Advice On Choosing Packaging To Protect Your Products [Podcast]In This Episode…

This time we’re discussing the role of packaging in protecting your products during transit!

Renaud goes into detail about the different types of packaging materials, supply chain risks that can damage products during shipping, and why to conduct packaging reliability testing and the key tests to consider. He also addresses why considering packaging and developing the right inner and outer packaging for your needs should be done during the product development process and isn’t something to leave until the last minute!

The goal is to give you a good introduction to this topic and help you choose the right packaging for your needs.


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🎧 How To Choose The Right Packaging To Protect Your Products 🎧

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Episode transcript

How’s it going over in Asia? I heard there’s a lot of stuff going on with the logistics and a lot of issues with that at the moment?

That’s for sure it’s getting worse and worse, I shouldn’t laugh because a lot of our clients are suffering, but it’s issue after issue. I mean you had the Suez canal blocked and then you now have a part of the Yantian terminal in the main port of Shenzhen basically inactive, so yeah that’s had a lot of ripple effects and that that probably is going to have a bigger impact than the Suez canal all things considered.

And that’s because of covid, right?
So they’ve had outbreaks in china. We haven’t seen much going on in china with it, but suddenly they’ve had a few clusters around the ports and connected to that right?

They had two or three cases I think in the Western side of the terminal in Shenzhen and then at the same time they had a few cases in Guangzhou and Foshan and then they started testing everywhere in Shenzhen and so on and probably Zhuhai so you know they’re trying to contain it doing a lot of testing everywhere in all the neighborhoods and yeah they hope to crush it before it spreads which kind of makes sense.

Yeah and very very fast vaccinations as well. I’m sure I read somewhere that it said that China is doing 20 million people a day right now or something!

Yeah I read that too yes so that’s pretty impressive.

Today’s topic actually is packaging and reliability testing so of course the packaging is connected to the shipping of products which is connected to the logistics that we were talking about, so when we go into packaging reliability testing this is really more focusing on packaging from the point of view of protection right?

Right, so the number one basic objective of packaging your goods is to make sure that when they arrive they’re still in a condition that is usable or sellable right. If you buy, I don’t know, something like a microwave oven and there’s a nice retail box with color photos and everything that’s going to be shown in a supermarket let’s say and you just ship the retail boxes like that they’re going to be stacked up in let’s say in a container, the ones at the bottom might get crushed by the ones at the top. If there’s a little leakage they will get all wet, you know when they arrive maybe half of them have to be thrown away so it’s a huge waste.
So to prevent that they might be put into master export cartons, maybe there might be also some other inner cartons inside to provide some extra protection, and then they might also go into a polybag maybe before going into the carton just to make sure that the whole thing doesn’t get too wet, and then they might stack up some of the master cartons on pallets. Pallets also will provide more than protection, they will provide protection especially if you pile it up in a way that makes sure that it’s gonna go nearly to the top of the container as if you don’t ship full containers the freight forwarders may try to put some other goods on top of your goods which is often a cause of damages, so pallets do protect as they keep things more rigid, like less moving around, you can really control much better how they’re gonna be during transportation. But they also help with productivity, right. Put things on the pallet then after that, you have a palletizer to move it around, to move it directly into the truck into the container, and then out of the container directly into the warehouse. It might actually save hours of work rather than having free-form sort of cartons you know a bunch of, I don’t know, 2000 cartons coming out then you have your hands to move them around, but if it arrives and it’s 20 pallets it’s much faster to unload and that can make a lot of difference if you get a lot of containers and you have to unload them at the rates that prevail in Rotterdam or Long Beach or someplace like that. So these are some typical examples if you have some products that require extra protection. Sometimes we see that they are in crates like wooden crates maybe with wooden panels on the sides now that really provides a lot of protection. That’s great but you know it’s a small minority of products that really need that.

Yeah when you’re talking about pallets, for example, it’s definitely going to be helpful for moving things around and reducing you know the labor and the time, but also reducing risks because if everyone’s moving something by hand there’s so much more chance of dropping and you know risks like that.

Correct yes so the rule when you think of packaging for the protection of the product, you always start from your supply chain. Okay, what exactly are these cartons going to go through, are they going to be you know moved, stacked up in a container, or maybe in a truck, and then there’s going to be a lot of vibration in the truck and they’re going to be put in a warehouse then they’re going to be consolidated with other cartons. Then they’re gonna be piled up in a container, they might be at the bottom of the pile you know so how much weight is that going to be? Then you know how long is it going to be in this container at what humidity and what heat right? It might get very hot and humid for five weeks because a lot of these routes go through the tropical areas on the ocean, so it’s pretty hot and wet and then it arrives it’s unknown how is it going to be unloaded you know and does it go to a major distribution center and then it’s loaded again into some other trucks and go to some regional distribution center or stores? So you need to start from all of that and what are the risks, you know? Is it gonna be dropped on the floor as you were alluding to, what’s going to happen, and what is the cost of that? I mean if the products are very cheap that’s less of a risk financially speaking than if it’s, I don’t know, laptop computers, right? So you always start from what stressors or risks are in the supply chain and then from there you have to think what kind of packaging should we use for the product and obviously you also need especially the packaging that is facing the final customer to maybe please that user, right? So if you want to make an electronic product and you want the unboxing experience to be as nice as an iPhone, you know we have a lot of clients who might call for a very elaborate design of the box for the unit, you know, the unique packing box with inserts and with all kinds of things, sometimes it’s more expensive than the product itself which is a different thing to keep in mind. In the Apple stores you know there’s a lot of products like that very expensive packaging so yeah because it needs to provide the experience you know this is such a qualitative product and nice, you know, and in some cases that’s really what people want, so you need to balance the needs of the very nice experience kind of unboxing the product, and the need to protect the products which I guess is number one, because sure if it’s damaged it’s not going to be a good experience anyway so there’s actually a lot to think about.

You’ve written before, and I will link to a few of your blog posts in the show notes for this episode, that in fact a lot of importers don’t even specify how products should be packaged at all! But I think you’ve said in the past that really this is an important part of the entire new product introduction process?

It makes me think of something else. You don’t just want to protect the products and make the user experience as good as possible, you also want to keep the costs of moving these products low, because if it’s very bulky and you know the packaging can add a lot of volume so that becomes expensive especially by air freight for products that are not very dense. If it adds a lot of volume it’s just terrible for the freight costs so you need to balance out of that and so yes, as you say, a lot of importers come to the game and say ‘okay yes I focus a lot on the product. I want to make sure that this product for example as well on amazon or for example you know it’s really new and fixes that kind of problem or you know that or response to this kind of desire will do very well on Kickstarter,’ or you know, they focus a lot on the product and they don’t really focus on the packaging and we’ve seen some projects where the whole thing was delayed at the last moment because they thought it would be pretty simple, but then you know if they want custom printed packaging in a custom design and everything they can’t get that made in two weeks. I mean that’s just not happening even in Shenzhen, so you know that needs to be planned ahead. A lot of people actually trust their manufacturer way too much and they say ‘well what do your other customers do? How do they ship it? You know better so just make sure it’s protected.’ They think ‘of course it’s in the manufacturer’s interest to make sure it’s very well packaged and it’s very safe for the product.’ But actually, a lot of manufacturers don’t really give a hoot about it.
They don’t think deeply about it, they’re like ‘well yeah whatever’ you know, they buy the cheapest packaging and think that as long as they bring it in good condition to their forwarder, whatever happens later is not our problem. They will complain to their forwarder if there is a problem, but it’s not my problem, right? So really if the incentives are not there it’s really not smart to leave that up to your supplier, that’s really my point here. So they need to to pay attention to that and of course, there are some product categories where it’s much more critical than others, for example, if you buy some textile accessories if the products get dropped a bit harder on the floor, as long as the carton box doesn’t open, nothing’s broken there’s no problem, right. That’s why when we do inspections of garments or home textile it doesn’t even make sense to do a drop test of the cartons because the products inside are not going to be broken. As long as the export carton box is strong enough it’s not completely wet or already damaged it’s probably going to be fine the risk is not there. However, another extreme is people who buy printed materials like you know certain kinds of books or stationery and so on. If the packing is not very strong the corners are going to get damaged a little bit and then the whole product doesn’t look new anymore, that’s terrible, right? I see that mistake made over and over again. They really need to specify very clearly to over package it, maybe you know put 20 books into one carton, and then like a little carton, and then four of these little cartons into one export carton, that’s at least five plies double wall and that’s it, no more than that, and then make sure it’s on pallets and ship it out like that. Or, if it’s going to be sent by air, put it on slip sheets (it’s much thinner than pallets) as nobody’s really ships by air with pallets, however, the products can still be damaged during air freight, so you still want if you move a lot of these products anyway you might want to look into slip sheets.

So to summarize: different products need different types of packaging and the buyer has to think about that and has to request that their supplier follows certain specifications or suggests exactly how they’re going to pack it with photos and specifications and things like that that the buyer can confirm. But the buyer cannot just leave it up to the supplier, that doesn’t make any sense to me.

As you’ve mentioned the types of products you need to think of the context of what’s going on because you know apparel can’t be broken by dropping a box on the floor, but a microwave oven can be, so yeah that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, imagine a set of dinnerware or glass or even worse! Yeah, a good example!

Okay, so when we talk about how to decide which packaging we’re using to get the correct level of protection that we need there are a few elements that are critical to this?

Yeah, so actually there are international standards for that and probably the most famous one is from the ISTA which is an American standard organization, you know ISTA 1a and 2a are probably the most famous ones, there are some others you know the Japanese have one, FedEx has one, I think amazon sometimes has one, there’s a lot of different standards like this. And I was talking about it with a packaging engineer actually called Kevin Howard in the US and he basically never really starts from these standards. He kind of looks at them as for certain products it’s not enough protection and for some others, it’s way too much protection meaning a lot of money is wasted in packaging materials and also in shipping costs, right? So that’s why you know if you ship a lot of a certain product and you want to optimize all of these it’s a good thing to work with the packaging engineer make sure you document, as I said before, your supply chain, you know what’s going to happen to your cartons or your pallets or whatever, you know how they’re going to be treated, what are the risks you want to avoid, and so on. And then the packaging engineer would actually help you design the right kind of packaging and also help you design the right testing plan for that and, for example, this packaging engineer Kevin Howard that I mentioned, at one point was working for HP making printers out of Singapore and he completely rethought the way it’s packaged to make it more compact and less bulky with less volume and actually it was much better at preventing the damage that was occurring in transportation. There are ways to do that if you really think about it, but very few companies actually do that well.

These kinds of standards usually call for certain tests that basically replicate the stressors, for example, how the carton is going to withstand a free fall, right. So you do a free-fall drop test in a certain sequence on the carton: the corner, the edges around that corner, and the faces around that corner from a certain height based on the weight of the carton that’s a very very typical one.
Another one is compression, so the cartons that are going to be at the bottom, what’s going to happen to them? You know, they’re going to get crushed if they have a lot of load above them pushing downward for weeks and weeks, right? How are they going to fare? So you basically do such a test a bit accelerated with a heavier load and you see how how it withstands it right, and these two first tests require pretty much no equipment as long as you can measure from how high you drop the carton and as long as you can put maybe you know big water bottles or whatever the right weight is on some kind of flat surface that you put on top of the carton and you’re good to go, it’s very easy to do.
The other two kinds of tests that are very common require some specific equipment. One is vibration and vibration is very interesting not just to confirm that the cartons themselves will hold for example in a truck if there’s a truck ride on a bumpy road how is it gonna go? Is it going to get crushed? You know much more easily what’s going to happen also inside right, as it also confirms that the product itself is fine, so it’s often done in parallel on the packaging and the product. Vibrations are one of the main causes of failure of electronics, for example, and so you know it goes on the table and then there are different ways to arrange the types of vibrations right the intensity, the pattern and so on.

Yeah, the intensity applies to different methods of transportation. Somebody somewhere has worked out the correct intensity of vibration for example for a train and for air freight which is fascinating to me!
Yes, you try to replicate the same conditions.

And then the last one is heat and humidity. As I said, it’s going to stay in a container on the ocean in the tropical area for some time. How is it going to withstand that, right? So you put it in an atmospheric chamber and test it there basically and these are the four common types of tests and none of the equipment here is expensive. I mean, we have a table for the vibrations, we have an atmospheric chamber and a lot of factories actually have it.
Yeah, actually we do have a page on site that explains the different tests that we do that you’ve just been through, so I’ll share the link to that.

Great, so that’s a good introduction into how to select the right type of packaging for protecting products on those long long journeys over the sea or even in air freight, so before we finish do you have any final takeaways to share with the listener about selecting the right packaging for the job?

Well, you know, the closer the packages to the product the more it has to do with the the the experience you know in the retail shop or after they buy it after they receive it and so on, and the further away it’s more about maybe the inner cartons, the polybag, the master shipping carton, the pallets, the crates, and so on. So you need to spend some time on all of these levels, you can’t just focus on the product itself and the retail experience, you also need to focus on the actual protection, and if you don’t buy much you might want to over protect a little bit just to be safe and then over time rethink it and remove, but in case of doubt, it’s my advice to add a little bit more, right. Maybe you know triple walls in the export carton and not putting too many units into it keeping the carton relatively small, maybe, with some inner cartons, and you know talk about the factory about that to specify it and if they don’t want to help if they’re like: ‘yeah whatever you know this small customer is asking questions whatever,’ just know that it means they’re gonna give you the cheapest and simplest packaging you or whatever they have in stock and maybe even, you know especially now we’re in June, there are areas in China that are extremely humid so if they buy their cardboard you know three months six months in advance in a big purchase just to have a good price that’s very common, well that carton material by now is getting wet and very weak, so you need to be careful about that.
So, understand your supply chain, discuss this with your suppliers, make sure you’re not taking risks, and then, over time, try to optimize it based on your supply chain risks. Really what your cartons have to go through and then you can focus on selling your products and pitching reorders and everything, you don’t want to be stopped by a shipment that has 30 per cent damaged products that can’t be sold because, you know, it’s a big loss.


Related content where you can learn more about product packaging & reliability testing…


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