Protecting Freight While Shipping

Brandon Serna, a shipping and logistics writer working with Craters & Freighters
Monday, September 09, 2013
Photo: Brandon Serna

No matter what you ship, chances are it needs some kind of protection. Even tough materials such as steel and concrete can be susceptible to chipping, breaking or corrosion. For sensitive electronics, delicate glassware, perishable foods and other specialized needs, having the right protection can make the difference between sending your customer a work of art and shipping a box of shards. Get an idea of how best to pack your products with an overview of the best packing materials and shipping containers to suit your needs.

What Goes in the Box

Boxes are cubes, but unless you manufacture bricks, most of what you ship comes in various sizes and shapes. To take up the space between the box and the product you need packing materials. Packaging material acts as a cushion, but it can't work if it's crammed too tightly or allows objects to shift in the shipping container. The best packing materials are flexible enough to conform to the shape of the items in the box yet sturdy enough to resist compression.

Paper, pulp and cardboard: One of the least expensive packing materials, shredded or pulped paper absorbs impacts moderately well, but it's susceptible to moisture and may compress over time as a package sits. For light items and for dry goods, paper is an excellent choice for filler. You can shred your own paper or buy loose shreds as a packing material. Some mailing envelopes already have a pulped paper liner, and these are fine for small items. To stiffen an envelope containing flat materials or to lend extra support to a container, sheets of corrugated cardboard act as packing materials. When possible, use recycled paper for more environmentally friendly shipping.

Polystyrene and organic foam peanuts: Those packing peanuts that go everywhere when you open a box are incredibly resilient, making them a great choice for packing. While polystyrene is not a green material, the crush-resistant foam peanuts are almost endlessly reusable. You can also find foam peanuts made from organic materials such as starch, but these varieties crush fairly easily and will liquefy if they get wet. Use organic foam pellets only in dry climates and for light items.

Bubble wrap: Everyone loves popping the plastic bubbles, but this versatile material is more than a stress reliever. Use bubble wrap to give exceptionally fragile items another layer of protection before filling a box with foam peanuts or air bags. Although bubble wrap is costly, you can save it to reuse.

Expandable and cut-to-fit foams: For costly and pressure-sensitive items, custom-fit foam rubber padding and expandable foam bags are a good solution. Although these items are some of the costliest shipping materials, they provide the most protection. If you're shipping an antique violin or something equally precious, invest in custom foam padding.

Air bags: A relatively inexpensive and recyclable packing solution, inflatable air bags have become increasingly popular. After opening the box, the recipient can reuse the bags as-is or pop them and recycle the flat polyurethane plastic.

Sturdy Packing Containers

Once you've worked out what goes into a shipping container, think about the container itself. Single-walled cardboard is fine for handing a birthday present to a friend in town, but for shipping any distance, choose something tougher. Corrugated cardboard is the industry standard for shipping, and it's usually an excellent choice. Thin, commercial corrugated boxes are the ones most people find familiar, but you can also find specialty cardboard containers that are almost as crush-proof as plastic or even metal containers. These heavy-duty boxes are designed for shipping large, heavy and fragile items such as sensitive electronics.

Why choose reusables? Reusable packing containers are an increasingly viable option. Available in wood, molded plastic and other durable materials, reusable packing crates work well when shipping to companies that regularly ship back to you. If you manufacture fabric and need to send it out to be dyed, for example, you and your dyer might want to choose reusable containers.

Custom containers provide the highest level of protection. Some of their advantages include:
•    Lower long-term costs after an initial investment
•    Less chance of damage to delicate items
•    Reduced time spent dealing with disposable or recyclable shipping materials
•    Minimal disposal costs and waste

You can find custom containers to meet just about any specialized need. Insulated, double-walled containers to ship perishable food, padded containers to hold irregularly shaped products and waterproof crates to protect dry goods are just a few of the possible uses for custom shipping boxes.

Preparation

Even if you pack well in your shop, your package has to endure a potentially rough trip. Consider where the crate is traveling and what it might encounter on the way to ensure better protection on its journey.

Are you shipping something that is susceptible to cold, heat or moisture? Everything from chocolates to cosmetics can melt in high heat, and sensitive electronics don't tolerate cold or high humidity well. Knowing how long a package may sit unopened should also guide your packing choices. Heavy freight in a box filled with newspaper shreds will quickly compress the material at the bottom of the container, reducing the padding's effectiveness and making the contents vulnerable to damage from an accidental drop.

Label containers prominently with any special instructions, but be aware that you can't guarantee everyone will comply. Adding "This End Up" stickers to a box will help conscientious shippers, but a sharp turn in a truck could jostle the package and send it crashing to the floor on its top or side.

Be proactive with your packing and assume the worst that could happen to your item, and you'll ship freight safely.
 

  • Photo: Brandon Serna

    Photo: Brandon Serna

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