Transport Packaging Gets A Bad Wrap

Jan. 1, 2007
"$388 million in product damage per year is directly related to poor unit load wrapping and handling."

All that creative design work, fancy material handling and innovative information technology doesn't amount to much if the product is damaged before it gets to the customer. People who deal with transport packaging on a daily basis know this. It's great, however, when someone steps forward with numbers to prove the theory.

Damage to product because of poorly configured unit loads is huge. According to a study released by Carolina Supply Chain Services (CSCS, Winston-Salem, N.C.,, $388 million in product damage per year is directly related to poor unit load wrapping and handling. That's the cost to manufacturers. No one has yet to put dollar figures on customer disappointment and dissatisfaction—which lead to lost sales.

CSCS worked with Dow Chemical Company (Midland, Mich., on this study. The major contributing factors to product damage are inconsistent application of packaging material, and limited and inappropriate use of stabilization devices (dunnage) in trailers. The study looked at more than 28,000 unit loads in 866 shipments of dry, chilled and frozen goods. Auditing took place at manufacturers' warehouses, customers' distribution centers and retail store receiving docks.

"Manufacturers trying to get products to the store shelf without damage," says Joe Laehu, market manager for industrial and consumer packaging at Dow, "should be taking a closer look at how they unitize the load."

Nothing new about that, says Ralph Rupert, director, Center for Unit Load Design (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., "We've been saying that—and offering alternatives—for years as the best way to lessen damage."

Rupert says, while he's not had time to analyze the findings of this report, the numbers and amounts of damage cited are impressive. "If you look at the number shipments per truck, you can see there was damage in nearly all of the trucks. And more than 14% of the unit loads were not even wrapped to pallets."

"Key findings of the study," says Mike Rawlins, director of performance research systems for CSCS, "are that prevalent types of damage to unit loads include shifting, ripped or loose packaging, crushing, water damage and infestation—all scenarios that can be minimized by proper use of the right unitization technology."

Here are a few other findings that fly in the face of good material handling practices:

  • Nearly 48% of the shipments had no stabilization devices within the trailer;
  • Nearly 39% of unit loads did not fit effectively within the pallet footprint;
  • Nearly 9% of unit loads that had stretch wrap exhibited wrap issues that promote poor stabilization and damage.

How does all this translate into dollars? Poorly wrapped unit loads account for $388 million damage. As they point out, this does not include the impact of unit loads with no wrap or unitizing technology, or shipment stabilization improvements via proper dunnage use.

Certainly that's not chicken feed. So, what can be done about it? Wrapping and interlocking shipping units would help reduce spills and shifting in transit. Attaching the unit load to the pallet would greatly reduce shifting and improve errors such as overhang and underhang.

When it comes to wrapping a load, machines do a better, more consistent job than hand wrapping, hands down. Proper adjustments to the machinery, such as pre-stretch settings and maintenance are critical.

In the end, however, the key way to improve unit load handling is education. Whether employees are hand wrapping, machine wrapping or floor-loading the trailer, proper knowledge of the job, and its consequences, can reduce damage, which goes straight to the bottom line.

Clyde Witt has been reporting on transport packaging issues and trends for more than 20 years.

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