To protect products and materials during transport, distribution and storage, a variety of packaging types is available. In warehouse and manufacturing applications, packaging includes containers, protective dunnage, unitizing materials that hold several items together to form a complete load, and pallets that provide a stable platform for transport. All of these packaging components come in varying sizes, shapes and materials, depending on the items or products they are protecting. Typical applications include holding and protecting bulk materials, cases, loads or individual items for shipping and receiving, organizing products in static or automated storage systems, and acting as a receptacle to hold picked items for a discrete order.
Barrier protection – Packaging provides a barrier to dust, water, humidity and other contaminants that could potentially harm the contents and decrease their shelf life
Containment – Grouping multiple cases, small objects or bulk materials together aids in both manual and automated handling
Convenience – Packages can have features that add convenience in distribution, handling, stacking, display, opening, reclosing, use, dispensing, reuse, recycling, and ease of disposal
Physical protection – Packaged products are protected from damage caused by dropping, shock, vibration, electrostatic discharge, extreme temperature shifts and impacts
Security – Tamper resistant and tamper evident packaging can reduce the risk of theft, or indicate that damage has occurred during handling
Sustainability – Returnable and reusable packaging can be used repeatedly before it is recycled; some materials are engineered to biodegrade
Assembly: Protect and hold components delivered line-side to a production processes
Automation: Automated systems require standard-sized totes, trays or pans to function
Transportation: Aggregating and protecting loads as they move through the supply chain
Warehousing: Protecting products during storage
Order picking: Holding stored products prior to their delivery to picking areas, and acting as receptacles for picked orders
Common materials include corrugated cardboard, welded wire mesh, metal (including steel and aluminum), corrugated plastic and high density polyethylene (HDPE) which is the material most frequently used in the construction of reusable and returnable containers. The three most common forms of reusable containers are:
Sidewalls can collapse down into the container when empty, or they may not, depending on the design. The walls may be designed with openings or drop doors to permit easier access to contents, and unattached lids or covers are sometimes used. Containers stack when full or empty, with capacities varying depending on the materials used in their construction. Less common are nestable bulk containers (typically used for bulk ingredients), and bulk packs (a collapsible corrugated plastic sidewall unit sandwiched between a pallet base and top cap).
Pallets are generally constructed of wood, plastic or metal (steel or aluminum), pallets provide a portable, horizontal, rigid platform that serves as a base for unit loads. Typically designed with fork entry, an opening between the top and bottom decks, pallets can be handled by fork lift trucks. Pallets are used as a returnable, reusable surface for assembling, storing, stacking, handling and transporting of goods as a unit load. Slave pallets are used in an automated storage system.
Pallets come in a variety of sizes—both standard and custom—with certain industries standardizing their operations around a specific dimension, such as the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA). When empty, pallets can be nested or stacked.
Dunnage is the materials or devices used in the securing and/or bracing of products during shipments. These can include reusable, pre-formed foam inserts with custom sizes and shapes cut or punched out to hold components prior to their installation on the assembly line. Since it’s impractical for most facilities to stock multiple container sizes to accommodate shipping different product weights and sizes, most items get shipped in boxes that are too big. Void fill—crumpled paper, flowable peanuts (polystyrene or biodegradable materials) or inflatable air pillows—fills the open spaces and protects the contents from damage during shipping. Still other, larger-scale dunnage can be used to prevent shifting and contact between unit loads in a trailer, shipping container or railcar.
Materials that hold several items together to form a complete load. They can be applied as a tie down, or means to secure a load to a pallet, These include:
Stretch film is a roll-based, plastic film. Tensioned and stretched manually or mechanically as it is wrapped around a unit load, the film holds and secures the load to the pallet.
Shrink wrap is a plastic film that shrinks tightly over the item or load it is carrying when heat is applied to it.
Strapping made from low and medium carbon steel, hot roller high tension steel, polyester, nylon and polypropylene.