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.

Automated packaging process line with two machines

6 Essential Steps to Packaging Machinery Validation

As technology continues to evolve, new faster, cleaner, smarter packaging machinery is always being developed. When companies invest in new machinery, it is up to them to make it work, and work consistently. Validation is a critical means to that end.

The Purpose of Validation

The purpose of packaging equipment validation is to establish a baseline for a packaging process. This work is documented and referenced throughout the life of the machine. Not only is it a requirement for regulated products, but it is also an effective means for troubleshooting errors in packaging lines.

Many industries use a formal validation process, while others are less regulated and can simplify the process down to an informal visual inspection. In the end, the amount of testing required will be dictated by the corporate standards and quality systems that regulate each business.

Steps to Validating Packaging Machinery

For the more regulated industries, some of the steps in a packaging validation process include:

By validating packaging machinery, businesses can be assured of consistent, successful packaging performance. If you need assistance with validating your packaging machinery, contact us.

Conveyor with bottles filled with milk products

Elements of a Successful Reusable Packaging Program

The topic of reusable packaging programs has been widely discussed in recent years, but in practice, efforts have barely scratched the surface of its true potential. Executed properly, reusable packaging provides benefits ranging from increased sustainability and improved productivity to increased product quality and, perhaps most importantly, cost savings. Well-integrated reusable packaging programs help industries optimize the use of critical resources and minimize the waste associated with traditional packaging methods.

Applications for Reusables

Many packaging elements throughout the supply chain can be converted from single-use materials to reusables. Everyday items used in the manufacturing, packaging and distribution of goods, including durable handheld and bulk containers, pallets, shipping racks and dunnage, are often made for single-use or limited-use applications, but brand owners can find a lot of value in converting them to reusable items.

Reusable packaging can be used for shipping both inbound goods such as raw materials and outbound finished goods. While they are in the manufacturing facility, goods can be transported from one department or stage of the manufacturing process to another in durable packaging that lasts for many cycles before it needs to be replaced. Recyclable materials can be returned in reusable containers and replacement parts and other after-market goods can be distributed in reusable packaging that customers return for repeated use.

Planning for Reusability

The first step to a successful reusable packaging program is a thoroughly researched and well thought out plan. Brand owners need to solicit input from customers to find the best opportunities to incorporate reusable packaging downstream. Thorough analysis of current packaging systems provides opportunities to identify ways in which reusables will generate cost savings, and a well-researched list of suppliers will reveal sources to produce the items and materials you’ll need to implement a reusable packaging process throughout the supply chain.

Designing Reusable Solutions

While the planning stage provides an important overview of the process used to convert to reusable packaging materials, packaging engineers and sourcing experts need to adhere to a diligent design process to create a successful program. The new system must be designed for consistency with existing standards, such as pallet size, as well as take into account logistic needs. Equally as important, the new reusable system must provide protection for components that is on par with or better than traditional packaging to earn buy-in from stakeholders. Perhaps most importantly, reusable solutions must integrate seamlessly with the customer’s supply chain for the program to succeed.

While those considerations are integral to buy-in from external stakeholders, design needs to account for additional considerations for internal stakeholders to understand reusables’ value. A successful program must balance durability with weight and easy of handling to control costs and ensure reusable solutions last long enough to generate savings. The new system must comply with health & safety standards and free up space that was previously used to store traditional packaging components for productive use. To prevent loss, an integrate a tracking system that monitors the location of reusable packaging as it moves through the supply chain can be incorporated. This allows for creation of a plan for storing the physical elements of the reusable program at each stop along the supply chain.

Prototyping and Testing

Because implementing reusable packaging involves an overhaul of so many pieces of your packaging process, it is important to make sure every element integrates seamlessly within the system before implementation. For this reason, a thorough testing process involving prototypes of each physical element is integral to the process. Many of the same suppliers identified during the planning stages can be leveraged to produce prototypes.

When it comes to package testing, there are a variety of options to consider. Consulting engineers and other high-level technical experts with knowledge of the product and its distribution provides valuable input to narrow down the list of standards to use for packaging tests. Testing standards that apply to reusable packaging include:

  • ISTA-3A: Packaged-Products for Parcel Delivery Shipment
  • ISTA-3B: Packaged-Products for Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipment
  • ASTM D7386-16: Single Pack Performance Test
  • ASTM D4169-09: Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems
  • FedEx 6A: Packaging Testing Under 150 Lbs.

Integration

Once the planning, design, and testing are completed and approved, a well-executed integration process will ensure the reusable packaging program gets off to a successful start, which is important for the longevity of the program. Proper introduction of the new reusable solution is also valuable to ensure that everyone who will handle the reusable packaging understands the new system. This will encourage correct use of the system, so that reusable items can circulate properly and return to their starting point after they are used.

Completing the transition from single-use packaging solutions to a true reusable packaging program can be a complicated process requiring a high level of input from technical experts. For brand owners who lack the resources or the manpower to complete the transition, Adept Packaging can help. Our team of Loop-certified packaging engineers have guided many brands through the transition. Our global network of suppliers enables our engineers to design, develop and qualify innovative reusable packaging solutions. Additionally, our sustainability team collaborates with our value optimization team to analyze opportunities for cost savings via transitioning to reusable packaging. They build the plans, design the details, manage the prototyping and testing process, and oversee integration to provide a smooth transition to a reusable packaging program that will save on costs and increase a brand’s sustainability efforts.

If you’re interested in talking to our experts, contact us! We’d love to hear from you.