Designing Packaging for Challenging Distribution Environments

October 01,2021 Category: Packaging Development

A significant challenge of new package design is planning for the variety of conditions it will face throughout its supply chain. From overseas freight to traditional domestic shipping and the last-mile challenges of the e-commerce distribution environment, there are many potential hazards to consider. These challenges can be compounded when planning packaging for products that require controlled temperatures during shipping. Fortunately, there are a handful of synergies between the most challenging of these environments, and knowing more how to plan for them can simplify the process.

Factors that Impact Material Selection

Beyond the unique needs of a product, its supply chain contains many environmental impact conditions that inform the package development process. When shipping products and storing them in warehouses in palletized format, stacking strength is a crucial consideration. The package design must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the product stacked above it when palletized either as part of a unitized load or when shipping as an individual product in the e-commerce distribution environment before last-mile delivery.

The package must also be engineered to endure a variety of other conditions that have potential to damage a package and its contents, including vibration from transport when in both palletized and loose load format, mechanical handling hazards such as a fall or side impact from a forklift, and direct, concentrated impact from other objects it may encounter in its distribution environment.

A variety of testing protocols are available from the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) and ASTM International. These two organizations offer standards and protocols to cover package testing needs for nearly every type of product, package type and distribution environment. Working with labs certified by these organizations, packaging teams can ensure their designs pass simulated tests that are designed to closely mirror real-world conditions.

If a product has unique needs or is likely to encounter unique distribution conditions, it may be helpful to conduct additional tests in real-world environments. If this step is necessary, there are some great options for GPS-enabled trackers that monitor data such as temperature, humidity, acceleration/impact and location in real time. You can read more about those trackers in our blog about Identifying Sources of Packaging Damage.

Mitigating Condensation Challenges and other Moisture Risk Factors

Regardless of corrugate strength, exposure to moisture will cause paperboard to fail. Controlled-temperature products, especially those that experience a  variety of ambient temperatures when traveling as ocean freight, are highly susceptible to moisture from condensation and other sources.There are a variety of solutions that can mitigate the risk of damage from moisture.

Corrugate packaging can include vent holes that allow moisture to drain out. Waiter-resistant adhesives, which are used as a standard feature by many suppliers, can also help packaging endure exposure to moisture. While recycled content offers a variety of sustainability advantages, packaging that is at a high level of risk for exposure to moisture may benefit from the use of virgin fibers, which studies have shown to be more resilient to humidity and moisture than recycled content. Moisture-absorbent pads and desiccants can help to absorb atmospheric moisture and reduce condensation within a package, and carton liners such as plastic bags can prevent condensation-related moisture from contacting corrugate packaging. Internal dividers with negative headspace can add support that helps corrugate hold up when exposed to moisture, and storing pallets in a dry, indoor environment eliminates the risk of corrugate absorbing moisture from them. In addition, many suppliers have their own proprietary moisture-resistant coatings that can be applied to corrugate.  If the current supplier does not offer an option for moisture-resistant coating, it may be worthwhile to investigate alternate suppliers that are a better fit for the needs of the product and its packaging. It is also important to note that, while not common, was coatings render corrugate unrecyclable. Very few suppliers offer wax coatings because of this, but it doesn’t hurt to verify that the supplier is using a non-wax coating for moisture protection.

Testing for E-commerce vs. Ocean Freight Environments

If product packaging will experience both e-commerce and ocean freight distribution environments, one might assume that it’s important to test the packing for both environments. That is likely unnecessary, however, as the simulated tests for e-commerce environments are typically more rigorous and it’s safe to assume that packaging that performs under tests designed for the e-commerce distribution channel will also withstand the ocean freight distribution environment.

If you need help designing packaging that will hold up throughout a variety of difficult conditions, it can be helpful to seek guidance from experts with experience planning for all distribution environments. Get in touch, the Adept team is ready to help.