Reducing Product Damage in the Supply Chain – Here’s How

Increased product damage can result from lightweight packages and increased unit load heights if precautions are not taken.

Product overhang is associated with crush damage.

Product overhang is associated with crush damage.

Package lightweighting has been front and center in the efforts of organizations to reap supply chain sustainability improvements and cost savings. This trend has the potential to provide a range of benefits in terms of reducing material and shipping costs. Likewise, adding an extra layer or two of product to a unit load can also dramatically reduce shipping costs and related greenhouse gas impacts. It is important, however, to take necessary steps so that increased product damage does not negate the savings associated with these changes.

When such packaging improvements are made, it is good practice to follow a process of not only laboratory testing, but also monitoring in the supply chain as well, says Gene Bodenheimer, managing director, retail logistics damage research at GENCO.

“Laboratory testing is very important,” observes Bodenheimer, “but it is equally important to monitor packaging to see how it performs in the real world. As good as some of the testing simulations are, there is a lot that happens in the real world that cannot be simulated.” He says that sometimes, anticipated savings are wiped out by damage and waste which occurs in the supply chain.

Some products, Bodenheimer notes, are more amenable to lightweighting than others. Products that have their own inherent compression strength, such as boxes of powdered laundry detergent, for example, would be a better candidate for lightweighting than a very fragile product that could be easily crushed, such as bags of potato chips or boxes of first aid bandages.

If you are looking to curb damage in your supply chain, Bodenheimer explains, it starts with understanding “The what, the why, and the so what,”. In other words, it begins with identifying the nature of the damage, determining why it is being caused through a root cause analysis, and then developing a corrective action plan to resolve the problem. Resolving this issue can be more complicated than it might seem. Each step of the process from packaging design to manufacturing, distribution and retail can present its own risks of damage.

The most common type of damage identified by GENCO’s damage research team is that of compression damage. Other notable types of damage are caused by rips, tears, and punctures.


Understanding the Performance Characteristics of Corrugated

Bodenheimer notes that there is a variety of choices when it comes to corrugated packaging selection, depending upon the requirement of the application. Corrugated board comes in four flute pattern sizes and a range of wall construction thickness. One thing to keep in mind is that 75 percent of corrugated container stacking strength is over the corners. If boxes are not in vertical alignment due to poor stacking practices or subsequent movement, the risk of compression damage is increased.

An additional consideration, corrugate loses 40 percent of its strength by the end of its first month in storage. Also of note, environmental conditions can also take a toll on container performance. Corrugate strength is reduced by 71 percent at 95 percent humidity compared to its strength at 50 percent humidity.

Product feeling the squeeze of too much tension.

Product feeling the squeeze of too much tension.

Leading Causes of Product Damage

While compression is the leading type of product damage, the causes of product damage are numerous. Stretch wrap can be applied too tightly or too loosely – the latter leading to shifting of loads in transit. Misaligned boxes that are not able to take advantage of column stacking strength can also suffer compression damage.

Likewise, unit loads of product that overhang the pallet (extend horizontally over the ends of the pallet) may result in compression damage where the overhang occurs, while unit loads that underhang the pallet (not taking up the full deck of the pallet) will be more prone to shifting.

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