Setting Parameters for Packaging Materials

The balance between weight and performance is the main consideration when designing lightweight packaging. Image courtesy of Packsize.

Lighter Packaging Materials Will Are Becoming The Norm

By Edwin Borrero, Product Manager at Packsize

Historically, packaging technology providers have designed equipment and machines to work with the materials that the majority of customers are used to – standard corrugate. As packaging evolves, digitized, automated packaging solutions have to continue to work with those average materials, but today companies are successfully researching and developing ways to capture a range of weights in their processes. Right now, lightweight materials are the outliers. But based on growing demand for those materials, driven by cost-efficiency and sustainability needs, it looks like those outliers will soon become the norm.

The digital transformation of the packaging industry has already facilitated cost savings on materials through automation and solutions such as right-sized, parcel-specific packaging. Once a right-sizing solution has been established within a manufacturing or warehouse environment, there is the opportunity to optimize that solution for greater efficiency, cost-savings, and improvement to sustainability practices. One aspect of that optimization is the implementation of lighter weight packaging materials, or “lightweighting”, for the packages being used, which creates savings on top of savings. Increasingly, customers are actively seeking lightweight solutions.

Testing is key

Lightweighting parameters should be instituted on a customer by customer basis, taking into consideration what is being shipped, how it’s being shipped, and routes and destinations. To determine the best solution, an automated packaging team will typically start with the most standard packaging materials, then investigate how to optimize the package. For example, in one recent project,  we performed tests alongside the customer on lighter weight materials in comparison to their “norm” to find the right happy medium between parcel protection and cost savings. Real-life testing is needed to understand the performance of the material itself when being made into packaging, and how it functions as a package with the customer product. Simply matching a customer’s widget to a particular type of thin cardboard is not enough. Testing is key.

Companies with their own packaging design team can have initial conversations about scope and needs in-house before engaging with a packaging firm, while others can work with an outside design firm to learn about options that are appropriate to their scale, output and product type. In either scenario, a packaging company can provide guidance on decision making for materials that will minimize spending and provide other benefits without sacrificing quality.

Balance weight and performance

Cost-savings with lightweighting is pretty straightforward, at least on the surface; the lighter the material, the lower the price, which of course has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. That’s the easiest part to accomplish. However, the question becomes how lightweight the packaging can be for specific products and shipping needs before there are durability problems. A material cost savings that can negatively impact an organization’s packout process, or increases the return rate due to package and product damage, may not end up providing a cost savings at all. The balance between weight and performance is the main consideration.

In terms of sustainability, this is where automated packaging and lightweight material can make a difference when used together. For example, right-sized packaging can get more Z-Fold on a pallet with lighter materials such as a thinner corrugate, effectively creating more boxes per pallet. This in turn creates a shipping situation where each truck is better utilized and more boxes can fit on a truck, reducing the needed fleet and thus reducing carbon emissions. Lighter weight materials often have a higher recycled material content, further contributing to a company’s pursuit of a reduced environmental impact.

To help you choose the right material, a packaging company can perform an analysis of a company’s historical data to get a broad view of the weights and sizes of what the company typically ships. A next step would be a physical test, such as International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) testing, so it’s proven that the material won’t be damaged in edge case scenarios. At that point, all that’s left is for operations to order the material, make sure the machines are configured properly, and then you’re ready to go!

About the Author

Edwin Borrero joined Packsize as a systems engineer in 2017 and began his focus on product development in 2019. He has applied his engineering and design skills across multiple industries, including roles at General Motors and Apple. Borrero studied aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas, Arlington.

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