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Customer packaging put to the test

Two engineers test shipping box on large machine

The ability to effectively package and deliver a product to customers is essential for any business - perhaps now more than ever.

Thanks in part to the Internet of Things, mobile shopping and rise of online marketplaces, the shopping behaviors - and expectations - of today's consumers have permanently transformed. They want purchases delivered quickly, unmarred and directly to their doors. And if a company can't meet those demands, it's likely to struggle.

But with innovations in packaging, business owners have the ability to ship with increased confidence.

Finding the right packaging

At the UPS Package Solutions testing facility in Addison, Ill., engineers are charged with optimizing the way UPS customers package and ship their products. Through comprehensive tests, the engineers work to reduce the number of damaged packages and lower supply chain costs.

"We design a package from the ground up," says Quint Marini, who leads the UPS Packaging Solutions team at UPS. "It's everything from the size of package to the interior cushioning. Then we validate the design through a series of tests."

The tests are based on the certification requirements of the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), a third-party organization widely recognized as the industry standard for package design and testing protocols. For UPS, that means a package goes through a number of scenarios measuring the impact of environmental variables it would encounter during shipping - from the possibility of being dropped and enduring vibration during transportation to withstanding temperature extremes to colliding with other packages.

"The ISTA tests allow us to simulate the environment of a package in transit," Marini explains, "so we can identify problem areas, mitigate damage and improve consistency."

Handle with care

UPS practices the ISTA 3A series, which focus on individual packages shipped through a parcel system. To meet ISTA standards, packages are put through simulations that allow engineers to measure how a package performs when exposed to variables:

  • Changes in temperature and humidity
  • The impact of a drop or collision with other packages
  • Top loading (what happens when other packages are loaded on top of a package in a truck)
  • Random vibrations and low pressure environments

By properly executing these tests, the ISTA says businesses can expect a reduction in damage and product loss, balanced distribution costs and increased customer satisfaction.

While adhering to meticulous standards isn't without its challenges, Marini says the benefits are invaluable to both UPS and its customers. For example, consider a coffee mug company having issues with product damage and high shipping costs due to the large dimensions of the boxes.

"Because of the ISTA test, we were able to evaluate the customer's current packages and see where they failed," Marini says. "They allowed us to redesign their package completely and we were able to downsize the dimensions and optimize the design that met the ISTA standard."

The result was a decreased damage rate and lower shipping costs because of the reduced dimensions of the package - an outcome that not only clearly benefited the coffee mug company but UPS as well.

"When we help a customer, we are doing what we are supposed to do: deliver packages safely and efficiently," Marini says. "It's good for the customer, and it's good for the UPS brand."

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