The best time to design & buy wood crates depends on your type of manufacturing process and your product.
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If your products are larger dimensionally and/or have varying assembly times, the best time to start considering to buy wood crates should be prior to any manufacturing.
Treat the packaging as part of the product rather than an afterthought. If your product is moved, handled, or staged during production, it may be cost effective to incorporate the packaging into your process as a function of material handling.
If your products are manufactured in large quantities that roll off an assembly line, the best time to start considering to buy wood crates is during the production phase.
Since your products remain constant you can benefit from price breaks by buying packaging in bulk. This can include the internal as well as external packaging technology.
If you develop customized products with varying designs to meet customer requirements, wood crate designs are best addressed once the product is completed as the product may undergo last minute modifications.
Open communication with your packaging vendor can help you avoid shipping delays due to wood crate size errors. It may be cost effective to ship your product assembled in a single shipment or dis-assembled with few ancillary packages.