July 24 2006 10:05 AM

You get home from a long day at work and find a package on the front door step. Like a kid on Christmas morning, you quickly cut open the box and dig through the sea of packing peanuts until you find the shrink-wrapped box of software buried deep in the shipping container. After picking up all the stray peanuts, you look at the little box of software and compare it to the large shipping container full of peanuts and ask, �Why didn�t they ship this in a smaller box?�
Shippers that transport �random� products and order quantities face this challenge every day. Unfortunately, the decision is more than just selecting the right shipping container. Choosing the right packaging to accommodate a wide variety of products and order sizes requires shippers to consider the nature of the contents, the handling and distribution environment, container strength and type of container.
What�s inside?
It makes perfect sense to consider size, weight and shape of contents when selecting shipping containers. It is equally important to assess the fragility of each product. Products that have a low or moderate density with sufficient strength to withstand common handling and distribution dynamics might be thought of as �easy loads.� On the other hand, a �difficult load� contains highly concentrated or sensitive products that do not support the faces of the shipping container and require more protection. Although somewhat simplified, these load classifications will help identify the best shipping container for your products.
Where are the products before they get to the customer?
Are the packages going to be stacked in a warehouse for extended periods of time? What is the relative humidity of the warehouse and how does it affect stacking strength? Are packages consolidated on a pallet and transported by truckload, or are they picked, packed and shipped in a small parcel environment? These are types of questions that need to be considered when identifying and selecting the best container for your handling and distribution situation.
When products are exposed to warehouse conditions for extended periods or transported on a pallet, a corrugated shipping container with Edge Crush Test (ECT) material specifications may be appropriate. Keep in mind, corrugated shipping containers can lose up to 85% of their compression strength under 100% RH conditions. Therefore, increased edge crush strength may be necessary.
If your products are picked, packed and shipped in a small parcel environment, the container�s handling durability is more important than stacking strength. In this situation, a corrugated shipping container specifying burst strength may be more appropriate.
Is size important?
Once the content and environmental concerns have been addressed, the size of the distribution container becomes your next important decision. If the container is too small, there may not be enough room left to adequately protect your products. If the container is too large, you need more cushioning/void fill, which results in higher packaging costs.
The goal is to find the right balance where the product is adequately protected with a minimum amount of cushioning/void fill. To strike this balance, you must consider the size of the product(s), number of products per container and the fragility of the product(s).
If the products fall within our easy load classification, you can simply block and brace the products with a resilient material to immobilize the products within the container. In this case, the container size only needs to be slightly larger than the product, allowing enough room to block and brace the product.
Difficult loads require more protection, where individual wrapping and product placement becomes more critical. Packers should allow for at least two inches to three inches around all six sides of each product to provide adequate protection.
When shipping large, lightweight items, such as dried flowers or pillows, it is important not to exceed the size limit of the container. If the sum of the container�s length, width and depth is greater than the size limit specified on the box maker�s certificate, the size limit of the box has been exceeded. In this situation, the strength of the shipping container needs to be increased.
What container is strong enough?
The most common manufactured and utilized shipping containers have a gross weight limit of 65 pounds. In theory, you should be able to ship up to 65 pounds without concern (assuming you used appropriate cushioning). Unfortunately, this is not always true.
Heavy, dense products such as nuts, bolts and golf balls, often require stronger containers to adequately contain and protect the products. Even though these types of products are not considered fragile, they can still be classified as �difficult loads.� Consider this, if you pack 40 pounds of nuts and bolts in a 10 inch by 10 inch by eight inch box with a gross weight limit of 65 pounds, the �fluid� nature of the nuts and bolts may cause the side walls of the shipping container to bulge. This bulging accelerates package degradation and increases the probability of the package splitting open during transit.
For difficult loads that are both heavy and fragile, such as consumer electronics and computer monitors, it is recommended to increase the strength of the shipping container by increasing the bursting strength, edge-crush strength and/or upgrading from a single-wall to a double-wall corrugated container.
What type of container should you use?
A Regular Slotted Container (RSC) is the most common box style. Its flaps are all the same length with the two outer flaps meeting at the center of the package. This is an efficient and effective design and can be used for most products.
However, just because it is the most common does not mean it is best for your products. Other box styles, such as Full Overlap Slotted Containers (FOL), telescope containers or folders (to name just name a few) may be more appropriate.
The FOL container has flaps that overlap each other when closed, providing added handling durability, an additional layer of corrugated cushioning and increased stacking strength, especially when stacked on its side.
Full telescoping boxes consist of a separate top and bottom with the top piece fully telescoping over the bottom. This design offers two full layers of corrugated around four sides, increasing durability, puncture resistance and stacking strength.
Folders consist of one or more corrugated pieces that fold around the product. They can be designed with recessed ends or air-cells for added protection. Folders work well for items such as books and videos.
Long or irregularly shaped products such as window blinds, golf clubs and fishing rods, require packaging that not only protect from vibration and shock but also from bending. To protect these products, it is recommended to increase container strength, by adding V-board supports, using spiral-wound tubes or U-shaped fiber tubes.
Identifying and selecting the best shipping container for your products are critical to customer satisfaction. In addition to careful analysis of your product and selecting the most appropriate size, strength and type of shipping container, we recommend that you have your packaging tested in accordance with industry-recognized test standards to ensure the most appropriate packaging solution for your situation. After all, your customers are counting on it.
Chad Thompson is a senior packaging consultant for UPS Professional Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of United Parcel Service. He is a certified packaging professional specializing in providing package design, testing and consulting services to meet client distribution packaging needs. Chad can be reached at 708-387-4562.