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Packaging: How to protect your shipment effectively?

by Renaud Anjoran

Many importers forget to specify how their products should be packed. And, every year, tons of products arriving from China are thrown away because they were not adequately protected.

Adequate packaging protects the goods in many ways during shipment. The bottom cartons might get crushed, some cartons might open up, products might get wet and become rusty or moldy, etc.

Importers face a tradeoff:

  • A “lighter” packing will be cheaper, but will protect the products less effectively.
  • A “very strong” packing will be more expensive and will (usually) represent higher volume & weight.

I made a list of elements that I think are critical:

1. Cardboard quality

Most buyers of consumer goods ask for strong corrugated cartons with double wall (5 plies). This is really the minimum I advise.

The type of cardboard commonly used in China is of low quality, and tends to suck humidity pretty rapidly. You should take this into account and ask for thick cardboard.

Triple wall (7 plies) cartons are not unusual, especially when export cartons need to be large (example: more than 60cm in length). Smaller cartons always offer better protection.

This is what a double wall looks like:

If you want to specify your requirements in further details, here are a few pointers:

  • There are grades for cardboard quality. For example, B/C (B for the outside layer, and C for inside layer) is common.
  • There are many standards for free-fall carton drop tests, for stacking strength, for bursting strength, and so on. Quality assurance agencies can help you define a testing plan if you are serious about this.

2. Carton dryness

You do not want wet cartons to be loaded in a container. Not only do you run the risk of receiving rusty/moldy products, but also the bottom row of cartons might get crushed under the weight they have to support.

Note that the inner packing, or the products themselves, might be humid. This is not unusual when production takes place in China, Vietnam, or India… Particularly during the rainy season.

There are a few solutions to this problem. Desiccants can be placed inside the cartons. Some products might have to go through an oven, or rest in a dry room (with air conditioning or with a dehydrator running), before packing.

3. Carton size

Cartons should be neither too full nor too empty.

In the photo below, the products need to pushed down before cartons can be closed. Sometimes manufacturers under-estimate the size of their finished products, especially with garments. The result is often wrinkled clothing that needs to be ironed…

This is a reason why you need to ask for photos of the packing, and give feedback to your supplier. (And here is another reason for that.)

4. Bands and sealing

How to reduce the risk of cartons opening up during transportation?

For example by applying nylon bands around them, as shown below.

5. Pallets

The cartons will be better protected, and probably easier to move around, if they are on pallets and wrapped in plastic. Extra points if they are strapped as shown below.

You will also save a lot of time when emptying the container, if you have the right equipment.

Note: if the products are shipped by air, you might want the factory to use plastic pallets (much lighter but more expensive) or even slip sheets (very light and flatter, but requires special equipment on both ends of the chain).

6. Extra protection along edges and corners

Sometimes a wood protection is applied as below.

Note that this is also possible for protecting the retail packing inside the export carton, with cardboard instead of wood:

7. Inner cartons inside the export carton

One outer carton often contains several inner cartons, as below.

This solution offers double protection for the products.

8. Other ways to avoid bad surprises

I have three other pieces of advice:

  • Avoid LCL shipments by sea if you can (more information about LCL vs. FCL here).
  • Give a loading plan to your supplier (heaviest items at the bottom)
  • Appoint a quality assurance agency for a loading check.

Any other tips?

And do you think the main risk with packaging is damages to products? Or do you think more money is lost because of excessive packaging, as Kevin Howard believes?

Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on

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