What's the best way to protect high-value goods during shipping and handling? Items that are especially valuable and delicate—such as auto parts, electronics and industrial equipment—require extra care and highly protective packaging materials.
There are many different options when it comes to protective packaging, but not all of them provide the level of protection needed for shipping expensive components. These products often require both extra cushioning (to protect them from shocks in transit) and blocking and bracing (to hold them firmly in place and prevent them from shifting inside the box). Finding the right protective packaging option is especially challenging if items are large, heavy and irregularly shaped. Here are the best options for packaging your high-value goods.
Custom Molded Packaging Inserts
If you're manufacturing high-volume consumer goods, it's probably worth having a custom molded insert made for your products. These inserts, often made of polystyrene or similar materials, are molded in advance to fit the product exactly. They may come in two or more pieces that are fit around the product before it is placed into the box. Anyone who has purchased a television, computer or kitchen gadget is familiar with these inserts.
These materials provide excellent blocking and bracing functionality and some degree of cushioning. Because the insert is molded to exactly fit the contours of the object and the box it is placed in, it holds items securely and prevents and movement during shipping.
However, the economics of custom molded packaging inserts really only work if you are shipping a large number of absolutely identical items. For manufacturers selling low-volume or custom goods—or resellers in the electronics or auto parts industries—the cost of creating a custom mold and producing inserts molded to their product contours puts custom packaging out of reach.
Expandable Foam Cushioning
For shippers who don't have the volume to justify creating custom packaging, expandable foams offer a great alternative. These foams are sprayed directly into the carton or into thin plastic bags that are placed around the product.
Expandable foams are an "on demand" protective packaging solution. They are created by mixing two components at the point of use. Alone, each component is a liquid. When they are mixed together on the packaging line, they react to form a polyurethane foam that expands to many times the volume of the original liquids. As the foam hardens, it conforms to the shape of the carton and the object.
Expandable foams like STOROpack's FOAMplus® system provide blocking and bracing performance that is similar to that provided by a custom molded insert. FOAMplus also provide superior cushioning compared to polystyrene. An expandable foam may not fit the contours of the object quite as tightly as a custom molded insert, but with proper application it will provide a tight hold that conforms nicely to the shape of the object. When hardened, the foams hold even very heavy objects in place securely.
Pros: Superior cushioning and shock absorption compared to polystyrene; excellent blocking and bracing; liquids take up minimal storage space for volume of packaging delivered; foams compress to <10% of their volume in landfill; will not degrade and leech into waterways or soil.
Cons: More expensive than polystyrene; not recyclable; not biodegradable; liquid components require some care for safe storage and handling.
Pre-Filled Packaging Pads
Packaging pads like STOROpack's PAD LOC® system offer another alternative for protecting high-value products and parts. These flexible cushions are pre-filled with shock-absorbing materials. Shippers simply place them under and around their item to protect it during shipping.
Packaging pads are ready to go, so they are fast and easy to use. The pads are flexible, so they conform somewhat to the shape of the object. However, they will not conform as tightly to the object and the carton as the expandable foams. That makes them more appropriate for simple cushioning rather than blocking and bracing. But if the pads are fitted tightly around the object and fill the available space in the carton, they will help to prevent items from excessive shifting in addition to protecting them from shocks and vibrations. Packaging pads work best for lighter objects up to 40 or 50 pounds.
Packaging pads can be made of several different materials. Some pads, like PAD LOC® RENATURE, are made of biodegradable materials. And the pads are easily reused by shippers or consumers, making them a more sustainable packaging choice. They are also less expensive than expandable foams.
Pros: Easy to use; economical; excellent cushioning and shock absorption; ready to go right out of the box; reusable; can be made of biodegradable/recyclable materials.
Cons: Less effective for blocking and bracing; does not contour exactly to product shape; takes up large amounts of storage space.
Choosing the Right Protective Packaging
Expandable foam cushioning systems and ready-to-go packaging pads are both excellent choices for shippers whose volume or product types do not justify the creation of a custom molded packaging system. They are both popular options for:
- resellers shipping fragile high-value products that no longer have their original packaging material;
- salvage yards, eBay sellers, and other shippers packaging one-off parts; and
- low- to medium-volume shippers whose products are irregularly shaped, fragile and moderately to very expensive.
When making the choice, shippers should ask themselves:
- How fragile is my item? What is the replacement cost if it is damaged in shipping?
- How important is cushioning vs. blocking and bracing? How important it is to have protective packaging that exactly conforms to the shape of my item?
- What is my total shipping volume? How much packaging material do I need to keep on hand?
- How much floor space do I have to store packaging materials?
- Do I need something that can be reused?