In the Dangerous Goods galaxy, regulators often say they work to find the ideal balance between supply chain safety and the needs of industry.
Finding that balance is an ongoing process. Regulations aren’t carved in stone—they’re updated continually. Every year, regulatory bodies such as the United Nations Sub-Committee on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and the International Civil Aviation Organization revisit existing regulations. They modify, update and tweak these rules to improve safety or reduce unnecessary burdens on regulation. Sometimes both.
The newly approved smaller lithium battery marks are a perfect example.
Available now and compliant as of January 1, 2021, these marks serve the exact same function as their larger cousins. They’re just a bit smaller—but that little bit can actually make a big difference for many shippers.
Smaller lithium battery marks for smaller packages?
So we’re not talking about drastically smaller labels here. But even these incremental reductions can make a big difference to a manufacturer or distributor who moves a lot of lithium batteries or battery devices.
Here’s why: From a labeling perspective, a package only needs to be big enough for its labels and marks to fit on one side without overlapping around the corner of the box. (There might be other reasons for the package to be larger, of course.) And since these marks are the only labeling on excepted lithium battery ground shipments, smaller marks could make it possible to use smaller packages.
And smaller packages mean you can fit more of them into an overpack or a truck trailer.
We never said there wouldn’t be math
How many more lithium battery shipments will you be able to make with these new, smaller marks? Let’s do a little math.
A standard 53-ft dry van trailer measures 1448 cm long X 250 cm wide by 274 cm high. If your boxes are 5 inches (127 mm) wide and otherwise conform to the current 120 mm X 110 mm marks, each layer of a trailer can hold 259 boxes. Reduce the length of your box by 10 mm to match the new marks, and that bottom layer can now hold 285 boxes—or 26 more.
But wait! If your boxes are 20 mm shorter in alignment with the new marks, you should be able to stack four more layers in the trailer. Four more layers, each with 26 added boxes, comes to 104 more boxes in every trailer.
(Switching from the old 105 mm X 74 mm marks to the new 100 mm X 70 mm marks yields a less dramatic but still noteworthy 28 boxes per trailer.)
But what if you could switch your packaging from fitting from the larger of the old marks to fitting the smaller of the new marks? The difference would be staggering: 364 more boxes in every trailer.
Keeping the ideal balance
We realize you may not be able to change the size of the boxes in which you ship lithium batteries or devices, no matter which marks you use. And even if you could, you may not ship enough boxes to care about getting another couple of hundred into a trailer.
But the point is that the UN committee has made it possible by assessing the costs and benefits of different mark sizes. They decided slightly smaller marks could provide a net gain for shippers while not compromising safety. (An even smaller proposed mark, 50 mm X 50 mm, was not approved.) Some shippers may benefit; others may not—but either way, no one is more likely to be injured.
Our regulatory bodies make these kinds of adjustments all the time, helping Dangerous Goods regulations keep the ideal balance between supply chain safety and the needs of industry.
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