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Key aspects to consider when testing packaging for sustainable supply chains
From settling on an appropriate material to considering the conditions of the shipment, choosing the optimal sustainable packaging to deliver products from point A to B is a challenging process.
Once the theory is nailed down, it is time to put it in practice. Testing, the last and the most crucial phase of packaging design, can save time and resources.
There are many standards and tests available for selecting the most cost-effective and sustainable packaging solution that ensures proper protection. To choose the right one, it is crucial to analyze packaging and products’ pain points, as well as consider different transportation hazards they may face. The below text will discuss the key challenges to keep in mind, as well as the necessary steps to take to ensure that the desired packaging fulfills its function.
Identifying the hazards
Numbers say it all: the ecommerce product return rate in 2020 increased by a shocking 70% when compared to 2019 , with over 80.2% of returns due to broken or damaged product. To prevent that from happening, focus on the journey the product has to take and the external forces that are at play. They depend on the mode of transportation and the way the package is being handled and stored during shipment.
In general, there are two important factors to consider here: mechanical constraints and climate conditions. Mechanical constraints include both force constraints (i.e., stacking and vertical compression) and energy constraints (i.e., shocks and vibration). For example, a package can experience up to eight times the pressure when being transported in a vehicle compared to warehouse storage. Shock may occur during handling when shipments are dropped, struck by other packages or free-fall during transit. Vibration, on the other hand, can occur when a package is moved or transported mechanically, and while it may not be visible, it can cause scuffing, abrasion, loosening of fasteners, and closures, product fatigue, and failure. Knowing what type of pressure and free-falling can occur during transportation will help in the protection of the product.
Climate conditions also play an important role in maintaining the quality of product during storage and shipment. Temperature differences during transportation and storage heavily impact the durability and performance of the packaging. Too much moisture, for instance, can weaken both the external packaging (by weakening the corrugated board) and the inside of the packaging (by causing corrosion). Low temperatures, on the other hand, can affect the structure of plastic packaging by making it more rigid or brittle. That is why it is crucial to test the material stability in different conditions when designing the final environmentally friendly packaging.
Instructions presenting how to conduct different types of packaging tests, according to ISTA 6 standards
Turning theory into practice
Once it is determined that packaging can theoretically withstand potential transportation hazards during shipment and storage, it is time to test it in practice. There are many industry standards to choose from for performance testing, including American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) to name a few. However, some companies introduce their own packaging standards for optimized product fulfillment and shipping.
ISTA members, like Amazon, FedEx or Wallmart to name a few, created their own performance tests and guidelines to optimize the packaging transportation standards. For example, the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network standards (APASS), also known as International Safe Transit Association 6 (ISTA 6 SIOC), challenge the capability of the package and product to withstand transport hazards during specific simulations and go beyond the usual carrier packaging regulations. Additionally, the document provides instructions on how to properly conduct laboratory testing and indicates what data should be recorded to submit the test report correctly.
In 2021, retailers lost 218 billion USD due to commerce returns. Therefore, the greater need for introducing ISTA 6 as industry standard to limit the number of damaged orders by standardizing packaging functionality and its protective properties. Until now, the program proved to be a success for Amazon and its suppliers’ network – some customers already noticed over 50% reduction in material use, as well as 100% packaging recyclability by simply switching to corrugated from plastic. The overall customers’ experience also increased, thanks to optimizing the packaging design and ensuring that the boxes can be opened quickly and hassle-free. As Amazon certified packaging design and testing partner since 2020, Nefab incorporates these standards in all of its testing facilities every day.
Avoid the risk with testing
The good news is that while the cost of replacing a damaged product can be higher than expected, it can be easily remedied with proper packaging. With that in mind, testing seems like a necessary investment – and one that can save money and help hedge the risks. Thorough testing takes time but also comes with a set of documentation validating package strength and integrity.
Therefore, in case of any damage during shipment, one will have data to back up their choice and file a successful insurance claim. It is not an exaggeration to say that the business reputation and finances depend on the quality of eco-friendly packaging. It is worthwhile to test it until one is certain that they have chosen the right one.
At Nefab, we are finding new ways to achieve greater sustainability in our solutions and smarter ways to reduce the environmental impact. Together, we can pave the way for a future with less packaging waste for our customers, for society, and the environment.
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