The cost to ship materials from one place to another depends not only on the distance and weight shipped, but also on the freight classification of the item being shipped. It costs more to ship two tons of pillows from Los Angeles to Chicago than it does to ship two tons of textbooks. This is true even if both shipments are traveling on the same truck between the same distribution centers.
National Motor Freight Classification
The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) classifies every product into one of 18 classes. This list is called the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC). There are four factors that are used to classify products. They are: density, stowability, handling and liability.
Less Than Truckload
The NMFC rating is more important when shipping quantities that are less than a truckload (LTL). Trucking companies combine LTL shipments to fill a truck and make a trip as profitable as possible. If a shipment is a full truckload, the shipper should be able to negotiate a better price.
When you consider an LTL shipment of pillows, versus an LTL shipment of textbooks, you can see why the pillows would cost more to ship. Two tons of pillows might fill half the truck, while the two tons of books fits on one pallet. By taking the load of pillows, the trucking company limits what else can fit into the truck.
Stowability describes how stable the shipment will be when loaded into the truck. Both pillows and textbooks are considered to be very stable because it is unlikely that they will shift as the truck travels down the highway.
Freight that is easier to load and unload gets lower rates. For example, if the textbooks are loaded on a pallet that can be loaded into the truck with a forklift, the rate will be lower than if they are in cases that have to be loaded by hand.
If the trucking company has less risk, should the shipment get damaged, the shipper will pay a lower rate. For example, neither the pillows nor the textbooks will be damaged if they fall from a loading dock. However, a load of glassware will probably be destroyed.