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transport testing of packages

Benefits of lab-based packaging tests over delivery truck trials

Why is it preferable to conduct packaging transportation tests in a laboratory rather than ship tests in a delivery truck?

Organizations utilize a wide variety of testing methods for transportation packaging, selected based on specific needs. These tests, aimed at demonstrating packaging durability, may arise from customer requirements, distribution chain needs, quality systems or various standards.

Companies use both their own methods and those based on international standards for testing. Standard-based methods are rapidly growing, partly due to the surge in online commerce and the need to optimize packaging costs.

For example, the standards developed by the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) since 1948 are among the most common methods for testing transportation packaging.

However, a typical current testing method involves letting the distribution chain itself conduct the testing and hoping for the best. In the best case, “no news is good news,” but in the worst case, the packaging is damaged, the product is broken, the recipient is distressed, and the brand image takes a hit.

Another relatively common method is conducting individual field tests/test shipments, the actual shipment of samples through distribution, with a delivery truck. While there’s nothing wrong with using a delivery truck for testing, and it can have its place in the testing palette, it should not be the primary testing method but rather one tool among many.

There are several disadvantages to field shipment testing with delivery trucks:

  • It is expensive and time-consuming
  • It is not repeatable
  • It is not very reliable
  • Results are not comparable
  • It does not conform to standards, and therefore, cannot be certified.

Does that sound harsh? Let’s see why it is not the top choice for transportation testing:

A) We can never guarantee that the environmental conditions during distribution testing will be the same on each test day. Temperature, humidity, and driving conditions vary with the seasons. In laboratory conditions, these can be precisely controlled.

B) There are many variables, from weather to the driver; the driving style of a twenty-something may significantly differ from that of someone in their fifties. It’s hard to compare.

C) The driving route and time can vary. Vehicles and even the road profile with its vibrations and impacts can differ. Again, this is bad for repeatability and comparability.

D) Package damages are only visible after testing, making it hard to analyze and identify causes, which compromises reliability.

E) Controlling the testing situation in a delivery truck is nearly impossible, and the test cannot be interrupted once it has started.

All these factors become problematic because, as we know, testing should be reliable, repeatable and comparable.

Reliable testing in the laboratory

👉 In contrast, laboratory testing can be conducted more quickly and efficiently. Tests can be monitored closely and continuously, allowing for real-time observation of dangers and causes of damage.

Test situations are controllable, unlike in testing performed in a delivery truck. Laboratory tests can be conducted according to standards, and packaging can be certified and/or validated as necessary to demonstrate compliance.

Understanding the real dangers of the distribution environment is important

It’s naturally important for packaging professionals to understand the hazards faced by their product in logistics and the performance of packaging materials. This can be ensured by closely studying the real dangers in the distribution environment that their packaging encounters or could potentially encounter.

Therefore, conducting delivery truck testing as an addition to controlled laboratory testing can sometimes be justified. It is a potential supplement to laboratory testing for assessment purposes. Trial shipments might serve to evaluate and confirm laboratory tests, enhance trust in laboratory outcomes and criteria, and to identify potential hazard combinations or unexpected risks that were not foreseen during the creation of the lab procedures.

However, these test shipments should not replace laboratory tests, as they might not accurately reflect real-world conditions over an extended period. They should also be carefully planned in advance, with clear criteria set and considerations on what is to be achieved, just like any other packaging testing.

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