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Single Parcel Distribution Test Design for E-Commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a major boost to e-commerce, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting a 45% year-over-year increase from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020. For brands experiencing a significant increase in e-commerce sales or embracing e-commerce for the first time, designing packaging to hold up under the conditions a single parcel may face in shipping can be a challenge. Products that are damaged during shipping are costly to your brand’s reputation and can ruin your relationship with customers.

Testing your packaging to ensure it can protect the product at all points along its journey from your packaging line to its final destination is integral to the process and to your brand. While the process can be daunting, there are two main things you need to understand before you get started: the distribution environment your product and its packaging will encounter during shipping and the available testing standards that simulate how your package will perform in that environment.

Know Your Distribution Environment

Distribution environments can be complicated. Depending on the product, a package may encounter a wide variety of conditions between packaging and arrival at its final destination. These conditions can be broken down into two main categories, ambient conditions and handling conditions.

Ambient Conditions

Ambient conditions can vary wildly depending on the distance your package will travel and the geographic location(s) it will travel through. Factors to consider include the humidity it will experience, the range in temperatures it will face and how much exposure it will have to elements such as sun light and, potentially, precipitation. Some products may even need to remain refrigerated or frozen during shipping to preserve quality.

Handling Conditions

Handling conditions have a similarly broad range and depend on whether your packaging will ship via rail, truck, air or some combination of the three. While we’re primarily focusing on products that will ship as single parcels, there may be portions of their journey where they travel as part of a unitized load. Packaging decisions can also vary depending on whether a package is primarily hand-carried or if it will be lifted with a crane or forklift. At times, other packages may be stacked on top of it, meaning the package will need to support additional weight without being crushed.

Insights from Technology

While an expert can make a fairly accurate projection about the conditions a package will face in the distribution environment, there are ways to take some of the guesswork out of the process. Several companies make small, disposable sensors that can be placed in test packages and shipped through the normal distribution channels to capture a variety of information about shock, temperature and sunlight, along with location and time, to provide an opportunity for real-time data analysis.

Know Your Testing Standards

There are two main bodies that issue widely accepted single parcel test standards. ASTM is one of the world’s largest international organizations that develops standards. It is comprised of a large group of experts who develop and democratically approve those standards. The other organization, ISTA is a private industry association with standards generated by its board of directors. While the standards developed by both organizations are valuable, ASTM standards are more widely accepted than ISTA standards. For food and beverage brands, for example, the FDA recognizes more than 400 ASTM standards, but recognizes only the ISTA 3A, 3B and 3E series.

These organizations have developed hundreds of standards that cover the wide variety of options for packaging sizes, shapes and materials. It would be impossible to summarize all of them here, but an example that compares a few of the available standards is helpful in illustrating the relationship between knowing your distribution environment and knowing what options are available for testing.  The table below lays out the steps in three testing standards that can be applied to double-walled carton that is 1.8 cubic feet in size and weighs 5 lbs.

Testing Standards Example
StepISTA 3A SeriesASTM D4169 DC 13 AL IIASTM D7386
1Precondition to ambient for 12 hoursCondition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 72 hoursCondition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 24 hours
2Condition to determined temperature and humidity “Controlled” conditions will use 73°F and 50% humidity for 72 hoursHandling – Six drops from 15”Handling – Four drops from 18” and two drops from 20”
3Shock – Eight drops from 18” plus one drop from 36”Vehicle Stacking – Apply and release 278lbsVibration under Compressive Load – Bottom face for 60 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
4Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms and with 105lbs topload for total of 120 minutesLoose Load Vibration – Fixed Displacement for 30 minutesHigh Altitude (optional)
5Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms for total of 30 minutesLow pressure (optional)Handling – Two drops from 20” and four drops from 18”
6Shock – Seven drops from 18” plus one drop from 36”Vehicle Vibration – Random60min with overall Grms level of 0.54120 min with overall Grms level of 1.05Vibration – Bottom face for 30 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
7n/aHandling – Five drops from 15” plus one drop from 30”Handling – Two drops from 14”, three from 20” and one from 32”
8n/an/aConcentrated Impact – Drop height 36”

The details included for each step are instructive in deciding which standard best applies to your package and its distribution environment. Differences include the temperatures the packages are exposed to during testing, drop heights, the amount of compression force applied to the package, and other factors. ISTA 3A requires dropping the package from a height of 18 inches

seven times and a height of 36 inches once, while ASTM D4169 DC 13 AL II calls for five drops from 15 inches and one from 30 inches. A thorough understand of your package’s shipping environment will help you decide which of those standards best simulates the conditions your package is likely to encounter.

Get Help from the Experts

The wide variety of conditions a package may encounter in its distribution environment and the long list of available testing standards from ASTM and ISTA can make designing distribution tests for single parcels a daunting task, but a knowledgeable packaging engineer with experience designing and testing packages for e-commerce distribution can help you guide you through the process.

For more information in single parcel testing, you can watch our recent Learning Share webinar on the topic or download our white paper, which focuses on single parcel testing for medical devices.

If you need help developing new packaging or updating your existing packaging to better withstand the e-commerce distribution environment, get in touch. Our team has led this process for some of the most iconic brands in the food, beverage, CPG and life sciences industries.

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Working As a Contract Packaging Engineer

The job market has changed significantly in recent years. Job seekers are choosing positions that provide flexibility and autonomy, and – according to a 2018 NPR/Marist poll – one in five jobs in the U.S. is now held by a contract worker. This relationship can be mutually beneficial for workers who prefer a contract relationship and employers who often need specific expertise or extra manpower for a defined-duration project. Working as a contractor comes with a lot of perks, especially in the packaging engineering field, and you may find this type of employment is a great fit, even if you’ve only worked under more traditional arrangements. In this blog, we outline some of the top benefits of working as a contractor.

Predictability

In a traditional work environment, priorities may shift as the business’s needs change – even over the course of a single day. The result is engineers bouncing between tasks and sometimes being pulled from packaging engineering projects entirely. Contractors come on board to complete or advance a specific project, agreed upon in advance. This provides a balanced, focused workload where the engineer won’t be subjected to outside pressures that derail their priorities. This arrangement between employer and contractor often results in quality output and adherence to specific schedules and timelines.

Project Choice

Scope creep occurs when a company reorganizes and shifts engineers onto tasks and projects that fall outside of their experience and skillset. Because packaging engineering consultants are hired for a specific role on a specific project, they are not subject to scope creep in the way engineers in traditional employment arrangements are. It also allows contractors to accept projects they are passionate about or that advance their career goals without the possibility of being derailed by tasks that fall outside their area of interest.

Flexibility

In contrast to a traditional on-site, nine-to-five workday, contract packaging engineers enjoy options for a great deal of flexibility in both the types of projects they take on and their workload. Consultants are able to choose projects for which the workload matches their availability, taking on less time-intensive projects while they further their education or focus on family and other life activities. Additionally, consultants can often work from multiple locations or use a defined-duration project as a jumping off point when relocating to a new area.

 Variety

Contract packaging engineers are able to diversify their experience by taking on roles in new industries or choosing project types that help to advance their career goals, allowing them to develop new skills and build expertise in new disciplines. By exposing themselves to a variety of projects and industries, consultants can find the types of opportunities that stoke their passion or provide new challenges that keep them engaged in their career.

Alignment

By working for a consultancy, engineers have the opportunity to work for a variety of companies and get exposure to an equal variety of workplace cultures. Because organizational culture plays a key role in employee happiness, consultants have the privilege of sampling a variety of cultures and learning which situations best suit their personality, work style and professional goals.

Find Your Best Fit with Adept Packaging

Adept Packaging has both fulltime employees and a roster of consultants we can match with our clients’ needs, and because we are owned, operated and recruited by engineers, we understand your skillset and can seamlessly match you with a placement you desire, from location to project type. We work with a majority of the top CPG and Life Sciences companies in the world. If big names aren’t of interest, you’ll have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work with different clients to evaluate their culture.

In addition to working with multiple brand owners, our associates are exposed to a variety of project types, technologies and different departments within an organization allowing for skillset expansion. We host monthly Learning Share webinars and offer industry-specific trainings and technical skill builders. Adept associates are also allocated a budget for training. You will work with the packaging industry’s top subject matter experts to learn new skills, solve problem solve, and expand your global network.

Whether you’re interested in working in a specific location, on a specific project type, or for a defined duration, our recruiters will find a placement that fits those needs. Since many of our projects allow for remote work, our associates enjoy an unconventional amount of flexibility while driving results for our clients. If you’re looking to diversify your work experience and take a more active role in choosing your next project, reach out. We’re always looking for new talent.

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Increase the Flexibility and Scalability of your Workforce: Contract Packaging Engineers

Many packaging departments face a set of familiar challenges when beginning a new project: insufficient resources, a lack of specific expertise and finding the right fit when hiring to add that expertise. For lots of companies, this problem has been exacerbated by the business and economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many packaging departments are behind on initiatives planned for earlier in the year and won’t be able to catch up without putting their team through a stressful crunch period, but those challenges are easy to overcome with contract packaging engineers — temporary, flexible resources that can help carry the load for a defined duration.

Expertise for Your Unique Needs

Many brands are choosing to leverage contract packaging experts to build a variable workforce that has experience tackling specific projects. By adding such resources, a brand can temporarily enhance expertise for projects such as reducing packaging costs, increasing packaging sustainability or optimizing packaging for the e-commerce distribution environment.

As COVID-19 drove a significant uptick in online purchases, many brands uncovered quality issues or inefficiencies with their e-commerce distribution process. Remedying these issues requires quality remediation, specification management and a packaging audit, but those time-intensive tasks can strain already-busy packaging departments.  These brands often hire contract packaging engineers to mitigate the newly uncovered issues without derailing the projects their internal teams are tackling.

Packaging Resources that Allow you to Hit the Ground Running

Since most contract engineers are brought on board to lend a specific set of skills, they typically require little-to-no training in order to hit the ground running. While a traditional hire may need weeks or months of training and orientation before they’re fully integrated and productive, a skilled contractor can begin to contribute immediately and often benefits the brand by sharing their expertise with the internal team.

Subject Matter Experts

Different projects require different levels, areas and depths of expertise. Bringing contract engineers on board for projects allows a brand to build a repository of subject matter experts with different specialties and experience. As different challenges arise or new projects become a priority, the brand can hire those contractors from their repository to supplement the expertise of their internal team.

Rightsize Your Workforce

Because there is no obligation to renew once a contract is completed, brands can staff up to handle a backlog of work from COVID-related closures or to meet a tight deadline a labor-intensive project and then return to lean staffing levels once the project or projects are complete. Using contractors for a defined duration also frees brands from obligations to provide sick time, holiday pay, PTO and other benefits.

Risk Mitigation

In addition to getting the right expertise for a defined-duration project, working with a company that specializes in placing contractors also reduces the brand’s risk. Such companies mitigate risks associated with a placement not meeting the expectations with strong managerial oversight, performance management and training and technical support. Companies who place contractors are also structured to avoid issues with co-employment laws.

Leverage Leading Packaging Talent at Adept

Adept Talent has a deep bench of highly qualified contract packaging engineers and project managers with expertise in more than 60 specialized disciplines. If your company needs to staff up to tackle a backlog of work that’s built up since the pandemic hit or to provide specific knowledge and skills to tackle a project that falls outside the typical function of its internal packaging team, get in touch. We’re ready to match you up with the expert or experts that can help meet your goals.

For additional resources on finding packaging the packaging talent you need, visit our resource library.

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E-Commerce Damage: Why Packaging Matters

Designing packaging specifically for the booming E-commerce market is essential. With up to 15 additional touchpoints in the distribution environment, E-commerce packaging requires more robust, tailored packaging than that which sits on the shelves at your local Walmart.

Understanding the requirements of your product when experiencing hazards like compression, shock, vibration, and atmospheric conditions are paramount to design a package that ensures the product arrives without damage.

Overlooking the additional touchpoints, methods of transport, packaging handlers, storage, etc. when moving from a traditional distribution environment to E-commerce will often leave the product and brand reputation damaged.

Holiday E-commerce Challenges

With the increase in E-commerce sales due to the holidays, trucks are packed with boxes en route to the doorsteps of anxiously awaiting shoppers. During 2018, holiday E-commerce shoppers spent $126 billion, up 16.5% from 2017. With 55% of all sales taking place online, package handlers experience a much higher volume of deliveries.

Between trying to fit as many packages on a truck as possible and rushing to get them all delivered on time, it’s no surprise that damage rates increase as well, especially in packaging not designed for the E-commerce distribution environment.

E-commerce Nightmare

For example, at Adept Group, we ordered tumblers for our associates from a promotional merchandiser for holiday gifts. (Pictured below) To give you an idea of the product composition, these tumblers have a stainless-steel exterior; glass insert and plastic top.

What would have been a beautiful gift for our associates turned into four boxes of shattered glass, a panicked phone call, an extremely compressed shipping timeline and a lot of rework for the promotional company.

The Damage

Our products arrived in four double-walled corrugated boxes with obvious compression damage. When we picked them up to move them, the sound of shattered glass was evident. Separated by single-walled corrugated dividers, the glass insert of 56 of 100 tumblers was in pieces at the bottom of the box, rendering them unusable.

Without the dividers being strong enough to keep the box from compressing, and no padding to absorb any of that pressure, the force of whatever packages were piled on top of the box crushed all of the glass that stuck out above the stainless-steel exterior. This presented several problems:

  • We’ve been forced to delay shipping gifts to our associates, as we wait for the new shipment to arrive
  • The opportunity for shipping gifts to our associates across the globe in Italy before the holidays is quickly closing.
  • This compressed timeline increases shipping costs for us to attempt to get gifts to associates before the holidays.
  • The damaged products caused a production loss of four associates for 2 hours, as we went through the boxes to determine the number of broken tumblers, cleaned up the broken glass and washed the products that were not broken to ensure our associates do not consume glass particles once they receive their gifts.
  • We were covered in piercing glass particle and had to move and dispose of four boxes littered in shards of glass. There were more than a few minor cuts and pokes.
  • Correspondence with the promotional company involved their quality assurance department, resolutions team, our direct contact, and 3 other people; as well as 2 calls and 29 emails to get this rectified.
When the cost is calculated, the price of a damaged brand reputation is the highest. Due to this experience, there’s a high likelihood that we won’t be ordering from this particular company in the future.

Suggestions for a Redesign

This mishap could have been avoided had they used packaging that was designed for their specific distribution environment and considered the rigors the products must withstand during E-commerce shipping. We enlisted our design expert to provide some suggestions that he would make to decrease the likelihood of damage for these products:

Outer Carton: Upgrade the material specification for the corrugated to 44ect BC flute with specific liner and medium specifications that can withstand a single parcel shipment.

Interior partitions:

  • Upgrade the material specification for the corrugated to 44ect C flute with specific liner and medium specifications that can withstand a single parcel shipment. This will add the correct buffer between cups and eliminate glass to glass contact.
  • It’s important to maintain the caliper thickness on the partitions between glasses to keep a snug fit and isolate movement.
  • Raise the height of the partitions slightly to reach the top of the glass lip.
  • Eliminate any chance for the glass portion of the cup to make glass to glass contact. Improved partitions will help with this.

Add an interior top pad: This will allow the glass to compress into the pad, both restricting movement and reducing or eliminating impact and compression damage.

Negative impacts

When damage occurs in E-commerce, it presents unique challenges. With the shipping package being the first point of contact with a consumer, a damaged package can impact brand perception; whereas a damaged product will. Not only does it harm the brand reputation, but it causes frustration, time loss, extra effort, additional spend and frequently, loss of business.  

Designing for ecommerce

If your company has a high damage rate or is just getting into the E-commerce market, consider leveraging an expert to design packaging to avoid these pitfalls.

Understanding the product needs, having visibility into the distribution environment, and having access to the materials and expertise needed to develop packaging that protects the product is pertinent for success in the E-commerce market.

For any questions regarding quality remediation or new package development for E-commerce, contact us. Our experts are happy to help.  

For additional tips for designing E-commerce packaging, check out our white paper: Evolving Packaging for the Ecommerce Market in our resource library.


Follow-up (second shipment):

If you’re thinking, perhaps this shipping experience was an anomaly, you’d be wrong. The same company, shipped the same product, in the same packaging, through the same distribution environment, and guess what? We got the same result. Half of the tumblers in the second shipment were also damaged and unusable. 

Long story short: Packaging matters. Design packaging for the E-commerce market with your product and distribution environment in mind to avoid loss of business and a destroyed brand reputation. Contact us for assistance!