Doing everything possible to ensure parcels arrive at their destinations in top condition is one of the mail center's most important functions. The consequence of a bad packaging decision could mean not only a damaged product, but a damaged reputation.


With so many packaging options to choose from, how do you select the right type of packaging? In terms of making purchasing decisions, there are three main factors: performance, total costs (including some hidden ones) and customer satisfaction. 


Find a Packaging Partner

The right packaging company will partner with you to ensure your packing selections correctly match your needs. Look for a company with consultative sales representatives who will help you determine the most cost-effective packaging method. Training should also be available for mail center staff to ensure the packaging products you choose are used in an effective and efficient way. And lastly, check to make sure the company you use has local distributors that offer a full line of packaging materials and systems in case your needs change in the future. Your packaging partner can be a great asset to your mail center operation while maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.


Count the Hidden Costs

Cost is always important when determining what types of protective packaging to purchase. Of course, you need to consider material costs as well, but there are other hidden costs associated with packaging that are frequently overlooked.  For example, if you use bulky packaging, such as peanuts, you need to provide adequate storage space. If you are storing on the premises, that storage space is no longer available as work space, which could mean having to move to a larger work space in the future. If you need to store material off site, you are not only paying for the storage space, but also the time and labor to pick it up and deliver it.


Always consider how easy the package is to assemble and open. Cartons need to be set up and taped together, which can mean added labor in the packaging process.


When shipping fragile items, it is common to over-pack or use excess material to protect the item.  Significant cost savings may be achieved by using more effective and efficient packaging materials. You also avoid paying for excess material. Postage costs may drop as a result because the item is lighter without the extra packaging. If the wrong type of packaging material is used to protect a package, even over-packing will not ensure the item's safety during shipment.


The wrong packaging material can raise costs in other ways too. Many companies incur unnecessary costs by maintaining a large inventory of carton sizes and varieties. With the correct packaging, the process can often be streamlined to a minimum number of carton sizes which simplifies material handling. Additionally, smaller boxes are less expensive to ship.


Match the Solution to Your Needs

With the wide variety of packaging materials on the market today, what packaging solution best suits your needs? Below is a brief overview of the uses and benefits of some common mail center packaging options.


  •            Air Cellular Cushioning material is an effective, general-purpose packaging solution. It uses entrapped air as a cushion to protect products from damage. The more air the material has to start with and the better it retains that air over time and under pressure, the better the protection. 


    Air cellular material is available in a variety of grades and sizes. In terms of grades, the cushioning material comes in heavy, medium and light-duty performance options. These grades indicate the strength of the bubbles. Heavy duty is for fragile or valuable products with long or unpredictable distribution cycles. Medium duty is intended for light- to medium-weight, less-fragile products with short or more predictable distribution cycles. Light duty is for void fill and cushioning lightweight, rugged products with short, predictable distribution cycles.


    The most important factor in cushioning performance is the material's ability to retain air. Air cellular material should be manufactured with a layer that retains air and maintains its original thickness providing longer-lasting cushioning protection. Within the different air cellular grades, there are different heights that impact performance for specific packaging applications.


  •            Inflatable Packaging is becoming a more popular option for void fill and light-cushioning protection. Cushions are inflated as required, eliminating the need for bulky storage containers.


                For example, a 10"-wide roll of un-inflated material yields up to 375-cubic-feet of dunnage material after inflation the equivalent of 26, 14-cubic-foot bags of loose fill material. Inflatable packaging is also clean, eliminating loose fill mess or dust to clean up. Air-filled packaging is also generally lighter than other traditional packaging materials, thereby reducing shipping costs.


  •            Protective Mailers can be the ideal packaging solution for small parcel shipping applications. Cushioned mailers are an excellent choice for items that require maximum protection during shipping. They can have paper, polyethylene foam or air cellular cushioning material inside to provide protection.


                Non-cushioned mailers are paper or plastic based and an excellent choice for mailing catalogs, clothing and non-fragile items. Rigid mailers are kraft-laminated fiber board that provide superior corner and edge protection to ensure that important documents, photos and books arrive in perfect condition.


                Protective mailers can be used as a lower-cost alternative to more expensive packaging such as labor-intensive cartons and Tyvek envelopes. An additional benefit is that mailers can also be ordered with company logos or other specialized graphics for corporate or brand promotions.A variety of paper packaging materials are excellent void fill products for dunnage applications. They also can serve as surface protection and light-duty cushioning. Several brands are made from 100% recycled paper and are recyclable with mixed paper.


  •            Wadding Material features multiple layers of pliable tissue that provide excellent edge protection. They can also contain liquid spills in the package, preventing the carton from weakening during shipment. A non-abrasive surface protects against scratching and marring.


  •            Kushion Kraft Packaging Materials for packaging rugged products serve as efficient, resilient void fill for dunnage applications. The indented Kraft piles "spring back"       after repeated impact providing long-term cushioning. High tensile and tear strength resist tears and punctures for shipping products with sharp edges or protrusions.


    Consider Your Customers' Preferences

    After you've analyzed your packaging needs, it's also important to consider what your customer wants. People appreciate the tear strips found on many mailers. Keep in mind, too, that many people receiving packages in their homes and offices do not want to clean up the packaging materials.


    Once you've considered packaging performance, evaluated hidden costs such as material handling or the risk of damage and taken customer needs into account, you're well on the way to establishing an effective packaging operation for your company's mail center.


    Andy Brewer is vice president of Marketing, Packaging Product Division, Sealed Air Corporation. For additional information call 800-648-9093.

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