In mechanics, the term “impact” refers to an event in which two bodies collide and experience a great amount of force. In shipping, small impacts tend to be common and relatively unavoidable; it is impossible to eliminate every bump and bounce of a vehicle in motion, and for now, shipments rely on vehicles in motion to get from there to here.
Yet, sometimes, impacts are so intense that they can cause damage. There is only so much a shipper can do to prevent impacts from harming their shipped goods — and packaging is a significant component. Here are a few tips and tricks for packaging products properly to prevent damage from impacts during shipping.
Box Strength Rating
The first line of defense for most shipped goods is the corrugated cardboard box that contains them. However, not all boxes are created equal. There are two factors that shippers need to consider before selecting shipping boxes: the ECT rating and the Mullen rating.
The Edge Crush Test (ECT) rating describes how much weight a box can sustain on its edge without crumpling. Using the ECT, shippers and carriers can determine how much weight can stack on top of boxes without causing potential damage to the goods inside.
The Mullen rating, which is also called the burst or pop test, describes the force required to warp or break the box. The test is performed with a device called a Mullen tester, which applies pressure to a suspended piece of corrugated cardboard. Higher Mullen ratings suggest that a box will be more protective to goods during transit, resisting impacts and shocks with more force.
Not all goods require boxes with the best possible strength ratings. However, goods that are more delicate or sensitive should be adequately protected with boxes that can withstand forces that might cause damage.
A mostly empty box is a dangerous prospect in shipping. Carriers suggest that the vast majority of impact damage occurs because goods are rattling around inside their packaging during transit, so shippers need to do what they can to eliminate empty space as much as possible. While choosing an appropriately sized box is a good start, almost all shippers will need to take the additional step of filling empty space with void filler, which is a type of packaging designed to fit around goods within boxes.
There are many different types of void filler, allowing shippers to use the best option based on their goods and budgets. Some popular void fillers include:
- Air pillows
- Tissue paper
- Packing peanuts
- Crinkle paper
- Molded pulp
Cushioning is a component of packaging that is often conflated with void filler, though in truth, the two packaging products have different objectives. Though cushioning can fill up empty space within a box, its main purpose is to absorb any shocks and impacts before they reach the more valuable goods inside. Thus, cushioning tends to be made of soft materials that will dampen vibrations.
As with void filler, there are many types of cushioning for shippers to choose from. The most well-known options include:
- Bubble wrap
- Rolled foam
- Foam pouches
- Foam blocks
Impact sensors are useful tools, especially while shippers are first experimenting with packaging. These sensors measure the forces applied to packages during shipment, allowing shippers more insight into the treatment of their goods by carriers and into the effectiveness of their packaging decisions. Tripped impact sensors can help shippers reject damaged shipments and expedite the damage claim process to mitigate shipping losses. Most impact sensors are labels applied to the outside of packaging, but there are more advanced sensors that provide shippers with real-time intelligence about the safety and security of their goods.
Many shipped goods are sensitive to changes in temperature. Heat and cold can cause all sorts of damage, from temporary discoloration to premature decay. In addition to relying on temperature-controlled shipping containers, shippers can and should insulate their products against extreme heat and cold with proper packaging. Thermal insulation packaging most often takes one of three forms:
- Sheets of synthetic foam or natural fibers
- Reflective materials
- Molded polystyrene foam
Shippers often feel frustrated by how little control they have over protecting their goods in transit, but the truth is that with proper packaging, they can feel confident about the safety of their freight.