Packaging Corner: Is your unit load sustainable? Better test it first
To achieve sustainability goals, companies have been making changes to the individual components of a unit load—re-engineering cardboard boxes, pallets and stretch wrap, for example, to reduce material cost and waste. The downside, asserts Ralph Rupert, manager of unit load technology at Millwood, can potentially be a reduction in unit load stability.
“Individually, those packaging changes may not have any impact on the integrity of the unit load during storage and transport,” Rupert says. “But when all the components interact, that’s when stability can be compromised and product damage can occur.”
Take stretch wrap film, for example. Although wrapping a load with a thinner film may require less material, its overall containment force level may not be sufficient to secure a load placed on a thinner pallet.
“If the pallet is not stiff enough, it will actually direct more vibration forces from over-the-road travel into the load, which can overpower the film and potentially cause that load to fail,” explains Rupert. “The interaction of both components needs to be looked at together to better understand the performance issues, so sustainability can be maintained or improved.”
To determine how changes in packaging will impact unit load stability, it’s important to use a transport test lab. In Rupert’s lab at Millwood, he tests and analyzes how vibration, impact and compression forces affect a unit load to ensure that shippers are getting the level of performance and sustainability that they need. Testing can be undertaken for a variety of reasons, including verifying the use of a new packaging product, seeking process improvements or for damage remediation.
Because it employs rapid cycle methodologies, the testing is usually accomplished in half a day and includes findings, an explanation of the observations and recommendations for improving load stability. And it’s affordable, too, typically costing less than a unit load of damaged product, he says.
Besides, adds Rupert, “for every gain in package sustainability, there is a greater potential to lose those gains through damaged goods. Because as soon as any good is damaged, there’s waste associated with that damage as well as the cost, raw materials and energy required to remanufacture a replacement item—not to mention a loss in customer satisfaction.”
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