ATA Cases– What are they and What are they used for?

Shipping containers come in many different styles, from the simplest cardboard box to military-grade metal constructions weighing several tons. Most common instruments, electronics, industrial items, etc. that require a reusable case for shipping and general transport fall into one of three types: Molded plastic cases, Poly, or ‘Fiber’ cases, and ATA cases. We’ll concern ourselves here with ATA style cases. These are typically the sort of cases you might see backstage at a rock concert, with aluminum edges, recessed steel latches and handles, and wall panels finished with a protective plastic laminate on the outside. These panels are usually plywood or plastic of varying thicknesses and the laminate layer is an ABS plastic, though textured aluminum, fiberglass, or even a plastic resin material are sometimes used. Standard interior finishes would be felt carpet, black paint, bare wood, or any one of a number of different types of foam. The foam can be denser or softer, and maybe custom cut for specific items or simply lined with a choice of thicknesses.

The term ‘ATA’ refers to a government specification that establishes requirements for the design, development, and procurement of effective packaging for supplies and equipment shipped by airlines. Known as the ATA Spec. 300 Category 1 specification, it was originally a certification required of all containers used to ship via air, though nowadays is more commonly used to describe this certain style of case. The specification, in all of its governmental glory, can be found online and is a surefire cure for occasional insomnia.

What is the process for Taking Dimensions of an ATA Case?

Philly Case builds custom ATA cases according to your specifications, so it is important that you measure your equipment correctly. If you require an onsite measurement or prefer to bring your equipment to our facility, our customer service team will happily work with you to schedule a live measurement. The critical measurements we need include the overall weight of the equipment along with the Length, Width, and Height. It is easy to overlook smaller knobs, bump-outs, or optional features that often are not accounted for in the manufacturer’s specifications. We highly recommend physically measuring the equipment to ensure there are no discrepancies between what is provided by the manufacturer and your actual unit. Accounting for all of the small details is what results in an ATA case that fits your equipment perfectly. When you send measurements, please make sure you provide them in inches and label the Length(L), Width(W), and Height(H). We design our cases to a 1/16” variance and will account for air between the unit and cavity walls to ensure easy loading and unloading.

ATA cases can be the size of a small briefcase or large enough to hold a vehicle, with different choices of construction grade and hardware appropriate for the task at hand. They can be made in a variety of sizes and shapes, and designed to open as top loading, front loading, ‘tray’ style, or a combination of one or more of these types. This gives ATA cases an advantage over-molded plastic cases in that they can be made in an almost infinite combination of styles and sizes, where the molded products are available in only the available sizes which cannot be easily tweaked to specific requirements. ATA cases can have interiors that are divided into different sized compartments to spec, with various combinations of linings. For larger instruments that have wheels, hinge-down ramps that allow the unit to be rolled up into the case are a common solution. ATA cases can have inside details that hold turn-key computer station setups, for example or stand-alone control centers for audio or video mixing. It is this design flexibility, along with sturdy and protective construction that makes ATA style cases a good choice for these kinds of applications.

How does Philly Case make a Custom ATA Case?

When our customers seek an ATA case, we start with understanding the unit that is going to be shipped in the case. This includes how the operator is going to load and unload the equipment and whether accessories will ride with the equipment during transit. Size and weight will be a factor to determine the shell thickness of the case, load requirements for casters, and other operating features of the case. We will start with CAD drawings of the equipment or ask customers to provide outside measurements of the equipment to determine the required interior cavity. Customers will often overlook smaller knobs or bump-outs and contours that are absolutely critical to factor into the cavity size. Once the cavity size has been established we will then build out the case with different thicknesses and densities of foam to ensure proper shock absorption depending on how the weight of the equipment may shift while loaded. For equipment that has multiple parts or accessories, we will oftentimes consider housing these in separate cavities created by foam walls or installed dividers. The use of dividers in a case allows us to ship multiple units in one case when shipped and used together. Our design team will provide a drawing for you to review before we go into production.

What are the Best Practices for Shipping Equipment using an ATA Case?

When you are preparing to ship or pack equipment in an ATA case there are a few best practices:

  • Design an ATA case that will accommodate your equipment and protect it during transit, loading, and unloading. Customers often overlook the weight of the case’s lid or whether the case will require more than a single person to operate. Our view is the more information, the better.
  • Determine whether any extra measures should be considered due to environment, proximity to other items being shipped, and conditions for loading and unloading. For instance, you may need to incorporate a ramp, casters, or wheels into your ATA case or make sure it is available at the destination site. We like to understand whether a single operator will be handling the case in the field or if multiple operators will be available for loading and unloading.
  • Ensure that all accessories ship with the equipment ATA case or fit inside it. We have found that when customers ship integral parts separately, they are often lost in the field or don’t show up in time to put the equipment to work when you need it.
  • Work with a shipping company that has a good reputation and has experience shipping similar equipment. ATA Cases are designed for rugged environments, but negligent handling is always more expensive than the extra expense of a good logistics handler.

What Resources are available from Philly Case to help me Design a Custom ATA Case?

Philly Case has the ability to service customers, no matter how large or small in our 30,000 square foot facility. We have the ability to manufacture lightweight poly cases, molded cases, and we do all our own ATA and foam customization in house. We have the most experienced ATA manufacturing team in the industry and our own sophisticated software to take your specifications and turn them into the perfect ATA shipping case for your needs.