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Do You Ship Calibrated Equipment and Sensitive Parts?

Here is a short story well worth reading. When I was working for a large avionics manufacturer, we had a heck of a time convincing our customers that some of the equipment they were shipping back to us was not packed properly for shipping and they would eat the cost for the damage. To prove our point, we worked with one customer who had to ship a vertical gyro back to us for repair. Stenciled right on the gyro in big letters were the words, “handle like eggs.” Evidently the customer thought we were talking hard boiled and not raw. We had the customer pack the gyro for shipping as they would normally, but we threw in a device that would measure accelerations. When the shipment got to our repair shop, the box was opened and the measurement device was pegged at 30gs. They got the message and followed our advice on how to pack equipment for shipping to minimize problems due to handling. If I am striking a nerve, read on.

We sell a product that is not unlike most aircraft or helicopters — expensive. The item is sensitive and delicate, no different than a gyro, pitot static tester or a windshield, and is in the $4,000 to $8,000 price range. What we see a lot of is items that are not properly packaged being shipped to us for repairs. Would you ship a 60-inch flat screen TV via FedEx or UPS without any protection? How about a piece of calibrated equipment that cost as much as three 60-inch TVs? We see it every day. In fact, just today we received a unit with a shipping label on it and it was just shipped as is, no packing material to keep it from bouncing around inside the instrument case. It has a computer in it that has a hard drive. If you want to see a hard drive crash, just bounce it around your office for a few minutes.

Calibrated equipment, parts that are motion sensitive and/or delicate instruments must be packed with extreme care when it is time to ship them. Proper shipping boxes, bubble wrap and protection is paramount in assuring that the equipment or parts not only make it to where they need to go, but do not get damaged on the journey. I think sometimes we tend to forget that some things need to be handled more carefully when they are being shipped.

Take a pitot static tester for example. The contents, a sensitive altimeter and airspeed indicator, are mounted to a face board that is mounted to the case it is shipped in. Many of these units do not have any shock mounts and are not meant to be a shipping case, just the instrument case. To ship it, close up the unit and just slap a shipping label on it, right? Now what you have is a situation where the unit can be shock loaded, dropped or have some other event occur which can by the very nature of the instrument damage it. Having issues on your re-certs of your testers the past few years? Did you have units that had to have instruments replaced at a very expensive cost? You might want to check on how the unit is being shipped by your shipping department.

I have seen very good operations, very good shipping personnel, and people who care and fully understand the costs associated with ensuring the unit is properly packaged and shipped. Many times operations will make and reuse the container to ship multiple items in it. When we get one that is packed very well and it is clear that a professional took the time to do the job right, we send a shipping award and a T-shirt to the customer, stating “You have won the best packaged award,” here’s a T-shirt for doing a good job.

The bottom line is that whether you have a shipping department or not, look at your shipping procedures, packing materials and the ability to do the job correctly. If you have a shipping department, bring a box of doughnuts one morning and have a coffee break with the crew and discuss this very article as an impromptu training class. If you have been having a large cost basis on damaged equipment or parts, consider that this may be occurring in shipping and address the cost effects with your department You just might be able to stop some of the unneeded costs. You can’t control how the shipping company will handle your package, but you can control how it is packed when they come to get it.

The short story is to ship it as if it were yours. Consider the cost of replacement if damaged and the cost to your company’s bottom line if it gets damaged, not only in direct cost but loss of use while being repaired. 

Larry Jackson is an AP/IA and has been in aircraft/helicopter maintenance for more than 30 years. His company, Jackson Aircraft Weighing Service, sells and services scales for the helicopter industry, as well as provides information on jacking applications for weighing aircraft.