What is a package drop test?

A package drop test is a simulation of the falls that a package holding goods may experience during shipping and handling. In a controlled environment, a full package (typically, a carton with the correct item/s inside) will be dropped in various ways (on corners, edges, and faces, in a certain order) in order to find any weaknesses which can then be addressed.

By evaluating the reliability of this packaging (from overseas to a regional distribution center in export cartons and/or in a smaller shipper box for domestic sending) to withstand impacts from falls, importers will be assured that the goods will make it to them, or end-users, in good condition!

According to the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), the procedure will:

  • Protect products and profits with reduced damage and product loss
  • Enhance customer satisfaction and continued business

A dropping robot (or quality inspector) will hold the package (which is a real unit inside the same packaging that will be used in transit) and drop it from a set height (based on its weight, this could be between around 0.5 to 1.5m) onto the same surface. It will be dropped 10 times, in a precise sequence.

You can see this kind of test in action in this video from our own testing lab:

Most importers who run this kind of test will make it a regular part of their quality standard, so their suppliers know it is going to happen and should work towards making sure that the packaging and product can pass.


Transportation cost optimization

If you under-protect your products, the damages that ensue might be quite costly. On the other hand, if you make the packaging very bulky, it might double the volume and the cost of your shipments!

How to know what is an adequate level of protection? By designing the right testing plan based on the type of conditions the shipment will be subjected to. We mention ISTA standards here, but they should only be a starting point. If you move a lot of boxes, this is is serious money and you probably need to give this topic serious thought.

See Saving money thanks to better packaging and How to test the protection of your products during transport for advice from an experienced packaging engineer.

Do I need to run a drop test?

If you are shipping fragile or high-value products that cannot withstand rough treatment, or your products are likely to be rejected by customers if not in perfect condition, then a carton drop test like this is a good option to request QC inspectors to do.

For lighter packages, an inspector can do the test themself, probably at your supplier’s factory, however for larger, heavier packages (for instance, 50kg) the test could be done by several people at the same time, or in a testing lab’s facility using a robot (to spare the QC inspector from back strain!).


The package drop test process

  1. For each SKU tested, select one package which must be identical to the others in its batch for a fair test (same product inside, same interior or retail packaging, dunnage, and the same export package type).
  2. Weigh the sample package to find the correct drop height per the standard used:
    package drop test weight to height

  3. Clean the drop surface with a dry cloth (this happens each time between drops).
  4. Drop the box from the correct height onto the different faces ten times:
    Most fragile corner (x1 drop)
    3 edges coming from the most fragile corner (x3 drops)
    All 6 faces (x 6 drops):
    packaging drop test faces
  5. After drops are complete, inspect the package for damage. You will also inspect the product packaging and product itself (which were inside the export packaging) for signs of damage, too.
    The following will be checked:
    – Unit location inside export packaging (has it shifted)?
    – Cosmetic damage to outer export package and interior product retail package (if any)
    – Damage to the product itself
    – Product function (does it still operate perfectly?)


Has my package passed the test?

No functional and mechanical failures should be found on product and retail packaging after test.

Therefore, you can expect a package to fail if: damaged package

  • The export package is completely smashed/open
  • The product’s retail box is badly damaged
  • The product inside is damaged or inoperative

Seeing some small cosmetic damage is normal following a drop test, but the goal is that the product inside is totally unharmed following the test.


Package or carton drop test standards

You may come across the following international standards. It’s helpful to know which standard your supplier is testing to if they’re carrying out the tests as they may have slight differences. For example, ASTM’s standard is applicable for containers weighing 110 lb (50 kg) or less, whereas the ISTA standard applies to a heavier weight:

Also, your carrier (for example, FedEx) may be able to advise you on the standard that is applicable to them. In which case, this is the standard for you to test to.

In general, the ISTA series has commonly adhered to standards. Amazon, Sam’s Club, UPS, Fedex, and others all use some form of the ISTA standards when testing packaging.


What other packaging reliability tests usually accompany a drop test?

As well as drop tests, importers will commonly carry out:


What else can we do to reduce the risks of damage during transit?

If there is still a residual risk of damage, find other ways to improve product protection. Here is a funny example (courtesy of weirdfacts.org):

vanmoof tv bike box


Get help to do your testing

Sofeast provides in-house reliability testing on packages, prototypes, and products, including package drop tests.

You can also learn more about our lab facilities and equipment, too.

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