Beat Up Cardboard Box

Cost Savings Through Packaging Damage Remediation

Packaging that doesn’t withstand its distribution environment can lead to staggering costs for a brand. The good news is that you can not only eliminate those sources of cost, but also improve quality and achieve bottom-line cost savings through packaging damage remediation.

Costs incurred because of packaging damage can add up quickly. There are the up-front costs, including the cost of the damaged product and the cost of return shipping, but also a handful of costs that are less obvious. These include items like reworking salvageable product, production schedule disruptions to replace non-salvageable product, re-shipping the order and difficult-to-calculate costs like lost business and damage to brand reputation.

Thoughtfully completing the remediation process can lead to a number of desirable outcomes. A primary goal of this process is to reduce or eliminate warranty and replacement product expenses. The process may also reveal opportunities to optimize wasted space within the packaging and wasted space when the product is stored or shipped in bulk (e.g. on a pallet). It may provide an opportunity to reduce the impact of inefficient choices in packaging design or packaging materials. New packaging design also provides an opportunity to distribute the new designs for competitive bidding by packaging suppliers, which frequently allows a brand reduce costs.

Once you understand the costs of insufficient packaging and the benefits of thoughtfully redesigning packaging to fit a product’s needs, you’re ready to understand the steps required to address these packaging challenges.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Determining the root cause of the problem can be challenging, but the rest of the process depends on an accurate understanding of when and how product damage occurs. In rare situations, this root cause may be easy to identify. For the majority of situations, it takes some work to pinpoint the causes that lead to packaging failure. It begins with conducting a forensic analysis of the product, its packaging and its distribution environment to gain a better understanding of the product’s packaging needs and the problems you’ll need to solve to make sure the packaging meets those needs. This step involves careful examination of how the product fits in the current packaging, how the current packaging performs during storage and shipping and why it fails to adequately protect the product.

Determining the cause of the damage will require analysis of each stage of the product’s distribution cycle, from the moment it leaves the production line to the moment it reaches the consumer or end user. You need to understand how densely the product is packed when stored in distribution centers and during shipping. For e-commerce products, you must also consider the conditions the package faces during last-mile delivery.

Step 2: Design Engineering

Once you understand your root cause and the conditions a package faces throughout it’s distribution cycle, you can begin redesigning the packaging. Reviewing the 2D and 3D files used in the design of the original packaging provides a head start for the designer. This baseline packaging data provides a starting point from which they can improve upon previous packaging to eliminate its issues. Otherwise, the designer may need to reverse engineer specifications from the current design by breaking down sample packaging.

With this baseline in place, new designs can be compared against the previous packaging specs to confirm the new packaging will solve the issue. Design is an iterative process, and it may take several cycles through designing and the ensuing prototyping and testing steps before a design passes and the necessary stakeholders approve.

Step 3: Develop Prototypes

Once an approved design is in place, it’s time to create prototypes that can be used for testing. Generally, it is a best practice to have the current packaging provider create the new prototype design. When that is not an option, the best qualified supplier should be able to produce the prototype.

The prototype state is also a good opportunity to solicit proposals from several qualified vendors to compare prototype designs and material costs. This is an important time to consider different options and identify opportunities for cost savings.

Step 4: Fit/Check/Approve

With prototypes in hand, it is important to compare their physical characteristics against the design specifications for accuracy. After reviewing the fit, it’s time to check that the product fits within the packaging and evaluate protection characteristics to ensure they match the intent of the new packaging design.

Remember, this is an iterative process, and it may require a few passes through these design and testing cycles until a prototype passes and can be approved for lab testing.

Step 5: Package Design Testing

Package design testing can begin once an approved prototype emerges from the previous steps. Before the product and prototype packaging can undergo testing, it is important to reach a consensus on the testing criteria the lab will use. Discoveries made during root cause analysis can help guide pass fail criteria, as you will know when and how the previous packaging typically failed. 

In addition to establishing pass/fail criteria, you must use your understanding of the product’s distribution environment to determine which testing specifications are appropriate. Different tests may be appropriate for packaging that will travel less than load (LTL) – meaning less than a full truckload, via rail, via air, as a single parcel, etc. Once you know exactly what kind of testing the packaging requires and what the pass-fail criteria will be, the product and package should be sent to an accredited packaging lab.

Keep in mind, this step is part of the iterative portion of this process. The packaging may fail its testing and require modifications before going back to the lab for additional testing.

Step 6: Test Result Analysis

After the packaging design passes its tests, the key stakeholders need to review the package design, cost elements and the testing results before agreeing on a final design. This step is critical because several departments within your organization, often with different priorities, need to buy into changes from the previous packaging. A cost benefit analysis is an important part of this stage because it is important to demonstrate not only that the new packaging addresses the damage issues of the previous packaging, but also to show the cost advantages and disadvantages of the new package design.

In many cases, experienced packaging professionals will be able to find opportunities for bottom-line cost savings on packaging materials and you will be able to demonstrate cost benefits that extend beyond eliminating the costs of damaged product.

Step 7: Design Approval

Armed with successful test results and a cost benefit analysis, your organization’s decision makers will be well positioned to approve the new packaging design. It is important to document all approvals as proof that various groups within the organization reviewed and signed off. If future problems arise with the new packaging, this documentation not only creates a record of who signed off on the design, but also helps determine who should be involved if the packaging needs to undergo additional revisions.

Step 8: Documentation

Because the process can be iterative, it is important to revisit design documents to confirm they include all modifications made to the packaging since the original design drawings were approved. It is also important to document process steps so that the product will be packaged correctly every time, even across different packaging locations and personnel groups. These specifications are a great way to keep a record of all packaging components, their relationship to the overall packaging schematic and any labor required to successfully package the product.

While the individual steps of the packaging damage remediation process are fairly straightforward, all the small, individual decisions made along the way can make this a complicated task. An experienced packaging professional can ensure all those small decisions remain organized and add up positive changes that not only improve quality, but also take advantage of opportunities for cost savings.

Done well, this process can virtually eliminate the costs of damaged product, return logistics, product rework and potential damage to brand reputation, and careful review can also reveal opportunities to produce better packaging at lower costs.

If you’re experiencing quality issues with your packaging and would like to identify a solution that remediates those problem and lowers costs, get in touch. We have experts in packaging damage remediation and cost savings that help you identify and implement long-term solutions to your packaging challenges.

Designing Packaging for Distribution

3 Crucial Considerations for Designing a Packaging Strategy for Distribution

Determining what will happen to packages during distribution is a complex task requiring a variety of skills and experience. A trial-and-error approach is never optimal so it is important to evaluate all possible variables that may negatively impact a packaging strategy and develop a process-driven methodology to avoid rework and expensive mistakes.

This article offers an overview of three crucial factors often overlooked when designing a packaging strategy for distribution.

Understanding Your Distribution Environment

Mapping the logistics network from the manufacturer to the point of sales and all points of contact in between should be the first step of packaging design for distribution.

Three important factors are often analyzed too superficially:

Reconsider Product Design

Experience shows that distribution damages are drastically reduced if packaging engineers are involved early in the design of a product. If a product is damaged during either testing or a real shipment, packaging is the first thing engineers usually look to improve. A new material, improved dunnage, or a different container are all tempting options to try to solve the problem quickly. However, a distribution failure can also reveal a weakness in product design. For example, if a corner is too sharp or the selected material does not offer sufficient resistance to fatigue.

Offsetting such structural weaknesses by changing the packaging strategy may come at a high cost and it could be cheaper to start over and re-design the product, especially in the long term.

Product designers and packaging engineers should work together rather than in silos.

Do Not Underestimate Environmental Factors

Compression, vibration, and shock are the most observed factors in packaging distribution testing. While these are surely aspects to be taken into consideration, the environment is often a silent killer.

For example, the stacking strength of a corrugated box can be reduced by as much as 20% if the relative humidity goes from 0% (dry) to 50%. Similar results apply for fatigue and other structural properties. Heat can increase ductility in polymers or increase the viscosity of water-based inks, causing smearing of the artwork.

If transportation happens across different climate zones, taking environment into consideration is a must for a solid distribution strategy.

Think Ahead when Selecting Primary Packages

There is usually a bias toward primary packaging when allocating investments on a packaging strategy for a given product. The reason is simple: the primary package is seen as way to deliver a brand’s value proposition. In contrast, secondary/tertiary packaging are perceived as pure means of transportation with little value for consumers. This approach can lead to critical distribution failures.

A primary package designed to go into a specific RFC may not fit well into a different corrugated box or a shrink bundle. Structural integrity, dunnage and headspace are all variables that may play a role and are difficult or expensive to adapt on-the-go.

Thinking about all levels of the packaging hierarchy up front makes packaging design more efficient as well as cost-effective.

Scalability Considerations

In addition to selecting a package that is robust enough to protect the product throughout the distribution environment, one factor that often gets overlooked during package design is scalability.

Though an effective packaging strategy should work given the current outlook of a business (existing volumes, clients, distribution channels etc.), it is also important to take future scenarios into consideration.

Is the business projected to grow sharply in the next five years? Is it expanding to new geographic areas around the globe? Will other products or handling technologies be added to the current portfolio? These are all important questions to ask at the beginning of the design phase to avoid the pitfalls of a short-sighted packaging strategy.

Here are few examples:

  • An increase in volume of product shipped may lead to the necessity of stacking products with an additional layer in the warehouse. This may ultimately lead to static compression failures if not adequately planned for.
  • Shifting from LTL to FTL may require a different unitization strategy (e.g. stacking more boxes per pallet requires more robust shrink wrap).
  • Adding a new client from a tropical country can lead to distribution failures from humidity and heat, as described earlier.

If a business is planning to expand in the next five years, now is the most convenient time to take corrective actions and avoid costly packaging strategy changes along the way.

Involve Customers and Carriers Early

Testing is an effective way of predicting the performance of packaging in its distribution environment. Amazon, for example, has developed its own testing methodology and technology to drastically reduce damages due to transportation. Amazon suggests that its packaging selector reduced product damage rates by a staggering 24%.

While this technology is proprietary to Amazon, the methodology behind it is something other companies can learn from. Unless products are shipped through a heavily regulated channel, a solid testing strategy should be developed by the packaging design team. Even if your testing is based on standards developed by organizations like ISTA, it is important to involve customers and carriers early in the design process.

The key factor that businesses tend to miss is that testing is done in a lab, while products are shipped in the real world. How roughly will the product be handled by humans? What is the maximum temperature that will be reached inside a container? What is the vibration profile that most accurately mirrors the one of a specific distribution mode? While the packaging design team can surely answer these questions with estimated values, the feedback from customers and carriers is a crucial step that will help you avoid costly mistakes.

Moreover, retrieving real world information on distribution channels can be made automatic with supply chain visibility tools. This technology uses sensors to monitor packages during transportation by collecting real time data such as temperature, humidity, shock, light and location. This provides packaging engineers with accurate data on which they can build a successful distribution strategy.

To summarize, it is important that the packaging design team leaves the lab often to get a firsthand view of what happens to the packages at all touchpoints along the supply chain. They’re likely to discover surprises that lab testing won’t reveal.

Conclusion

It is always difficult to predict what will happen to packages as they move through the supply chain and experience increased hazards. Incorporating these three concepts early in the design of a distribution strategy is a simple but effective way to avoid unwanted and expensive blunders.

In order to ensure your package will arrive at its destination intact, leverage experts who have knowledge of regulatory standards, package validation and distribution qualification to avoid wasting critical time or experiencing expensive pitfalls.

If you need assistance with developing packaging for your distribution environment, our engineers have extensive experience and are ready to help. Contact Us.

If you need more in-depth information about developing packaging for distribution, check out our resource library, which includes a variety of infographics and white papers that offer valuable information on the topic.