Are Wood ATA Road Cases A Dying Breed?

The one thing that nobody can argue with is a product that passes the rigorous test of time. For 10,000 years, wood has been successfully used to manufacture shipping cases. Despite the fact that wood is heavy, brittle, not weather resistant, and is a delicacy to some insects, it does offer some benefits. On the plus side, wood is plentiful, inexpensive, and easy to cut and shape. The obvious question is, after 10,000 years, is wood is still the best shipping case construction option?

The short answer to this is a resounding “no”. Recent advancements in billboard and sign industry panels have quickly spilled over into the world of fabricated ATA cases (also known as ‘flight cases”). These newer generation composite panels are lighter and stronger than wood, and mass production keeps the cost relatively low. These panels are also now made in thicknesses that match commercially available extrusions and ATA hardware.

One the surface, one might think that wood still holds and advantage because the initial case cost is less when plywood panels are used as compared to the commensurate composite panels. In fact, a buyer may expect to pay 10-15% less for an all plywood case. A closer examination reveals that cases, like automobiles, have a life cycle cost that far exceeds the initial cost.

Since composite panel construction is lighter than wood, substantial shipping cost savings can be attained by having a lighter overall package. This is especially true in today’s shipping environment, which is teeming with weight overage and fuel surcharges.

Repair is another element to the cost equation. Wood ATA cases tend break and crack with rough handling and extended use. Composite panel construction definitely holds up better than wood in a commercial or airline shipping environment. If your wood case breaks or splinters, you will not only have to pay for cases repairs, but you may also have to bear the cost of broken items inside the case. Murphy’s Law will of course apply to your case damage. Your case is guaranteed to break at the most important moment in your career. One cannot even assign a cost to that.

So far we have been talking mostly about larger cases that tend to ship by dedicated or commercial truck. Wood cases have also been used extensively in the travel and carry sizes. Here, once again, the wood case has been eclipsed by the recent explosion in the quality and size range of injection molded case products. Injection molded cases not only have an advantage in weight and standard features, but also have a significant price advantage as well. Molded case even trump composite panel cases when it comes to price and usability in the travel and carry size ranges. Given this, it is hard to see how wood construction can compete with molded construction. It appears that wood is simply trading on past glories.

Back to the question at hand; are wood cases on the way out? It definitely seems so. There are some industries, however, that still love wood ATA cases. The most notable are music and broadcasting. This seems to stem from a respect for “tradition” rather than actual features or cost. Since composite cases look the same are wood cases, future case buyers in these industries will be more inclined to try composite (and probably like them better) without disturbing tradition.

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