Packaging Audit 101: Material Testing and Performance Analysis

Is your packaging designed for distribution? Are you getting what you paid for from your packaging supplier? Do you wish you had more visibility into your packaging infrastructure? If questions like these keep you up at night, a packaging audit may be in order.

A packaging audit serves many purposes, including helping you find savings opportunities hidden in your supply chain. For example, if your packaging isn’t designed with exact product specifications in mind, you could be spending extra money just to ship excess air space in the packaging. Or, if your packaging isn’t designed to last the entire trip from Southeast Asia to Europe and North America, you could be losing money on damaged shipments and even causing your warehouses and distribution centers to lag.

In this new series, we look at some of the most important components of a true packaging audit, including the questions you should ask and the factors you should consider as you critically examine your packaging—such as packaging material analysis and performance testing. For global brands that ship large quantities of goods around the world, poor packaging can result in untold millions of dollars in shrink, damage and inefficiencies. Considering how much your organization stands to lose just from sub-par packaging, it’s worth the small investment to make sure your packaging is up to spec.

Packaging Material Analysis and Performance Testing

Corrugated boxes fail in many ways and for many reasons, but two very common failures that we see, especially in packaging made in Southeast Asia, are collapse under a compressive top-load or by rupture due to rough handling. There are several tests that can predict the performance of corrugated boxes under these conditions, including the box compression test (BCT), edge compression test (ECT), short-span compression test (SCT), bending stiffness and the International Safe Transit Association’s transportation testing procedures.

Subjecting packaging to material analysis and performance testing can help answer many important questions around packaging, and even help raise others you might not have thought about:

  • Is my packaging up to spec?
  • Are my packaging suppliers providing what we’re paying for?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of my packaging?
  • Is poor material to blame for the “look and feel” of my packaging?
  • Are there opportunities to use less materials, different board grade, etc.?

Material analysis and quality characteristics should be tested in accordance with test methods specified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and/or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

A note about ECT specifications

ECT and burst are common specifications for transport boxes. Specifying ECT or burst depends on the nature of your supply chain. For example, if the environment is such where boxes are processed through harsh environments and subject to puncturing, build to burst; a more modern supply chain calls for ECT since boxes in this environment are not subject to as much handling because they are unitized. The key is understanding your distribution chain and requesting packaging materials that are specifically designed for that environment.

In general, use of the ECT specification allows for equivalent stacking performance using less paper and more recycled content—which means less spend on packaging materials and lower supply chain costs overall. Corrugated only needs 90 percent of the weight to achieve a similar grade as a Mullen burst test (10 percent cost savings for ECT-certified corrugate).

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Organisations ship and store a significant amount of empty space, and these inefficiencies can add up to substantial costs.

Is Your Packaging Designed for Distribution?

The idea of “designing for distribution” aims to minimize product damage by mitigating the risks of supply chain hazards. By tracing the entire product journey end-to-end and understanding what conditions are experienced along the way, packaging designers and engineers can create appropriate solutions that stand up to these various distribution hazards, including rough handling, stacking, vibrations, humidity and extreme temperatures—the benefits of which include:

  • Reduced product damage and loss
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Minimum use of packaging

If you’re concerned about developing more effective packaging, International Safe Transit Authority (ISTA) testing can help you identify areas of improvement in your current packaging design, evaluate comparative packaging materials and validate future packaging prototypes are transit tested and approved. The ISTA helps brands control supply chain costs by creating and publishing packaged-product test procedures for certifying packaged-products are safe in transit.

Note: The ISTA does not provide testing but rather validates the results of package testing laboratories (like BillerudKorsnäs) that do.

We Can Help You Critically Examine Your Packaging

How do you control your packaging from 8,000 miles away? How do you know your boxes are up to spec? How do you know your packaging solutions are fit to withstand the external forces throughout your distribution chain? You partner with BillerudKorsnäs.

With ISTA box testing laboratories in the United States, Sweden and China, we can help determine whether your packaging is optimally designed for distribution. World-class equipment allows us to simulate real world conditions, with varying degrees of humidity and temperature so we can predict packaging’s True Performance. We also examine color consistency, material composition and the unpacking experience. In total, we take a complete look at your packaging to make sure it’s the best for your supply chain.

Testing helps us evaluate the packaging, and our understanding of your actual distribution chain ensures we test for the actual hazards your packaged-products face. By taking a deeper look at your distribution chain, we are able to uncover savings opportunities throughout the box journey, from the corrugate factory to the last-mile delivery.

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BillerudKorsnäs Corrugated Testing Capabilities by Region

Portland, Oregon Testing Lab
  • BCT, Fmax ~2000kg, platens 1000 x 1000 mm (ISO 12048, TAPPI 804)
  • ECT (ISO 3037, TAPPI 811)
  • 4-pt Bending Stiffness (ISO 5628, TAPPI 820)
  • FCT (ISO 3035, TAPPI 825)
  • Ink Rub (TAPPI 830)
  • Ink Color (ISO 5631)
  • Transportation Testing ISTA 1A, 1C, 1G, 2A, 3A, 7D
  • Optional temp and RH% in conditioning chamber
Gruvön, Sweden Testing Lab
  • BCT, Fmax ~1000kg, platens 600 x 620 mm (ISO 12048, TAPPI 804)
  • ECT (ISO 3037, TAPPI 811)
  • 4-pt Bending Stiffness (ISO 5628, TAPPI 820)
  • FCT (ISO 3035, TAPPI 825)
  • SCT (ISO 9895, TAPPI 826)
  • Tensile Properties TS, force & stretch at break, TEA (ISO 1924, TAPPI 494)
  • Bottom deflection trays UNE 49706 and internal standard
  • Creep testing on paper and packaging according to internal standards
  • Standard climate 23ºC, 50%RH and 90%RH in walk-in climate chamber, + optional temp and RH
Shenzhen, China Testing Lab
  • ECT (ISO 3037, TAPPI 811)
  • 4-pt Bending Stiffness (ISO 5628, TAPPI 820)
  • FCT (ISO 3035, TAPPI 825)
  • SCT (ISO 9895, TAPPI 826)
  • Burst (ISO 2759, TAPPI 810)
  • Tensile Properties TS, force & stretch at break, TEA (ISO 1924, TAPPI 494)
  • Transportation Testing ISTA 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 2A, 2B, 7D
  • Ink Rub (TAPPI 830)
  • Ink Color (ISO 5631)
  • Standard climate 23ºC, 50%RH in walk-in chamber + optional temp and RH in conditioning chamber