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Data-Driven Packaging Solutions: Prepare for Success with the Right Directions

Data-Driven Packaging Solutions: Prepare for Success with the Right Directions

By James Bisha

Taking your packaging system to the next level? You’ll only get there efficiently if you know the facts. Sure, you can rely on hard data – the numbers don’t lie, right? Well, not exactly. The often elusive “soft” data – uncovered by supply chain mapping, a thorough understanding of product fragility, and the desired customer experience – can make the difference between going the distance or falling short.


Like anyone else, packaging engineers need to know where they’re going

It stands to reason that a package engineering project with defined goals needs precise information to achieve them. Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization practice relies on data that falls into two categories – hard and soft. Bringing these divergent yet essential data sets together allows our engineers to arrive at the best possible solution.


Hard data are the sort of cut-and-dry business facts found in various financial systems.


Soft data can be challenging to find but crucial for project success.


There are three primary types of packaging projects that Chainalytics usually addresses –  packaging cost reduction, product damage reduction, and new product introduction support. Let’s take a look at how both hard and soft data are essential to ensure project success.


Packaging Cost Reduction

Using only hard data for these kinds of projects can seem adequate. After all, it’s easy to pick the most expensive packaging component and target it for a cost reduction. However, the component may be an essential element of an engineered packaging system. Changing one part may have unforeseen consequences during implementation without proper testing and analysis. The packaging system may alter the natural frequency, leading to a more significant vibrational input into the product. Or perhaps the system may not be strong enough to support triple-stacking during over-the-road transport properly. Understanding a product’s weak point and the supply chain that it travels through is critical to evaluating the damage/cost/opportunity trade-offs that companies must consider for a successful project outcome.

For example, a supplier of muffler clamps to a major motorcycle manufacturer decided to make a simple change in their packaging. They replaced the strong, threaded sealing tape on their boxes with less expensive sealing tape. Unfortunately, the supplier conducted no testing before making the change.

As a result, the packages failed when the muffler clamps inside made contact and cut the new tape. That often happened during manual handling on the client’s manufacturing line, spilling 200 muffler clamps across the factory floor and halting production each time.

Product Damage Reduction

Reducing product damage can be achieved by optimizing distribution handling methods,  improving packaging system designs, re-engineering products, or changing transit modes. Focusing on any one of these areas with only hard data is going to create a scattered approach. The easy thing to do is blame the carrier. So the company will switch to another carrier for the sixth time in two years – not comprehending that if all the carriers are damaging the product in a similar way, it’s most likely not a carrier problem.

Soft data can enable a comprehensive approach. The company can conduct root-cause analysis and expose the sources of the damage. A conversation can then be had about the cost/benefit trade-off between improving packaging, improving the product, and/or improving handling risks in the distribution network. Often, this becomes a multi-tactic approach, with damage reduced by addressing the root cause or causes. Different priorities are then determined based on ease of implementation, cost of change, and impact to the end consumer. This approach evaluates the problem from a supply chain perspective and looks at the total cost of ownership and not just a single element of the problem, making sure the fix isn’t based on “knee-jerk” reactions.

New Product Introduction Support

Product development that includes innovative packaging design helps to ensure an optimized system. Hard data may drive a company to ship their products without the castors installed to allow triple stacking within a sea container. Soft data will reveal that the bottom deck board must be precisely spaced to prevent a pallet from bouncing down a warehouse’s conveyor. Other soft data may drive the implementation of a pallet with four-way access to satisfy a large customer’s material handling requirements.

For example, Chainalytics worked with a major fitness equipment manufacturer who wanted to ship a weight bench and associated parts via small parcel carriers. By adjusting the packaging system design, the manufacturer stayed within FedEx and UPS girth limits and avoided a $150 surcharge per shipment. A minor re-engineering of the product – allowing the end-consumer to do some at-home assembly – reduced package size, thus avoiding the surcharge.


About the Author

Winter 2004. Wegmans. That is when it hit me. As a packaging engineer, I know nothing about how all these packaged products got to the store. Ever since that moment, I have pursued the path of distribution packaging.

My first stop was grad school at V.T., studying within the Center for Unit Load Design. They taught me how to optimize distribution packaging materials for F100 supply chains, primarily focusing on boxes, stretch film, pallets, and material handling systems. My research focused on load stabilization, specifically stretch film.

After graduation, I headed to Ongweoweh (pallet broker) and took a position as their Director of Unit Load Technology. I helped to expand their product offerings to include stretch film, audit their current customer base to find cost-saving opportunities, and act as both their new business on-boarding auditor and their front line of defense for product quality issues. Recommendations were made, and solutions were implemented, but eventually, I wanted more design, more materials, and more product variety.

I am currently at ABF Freight, creating innovative packaging solutions that can withstand the normal rigors of the LTL distribution environment. Packaging design for LTL can be complicated. The materials and concepts are relatively standard, but the application can be difficult depending on product size, weight, budget, and/or fragility. The learning curve was steep. It was fun.

Currently, I am toying with the idea of looking for my next adventure but the path is not obvious. Do I go back into the primary packaging environment and apply my knowledge? or do I move forward into supply chain analysis and try and optimize from a different perspective? Not sure to be honest. I am looking forward to seeing what life brings.

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