By Maegan Burkhart
Do you want your products to be “dead on arrival” because they were irreparably damaged during shipment?
Imaging working with your supplier to manufacture a pristine, high-quality product that meets all your expectations and specifications. But when you receive the shipment in your warehouse, you find the shipping cartons have fallen apart and the goods inside are damaged beyond repair. The shipment you expected to be profitable is now unsellable.
Never assume your supplier will automatically take the necessary steps to protect your products with the appropriate packaging. Once a shipment leaves their facility, many suppliers think they’re no longer accountable for any issues that arise during shipping and handling.
So how can you verify packaging quality to ensure your products are protected? The answer may be simpler than you think.
One of the best ways to ensure your packaging meets your quality standards and protects your products inside is by conducting a carton drop test. You or your QC team can easily implement a carton drop test in any pre-shipment packaging inspection plan (related: Packaging Inspection Guideline [eBook]).
Who needs to conduct a carton drop test?
Any importers concerned about product or packaging quality should consider including a carton drop test, or package drop test, in their pre-shipment inspection plan. The test is appropriate for orders with goods shipped in standard-sized, corrugated master cartons. Shipments wrapped in plastic or other packaging materials should be tested using other packaging standards.
Through a series of drops, a carton drop test simulates the shipping environment during which packaged goods may be subject to damage. The testing results reveal how rough handling might damage packaging materials and forecast any potential damage to your product that might occur (related: 3 Reasons Your Product Won’t Reach Customers in the Right Condition).
The carton drop test is a regular part of packaging inspection that professional QC inspectors use to evaluate packaging quality. It’s one of the easiest packaging tests to conduct and requires minimal equipment, formal training and time. An inspector usually conducts this test by dropping the carton a total of 10 times from a certain height.
If your shipping cartons are too large to easily pick up and drop, you might need to hire a certified laboratory to conduct package testing with specialized equipment (related: 9 Lab Tests for Packaging That Could Save Your Products).
Packaging drop test standards
Following an international standard for package testing helps ensure your inspectors conduct tests consistently from one inspection to the next. This is particularly important if you’re hiring a third-party inspection company and cannot feasibly test your products and packaging on your own (related: Why Most Importers Don’t Conduct Product Inspection Themselves).
Many international entities have developed their own packaging drop test standards, which vary slightly in procedure and applicability. The two most common packaging drop test standards include:
- International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) ISTA’s A1 procedure: This standard is applicable for packaged-products weighing 150 lb (68 kg) or less
- American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) ASTM D5276 – 98 (2017): This standard is applicable for containers weighing 110 lb (50 kg) or less
If you’re booking product inspection through a third party, confirm they’re using an international packaging drop test standard first. If so, you can be confident they’re following the below standard procedures and the test results will be reliable. Your inspection company might be able to customize packaging drop test standards with any of your own requirements as well.
Package drop test procedure
If you’re shipping an order with only one SKU, you typically only need to conduct a package drop test on a single, full master carton. This is because packaging methods and materials will likely be consistent across the entire order.
If you’re shipping multiple SKUs, you should conduct a carton drop test on one of each of the different SKU master cartons. You can expect the results of carton drop tests will be the same across SKUs only if:
- The items are similar in form and assembly, differing only in color or artwork, and
- The packaging method is identical across SKUs, including retail packaging and packaging assortment and materials
Your inspector should conduct the carton drop test on two or three different SKUs’ cartons first and record the results. If the results are similar (all cartons pass or all fail), it’s typically unnecessary to continue testing each of the remaining SKUs. Your QC inspector should note in their report which SKUs they conducted the test on for reference.
The only equipment needed to conduct this test is a scale to weigh the carton for testing and determine the appropriate drop height. You or your inspectors can conduct this test in any supplier’s facility with relative ease.
Now let’s look at the five steps for the carton drop test that you or your inspector can do to verify packaging quality.
1. Randomly choose a packaged carton from the available master cartons as a testing sample
If you’re performing package testing in a factory’s facility, random selection ensures you’re getting a representative sample. Your inspection company should have established procedures to ensure inspectors pull cartons randomly and that factories cannot “cherry pick” cartons for inspection.
Choose a carton that has already been packed according to your packaging specifications. All products and packaging inside the carton should have already been inspected for any quality defects or issues. This is so you can ensure that any new defects identified arose from the package drop test itself, not from production.
2. Find a suitable testing area with a flat and hard floor
The carton should not come in contact with any other items during the course of the drop, as this might lead to unreliable results. Using a testing area with a hard floor ensures there’s nothing to cushion the carton’s fall and better simulates shipping conditions
3. Drop the carton from the appropriate height 10 times from different sides
First weigh the carton to determine the appropriate drop test standard height. Most factories should have an industrial scale available on site for inspectors to use.
Then turn the shipping carton so you’re looking directly at a face with the manufacturer’s joint on your right. The manufacturer’s joint is the part of the package where the carton is adhered together, typically with glue, staples, stitching or tape. It’s considered the most fragile part of the carton. If you can’t identify the manufacturer’s joint, position one of the smallest-width faces of the shipping carton directly in front of you.
Drop the carton from the appropriate height and angle according to the table below. Continue to rotate the carton and drop it from each side following the below sequence, until you’ve dropped the carton a total of 10 times.
4. Open the carton and verify the condition of packaging and products inside
A carton fails the carton drop test if any of the following issues are found after the test:
- Significant damage to export cartons
- Significant damage to inner/retail boxes
- Deformation, scratches, dents or other damage to products inside
- Product functionality issues or safety hazards with product and packaging resulting from the test
What constitutes “significant damage” to cartons and boxes?
Some deformation to a cardboard box following the drop test is normal. The corners or edges of the carton might indent slightly, for instance. But all products should still be completely secured inside. A carton passes if there’s, at most, normal deformation to the carton and no damage to the products inside (see adjacent photo).
5. Adjust the carton drop test as necessary
Some buyers may find they need to conduct the test from a greater height or from different angles to test packaging adequately. If this is your first time shipping a certain product or from a certain supplier, you may want to experiment with different packaging drop test standards to ensure your packaging is sufficient.
What if your supplier resists a package drop test during packaging inspection?
Suppliers will sometimes refuse or otherwise resist a package drop test, especially when a third-party inspector will be performing the test. The most common reason for a supplier’s reluctance to allow the test is they think it will damage the products inside. This often requires the factory to rework or manufacture replacement units for those damaged during package testing, delaying shipment and payment for the factory.
But packaging testing is vital because goods arriving in poor condition can create unhappy customers, higher costs and delays for you. Forgoing testing before shipping can also make it hard for you to:
- Diagnose the cause of product damage and
- Hold your supplier accountable if their packaging materials or method are, in fact, responsible for quality problems
Setting clear standards with your supplier ahead of inspection can help prevent resistance on the day of inspection. Consider creating a QC checklist with your inspection requirements, including criteria for your package drop test, and sending it to your supplier.
Your requirement for a package drop test might look similar to following in your QC checklist:
You can include other packaging quality control checks like confirming shipping markings and package assortment in a similar manner.
If your supplier continues to resist a package drop test or any other on-site testing after clarifying your requirements, this might be a red flag. An honest and professional supplier should feel no need to resist inspection if you’ve sufficiently notified them of your requirements in advance (related: What to Do When Factories Resist Third-Party Inspection).
The carton drop test is a standard part of a final, pre-shipment inspection. Before your next inspection, make sure your product inspectors are carrying out a carton drop test at the factory to verify packaging quality. You should be able to see the result of this test each time your inspectors submit their report.
Packaging quality control can often mean the difference between receiving a quality product in new condition and receiving a damaged product that’s unsellable. A carton drop test is just one of the many on-site packaging checks you can consider performing during packaging inspection. Checks for packaging defects and compliance with packaging regulations can also help ensure your packaging meets your requirements.
Maegan Burkhart is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in Asia for clients in the US, EU and Australia.