Sept. 27 2006 12:12 PM

The good thing about a rule of thumb is that it simplifies things so you dont have to have a packaging engineer on speed dial every time you pack a box. But there are some generally accepted beliefs that over the years have fostered bad practices, which cost companies time, money and frustrating damages. Here at the UPS Package Design and Test Lab in Addison, Illinois, we hear a lot of these myths from clients, and its time to put a few of them to rest with the hopes that your operations will run more smoothly and profitably.


Myth #1: Box Strength Equals Weight Limit

A cardboard boxs strength, printed on the bottom of the container, doesnt indicate how much weight a box can hold. Instead, these certificates indicate the level of pressure the box can withstand in freight environments where boxes are typically stacked and palletized. To find out how much weight a box will safely handle, check out the guidelines on page 18.


Myth #2: The Two-Inch Rule

At some point, two inches of packing material became accepted as the bullet-proof standard. But the fact is that there is no automatic measure. More than anything, the size of an item dictates how much surrounding material is necessary. If the item is small, two inches could actually create too much space in the box, allowing the contents to shift during shipping, thus causing breakage. If its a larger item, then two inches might not be enough.


If youre using the two-inch rule, but youre seeing frequent damages, its time to call in an expert to determine if this is your problem. A proper analysis will determine the correct cushioning ratio best suited for that particular item.


Myth #3: Peanuts Never Fail

Styrofoam peanuts are still an effective packing material, but they arent perfect for every package. As with any packaging design, the right material depends on the individual characteristics of the product. Peanuts are essentially pieces of air designed to fill empty spaces and prevent items from moving around inside.


This concept works well in most cases, but small items can sink to the bottom of the package during shipping. This places them in a less protected area, increasing the likelihood of damage if the · contents are fragile. To circumvent this problem, the item must be double-boxed or must include corrugated fiberboard in the box to prevent the items migration inside the package.


So the next time you hear, But I packed it in peanuts, your first question should be, What was it? You may find that an alternative packing material is needed or that you will need to begin packing a box within a box. Depending on your processes and shipment quantities, the double-box pack may be too cumbersome and inefficient. If this is the case, foam mold could be the best option.


Myth #4: All Shipping Environments Are Created Equally

Not true. We all know freight operations are very different from small parcel environments. But its important to consider the differences when choosing packaging methods and materials.


Package compression the amount of pressure exerted on the box exterior is the

primary concern for freight shipments. This is when the pressure rating, which is printed on the box, is especially important. The box must form a solid cube that can be stacked, but you must also ensure proper box strength.


On the other hand, shipments are individually sorted in a small-package environment, and its critical to guarantee there will be no movement inside the box. Although modern technologies ensure that these packages are free from severe shocks and drops, damage can still occur when goods are not properly packed.


Ideally, your packaging should be designed for both freight and small-package environments. This will allow you to take advantage of new multi-modal shipping services. For example, UPS now offers a service whereby ocean, air and ground freight shipments are injected directly into its small-package system in order to bypass those unnecessary distribution points.


Myth #5: Drop-Kick-and-Throw

The idea of throwing or dropping a package to test package integrity is clearly flawed; however, you might be surprised to know that this process is still the test of choice for some shippers.


Packaging labs simulate real-world environments, but dropping and tossing usually create unrealistic conditions that do not provide consistent, measurable feedback. And as rigorous as it may seem, the drop-kick-and-throw test may not tell you everything you need to know.


Most labs can recreate four dynamics that can affect packages as they move through the shipping cycle: shock, vibration, compression and climatic conditions (temperature, humidity and pressure). More than anything, these four variables pose the greatest risk to your package while it is in transit. Luckily, finding a package lab should not be difficult; according to the International Safe Transit Association, there are approximately 340 package labs in 23 countries.


So the next time you experience unusual or repeat damages, dont assume the problem isnt the packaging just because you followed the box strength printed on the carton, ensured there were two inches of styrofoam peanuts surrounding the product, used the same packaging for freight assuming that it would be fine for the small-package environment and gave it the ultimate drop-kick-and-throw test. Instead, avoid these myths and consult a packaging expert to find the root of the problem.


Dennis Estep is Senior Director of Engineering Services at UPS Professional Services, Inc. For more information on the UPS Package Design and Test Lab, call toll free 877-877-7229 or e-mail