Go behind the scenes to where packaging is a science.
The 7,500-square-foot UPS Packaging Solutions facility looks like a cross between a science lab and a hobbyist's basement workshop. Hulking machines provide heavy-duty contrast to the high-tech blipping of computer screens. Shelves are laden with rough-hewn cuts of plywood, and worktables are strewn with lead-shot weights, tape, packing materials and boxes.
Package engineers optimize customers' packaging to decrease damage, reduce waste and ultimately save money.
There's no such thing as a typical day. "We do something new every day," says Quint Marini, package engineering manager. Among the engineers' primary tasks is testing customers' packaging to determine whether it adequately protects its contents during transit or whether fewer packing materials can be used.
The engineers conduct about 1,400 of these tests per year, with the goal of optimizing customers' packaging to decrease damage, reduce waste and ultimately save money. In addition to this type of testing, package engineers conduct on-site visits to evaluate customers' packaging processes; test prototypes; and design custom packaging solutions that go above and beyond the standard box.
Testing 1, 2, 3, 4
There are four steps to testing package worthiness. The first involves purposefully and repeatedly dropping the package. Customers supply the lab with a package in "like-new condition," mimicking how it would ship to a paying client. It is then dropped from preset heights and various orientations using a drop-tester machine. "We're trying to measure how well the outer packaging reacts with the inner packaging and product," says Marini.
The package then heads to a computer-controlled vibration table, which vibrates the package at random to simulate the movements of a semitrailer and UPS brown delivery package vehicle. In step three, the package is vibrated with weight (to mimic a semitrailer) and without (brown truck) in three different orientations for about an hour.
Once it has completed vibration testing, the package returns to the drop-tester for a final round.
So how does most packaging fare? "More packages fail than not," says Marini, who notes that most failures occur because of box or tape weakness.
In addition to testing, package engineers work closely with companies to design custom packaging solutions. Perhaps the lab's most unique assignment came from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA asked UPS to ship forensic facial reconstructions of two sailors who died when the USS Monitor sank during a storm 150 years ago. The delicate reconstructions were to be shipped from Baton Rouge, La., to Washington, D.C. The package engineers closely studied the material properties of the clay-and-resin reconstructions and the supply chain, considering everything from weather patterns to the position of the container on the aircraft.
Their analyses led them to design wood-crate containers that utilized foam to absorb shock and vibration. Their efforts paid off: The reconstructions arrived at their destination in perfect condition.
But it's not just one-of-a-kind items that can benefit from custom packaging. More e-tailers are turning to UPS for a custom packaging solution. One example is candle-maker Aunt Sadie's in rural Vermont. "UPS helped design double-wall packages with nested inner boxes, and it's been years since we've had a damage claim," says Gary Briggs, owner.