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How UPS packs and ships unusual, even bizarre objects

Clay model of a head recreated from a Civil War-era skull is prepared for shipment in custom packaging

Ever needed to ship a salamander?

It's a newt-like amphibian often referred to as a "fire animal" because of its purported immunity to fire. Believe it or not, people enjoy them as pets – and want to know how to best move them across the country, when necessary.

From fish to frogs to flying dragons, the details for customers to remember when shipping live animals, according to Quint Marini of the UPS Package Solutions lab near Chicago, is to create a good communication plan and consider climate control. "We study the range of temperature and distance necessary to keep the reptile comfortable throughout the process," he explains. "The goal is for the animals to arrive safely, which means logistics and shipping services work in concert." Typically, allowed animals must travel so the package is delivered the next day. No animal shipment should be sent on Friday.

Animals aren't the only strange objects that UPS ships. A few notable deliveries have included an iceberg chunk roughly the size of a refrigerator, four whale sharks and China's priceless terracotta warrior statues.

No matter how tiny or mammoth the shipment, UPS has a solution to fit your company's shipping needs. Check out some of the lab's biggest packaging challenges and the steps to overcome them.

Challenge #1: A Civil War ship's remains

When the U.S. Army needed to identify the remains of a skull found on a Civil War ship off the coast of South Carolina, it worked with Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., to re-create a model of the person's face. To safely ship the model 1,126 miles from Ruston to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conference in Washington, D.C., the Army enlisted UPS.

"The model was made out of wet, workable clay, so we developed a cushioning system and container to keep the model from banging side to side," says Marini. Nothing could be allowed to touch the clay, so the engineers positioned the actual-sized head on a pole, then set it inside a stability case with foam around it to withstand any impact.

Challenge #2: Insulin shots

What makes some medicines tricky to ship is protecting the package so that nothing breaks or leaks. And temperature control can be critical. "Insulin has to stay between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, so when the climate changes in the summer, you have to keep the temperature range steady," explains Marini. To keep the insulin from spoiling, the testing lab packages the insulation with a thermometer, then tests it in a chamber to see if refrigerant inside has maintained the desired temperature range.

Challenge #3: A ready-made meal

With the popularity of meal delivery services in recent years, the UPS Package Solutions engineers had to come up with a consistent blueprint for shipping perishable foods.

"Once we design a pack that will transport the product within the temperature, we put it through distribution testing to make sure nothing leaks or gets bruised or damaged," says Marini. The package also goes through a series of drops and vibrations to ensure the food remains snugly in place.

Challenge #4: A DIY kitchen cabinet

Ready-to-assemble furniture kits are notoriously heavy and come in several parts. "Often, companies don't isolate the pieces of the product properly, the carton is not strong enough, and there is not enough buffer material to keep the box and its contents from getting crushed, bent or chipped," says Marini. Since these packages are coming primarily from overseas, the solution is to make the main cushioning more robust and prepare the item for delivery via smaller parcels, as opposed to shipping the freight on a pallet.

"Unique packages require a strong box that is sized down as much as possible," says Marini. "In addition, never take the environment or your mode of transportation for granted. Keeping these shipping tips in mind will produce a package that ships well and keeps your customers coming back."

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