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How package optimization breaks shipping cost barriers

UPS package solutions engineer tests the integrity of a customer's package

The cost efficiency of smarter packaging is more science than art. Considerations like a product's height, weight, dimensional weight (the volume the product takes up in shipping), design and packing materials are all factors.

"You want to optimize the package size so that it's not too large and you're not paying for excess space," says Quint Marini, a packaging engineer at the UPS Packaging Solutions Group, a packing test lab in Addison, Ill. The goal is to make the product as robust and structurally sound as possible so as to not incur additional charges like handling fees or a large-package surcharge.

When Monster Moto, a manufacturer and distributor of recreational vehicles for youngsters, needed lighter, more cost-efficient packaging to ship its minibikes of more than 80 pounds, the company turned to UPS. "The first thing a business has to do is understand the product itself and how you want it shipped to the customer," explains Marini.

Here are some additional tips for businesses looking to optimize their packaging.

  • Weigh the product. Step one, according to Marini, is to measure the product's weight vs. the package's density. "Knowing the exact weight of the product ensures that the density of the new package, which includes multiple assembly parts in Monster Moto's case, is optimized to keep a very fragile product intact during shipping," says Marini.
  • Think dimensionally. Generally speaking, when a package is made, the packer needs to know the length, width and depth. Those numbers determine the so-called dimensional weight. "For example, a box that is 20 X 20 X 20 inches costs $49 to ship," he says. "If the box holds three pillows that are 10 pounds, it will still cost $49 because of the space the box takes up in the trailer."
  • Design around the product. With larger fragile products like TVs, design takes precedence. Despite that a TV is bigger and heavier at 30 to 40 pounds, the packaging is made as small as possible and tested to make sure it will hold. "In this case, we look at adding support to the frame of the TV to ensure it's being held the right way without applying pressure to the screen," says Marini. Once you have that initial design, testing is critical because you can't take a look at a product and assume that it needs, for example, exactly 3 inches of foam.
  • Identify the costs. Smarter packaging goes beyond the pricing of the interior and exterior boxes. With its minibike, for example, Monster Moto initially used a steel frame to support the bike during transit, adding significantly to the costs. Not only did UPS's lab help the company decrease the size of the packaging (which decreased shipping costs), it allowed Monster Moto to enter new markets.
  • Streamline. For Monster Moto's minibike, the company was originally paying a surcharge because the original package was more than 130 inches. "We reduced the size of the packaging by supporting the bike with corrugated inserts and that helped size it down a bit and keep it aligned," says Marini. The UPS packaging team also relied on the top of the bike to absorb some of the shock; plus, the wheels are filled with air, so that helps, too.
  • Test. The majority of the work at the package lab is testing to make sure the package works. "We put it through the rigors of the environment and the tests include dropping the package to see how it impacts the interior packaging as well as the product," he says. Then, the product vibrates on a setting called "top load" to simulate how the package would move on a trailer.

"We try to give the customer a deliverable that's a turnkey solution where they can take drawings or specifications, give it to their box vendor and have it priced," says Marini. Having a package design that's verified and tested can save companies time and help them reach new markets faster.

For a closer look at Monster Moto and ideas on how to use packing efficiency to break into new markets, watch "It arrives ready to ride" in the Monster Moto video series.

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