By: Jennifer Stepniowski, Regional Operations Manager, Pro QC International

Packaging is considered to be both the presentation of products to consumers, as well as the configuration in which products will be expedited through various channels. Above all else, the objective of packaging is to insure products arrive safely in the hands of consumers without sustaining damage or other potential cosmetic or aesthetic issues. Of course, an additional objective achieved through carefully planned packaging includes both cost savings obtained through the minimal use of materials, weight and labor, as well as reductions in potential rework costs and the perception of quality by the consumer.

For this article, the focus is restricted to the importance of what is considered to be master carton or "pack" design, which includes the configuration in which product will be shipped through channels for end-user consumption. The utility of this type of packaging is that it should protect the product and the point of purchase packaging.

So, what are the considerations involved in designing an effective master pack? Frank Ruotolo, an experienced packaging engineer, explains that "the most important consideration is the shipping environment for that product." He adds that "you need to know how the pack will be stacked and handled throughout the entire distribution cycle. The environmental conditions that the pack will be exposed to are also extremely important. For instance, a carton will lose half of its stacking strength in one week in a high humidity environment. Imagine what happens to the carton strength of a product that spends six weeks on a container ship from Asia the United States!"

Not understanding the shipping environment is the most common mistake that Frank sees in applications . One example he notes is the failure to recognize how the cartons will be stored in the shipping container or trailer, which affects the carton's integrity. Orientation is an important consideration because the carton itself only has stacking strength in one direction, which is why it is imperative that the pack be designed the way it will be stacked in transit.

Frank recommends that master cartons be corrugated RSC (regular slotted containers). "The corrugation of the carton should run vertically when in its intended shipping/stacking orientation. The board strength of the carton should be adequate for the size of the carton, the weight of the product and the shipping environment." He also adds that for "international shipments, the long shipping time in a high-humidity environment is not always factored into the corrugated board's strength selection. The carton's compression strength will be severely decreased by the time it arrives at its destination. It then still has to go through the remainder of the distribution cycle in this weakened state."

Additional considerations include how internal protection will be handled. Various options exist that each offer advantages and disadvantages depending on the specific product characteristics and shipping environment. Available options for cushioning generally include air-encapsulated plastic (bubble pack), inflatable packaging (air bags), expanded polystyrene (peanuts), engineered foam enclosures, corrugated liners and inserts or crumbled kraft paper.

And, finally, an equally important consideration in the packaging design process is making sure the container is closed securely. A common defect noted by Pro QC during inspections includes boxes that have broken open on impact. This can often be avoided by using a strong sealant of an appropriate width that is applied to critical box integrity locations. Recommended examples include pressure-sensitive plastic or nylon-reinforced tape and water-activated reinforced tape.

Because packaging experiences a number of potentially damaging forces, which might include shock from handling, drops, vibration from transportation or compression from stacking in warehouses and vehicles, Pro QC incorporates drop-testing into standard inspection procedures. However, an additional proactive step is to incorporate this type of packaging integrity evaluation into the initial design and pre-production process.

Pro QC uses the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) 1A standard, focusing on the drop-test of individual cartons at a corner, edges and sides. The ISTA Series 1 is considered non-simulation integrity performance testing and is designed to challenge the strength and robustness of the product and package combination, not to simulate environmental occurrences. Pro QC considers defects resulting from this test as critical, so any issues noted with the product result in a reject status.

Additional test procedures are available through ISTA that also incorporate vibration, compression and atmospheric conditions. "Use of ISTA test procedures reduces risks in the transport environment and increases confidence in the safe delivery of a tested packaged-product." There are two types of tests that ISTA offers, which includes performance tests and development tests. According to ISTA, performance tests "result in a pass/fail assessment and are used to determine the viability of a packaged product to survive normal shipment. Development tests compare relative performance to two or more designs or the same design from different suppliers."

For additional information regarding ISTA specifications, visit Pro QC is also available to assist in the packaging design and testing process. An account manager can work with you to evaluate requirements and setup the necessary process to ensure that packaging is one less thing to worry about. Contact us today to learn more.