Even seasoned pros sometimes need reminders. Here, a UPS expert and a UPS customer provide key packaging takeaways.
One UPS customer was shipping perishables in styrene coolers that tended to "breathe" and allow moisture to seep out. The shipping labels fell off in transit. It turned out that the label adhesive being used by the company wasn't strong enough. Painful lesson learned.
We asked UPS customers and experts to share some of the packaging mistakes they've seen in their careers, so that you don't make them, too.
And it's just one of many that shippers have experienced over the years. We asked UPS customers and experts to share some of the packaging mistakes they've seen in their careers, so that you don't make them, too. Here are some of the most common – and how to avoid them:
1. Wrong-size box.
Unless trained, packers may grab what's close at hand – especially during the peak holiday season, says Quint Marini, UPS package engineering manager. "You need to train people to put product in boxes that are the right size," Marini says. Otherwise they are likely to choose a box that is too big, and that will affect both your packaging and transportation costs.
Takeaway: Stage the right mix of boxes and packing materials in advance, so that you don't run out – or run short – of standard sizes. "Follow up after initial training, and consider using spot audits," Marini says. "Another option is to print the box size on the pick ticket to add a level of control and make training easier."
2. Weak box.
The larger the package, the stronger the box needs to be, not only to protect what's inside but also to allow for bearing weight. "Larger boxes will travel lower in the truck or container, and there will be boxes stacked on top of it, so your box needs to be able to handle that load," Marini says. "That applies to single parcels and palletized freight, as well as warehouse environments that involve double or triple stacking."
Takeaway: Choose a box strength that is suitable for the contents you are shipping. Here's a handy chart.
3. Compromised box.
Sustainability is a good thing, unless it goes too far (by using boxes too many times), resulting in damaged contents. "The strength of a box is compromised each time it travels through a transport lane," Marini says. "It's not uncommon for a box to lose 50 percent of its strength."
Another drawback to recycled boxes in the shipping room is that it reduces consistency for the packers, who then waste time hunting around for boxes that are the right size for the product being shipped.
Takeaway: If you use recycled boxes, make sure they are nearly new, with strong corners, but consider using new, standardized boxes matched to each of your products. To learn more about eco-friendly packaging, watch "Best Practices for Sustainable Packaging."
4. Wrong packing material.
When shipping heavy items, it's best to fill any voids using airbags, bubble wrap or peanuts; don't use newsprint or wadded paper. "If there is weight involved, newsprint or wadded paper compresses, and does not bounce back, creating a void," Marini says. Lightweight or nonbreakable contents can survive a trip from point A to point B with fewer problems. "The more rugged the product, the more you want to depend on the strength of the box itself."
Using recycled packing material isn't a problem, Marini says. In fact, you can now get soy- or starch-based peanuts that are biodegradable. "You need to be careful about humidity because that will shrink biodegradable peanuts."
Takeaway: Use airbags, bubble wraps, peanuts or other recycled packing material to fill empty space inside boxes.
5. Poor taping job.
Marini recommends using 3-inch tape on the top and bottom seams of the box, or even better, using an "H" pattern that covers the end seams as well. "We've found that 2-inch tape, which is more common, does not hold as well, and when a box is compressed, the first thing that goes is the tape," he says.
Bill Sloss, owner of The Sloss Company, a legal services firm in Oakley, Calif., would second that. He goes a step further: "When you use tape on your packages, use really good tape. 3M makes the strongest tape available. I never have boxes come undone."
Finally, "always put the label on the top of the box," Marini says. "That will make it a lot easier for UPS to sort and save processing time in the long run."
Takeaway: Tape in an "H" pattern with 3-inch or wider tape, and put the label on top.