Protective Packaging Primer

Your product is in Boise, but it needs to get to Orlando–quickly. Today will do, but yesterday would have been better.

Yes, we all know that speed is an important consideration in the distribution business – but is it the only consideration? Let’s say the product gets from Boise to Orlando in a day, but it’s broken. Now we’ve got even more of a problem because our timeframe is condensed and we’ll probably see closer product scrutiny on the replacement shipment.

Protective packaging can ensure that products – whether shipped across the plant or around the world – arrive safely. But of course, not all packaging is ideal for all situations. There are many considerations you must keep in mind when choosing “in the box” packaging.

Packing for peanuts
Perhaps the best known (and perhaps least loved) option is loose-fill packaging, also known as packing peanuts. Available from many sources, loose-fill packaging is very effective at filling voids between the product and the carton carrying it on its journey. Varying materials of loose fill are available; antistatic discharge materials are a prime consideration for shipping sensitive electronic parts, for example. Biodegradable loose fill manufactured from potato starch or loose fill made entirely of recycled content (meeting Green Cross certification standards) are other options for environmentally conscious companies or products (such as organic foods).

In addition to the material composition, the size and shape of the loose fill has a huge impact on its ability to cushion materials. Common shapes include S shapes and mushroom-cap shapes, each with unique cushioning characteristics and weight-to-strength ratios.

Loose fill is purchased in bulk and stored in overhead containers, then dispensed on demand. It is the most economical option in many cases, but some consumers loathe receiving boxes filled with peanuts to such a degree that you need to take that into consideration when choosing your protective packaging.

No snoozing with these pillows
Air pillows are another option for void fill, block-and-brace, dunnage, corner protectors, edge protectors, and interior cushioning. They’re clean, dust-free, reusable, and recyclable. Various widths and lengths of pillows are available to suit particular requirements. Volume users may also wish to imprint their company name and logo onto the pillows for additional branding exposure.

In addition to the pillows themselves, there are options within the pillow-making equipment, such as tabletop air pillow machines. High-volume users may also elect to use systems that manufacture, store, and dispense pillows automatically.

The paper chase
Paper cushioning is another method of protecting materials during shipment. Machines fashion kraft paper into “”mattresses” to produce a cushioning effect. Mattress shapes and sizes vary depending upon particular application requirements. Common shapes available include S shape, crisscross, coil, and fold-over, and they can be used for block-and-brace and other interior cushioning needs. Machinery that is oriented vertically, horizontally, double-wide, on lifts, and even compact versions are available to suit space and application requirements. Though effective and cost-effective, paper cushioning (including the use of old newspapers) does not provide the branding opportunities available with air pillows or protective pads, which are gaining in popularity.

How do you like my pad?
Protective pads filled with loose-fill packaging are suitable for many applications where packing peanuts may not be ideal. They are clean and dust-free, can be purchased in various sizes, and require very little operator training prior to use. In addition, they provide space for a company’s name, logo, and company message to keep the marketing folks happy.

One common question applies to all packaging materials: How much is enough? If a few air pillows (or packing peanuts or paper pillows) are good, then a few more are great, right?

Wrong. Overuse of cushioning materials – using too much for a given area – is the most common problem associated with in-the-box packaging. Packers are far more likely to use too much cushioning material than too little, which can end up causing the carton to break or rip, increasing the risk of damaging the very item the materials were meant to protect.

Scott Dowrey is senior vice president of marketing for packaging solutions provider Storopack. Its North American headquarters are located in Cincinnati.

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