other palletized freight into the trailer. If this is unavoidable, try to minimize the disruption by securing your freight to the pallet and protecting the edges of your product with packing material and shrink wrap.
If you do not palletize your product, or if there’s no way to keep it from hanging over the pallet’s edge, take the longest and widest measurements and use those to determine your product's dimensions.
3. Calculating Your Commodity’s Density in Pounds per Cubic Feet
Determine the cubic feet of your commodity by multiplying your freight’s length, width, and height – measured in inches – together, then divide that number by 1728. Because there are 1728 cubic inches in a cubic foot, this result gives you the measure of your commodity in cubic feet.
Once you know the cubic feet volume of your product, you can calculate its density by dividing the weight - measured in pounds – by the total cubic feet. You can also use our density freight class tool.
Example: A pallet of twenty-five 50-pound bags of magazines weighing 1250 pounds. When loaded onto a pallet weighing 40 pounds, your total weight is 1,290 pounds. The pallet is 40” long and 48” wide and the stack of thirty bags is 42” tall: 40 x 48 x 42 = 80,640. 80,640/1728 = 46.7 cubic feet. Our density is 1,290 pounds / 46.7 cubic feet. 27.6 pounds per cubic foot.
4. Selecting the Right Freight Class & NMFC Number for Your Shipment
Once you have determined your density, you should search for your NMFC number. Enter key words that describe your product to filter results.
In the example of the pallet with a density of 27.6, the closest density is code 161700-03: “Magazines or Periodicals, or Newspaper Inserts or Supplements; in packages, and having a density in pounds per cubic foot of: 30 or greater” which translates to Freight Class 55.
The NMFC Table groups commodities into eighteen classes from 50 to 500, with lower classes costing less to ship. In addition to noting your density, you should be cognizant of relative ease with which your commodity can be moved, stored, handled with liability, and its overall value because items that are hard to move or store or items that might be more easily stolen or damaged than others will earn a higher Freight Class, which makes them more expensive to ship.
Freight Class or Density?
Once you know your commodity’s Freight Class and density, you will be prepared for which pricing scheme your LTL carrier uses. Over time, you will become acquainted with the methods different carriers use, which will help you determine if knowing your commodity’s density is adequate or if you will also need to know your specific NMFC number.
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