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Product Damage: Carrier Issue or Packaging Issue?

By Dustin Smith, Contributor

Damage to packaging can be caused by improper carrier handling or that the packaging was not designed to survive the carrier’s supply chain.

We recently had a customer that requested our expert opinion on why a product they shipped became damaged. Was the damage because of carrier handling or that the packaging was not designed to survive the carrier’s supply chain?

It was an interesting question that we have seen previously with other customers. In this article, we are going to dive into some of the details as to how to answer this question!

Know your Supply Chain

The first step in developing a packaging solution is understanding the supply chain in which your product is shipped through. This directly impacts the packaging design and testing protocols required to verify a concept. A product shipping on full truck load (FTL) on a company’s existing fleet in comparison to less than truckload (LTL) requires completely different packaging solutions. Too often do we see a customer using the same concept that works shipping FTL but is damaged in an LTL environment and the blame is put on the carrier.

A few questions that are helpful when evaluating a supply chain are outlined below:

  • How is the product stored and handled internally prior to shipment?
  • What machinery is used to transport the packaged product?
    • Fork truck? Hand truck? Clamp truck?
  • If palletized, does the pallet allow for the available machinery to be utilized without special attachments or modifications?
    • Example: Fork truck tine extensions
  • How many hubs will the packaged products go through if shipping LTL?
  • What hazards are to be expected during shipping and handling?
    • Vehicle vibration, forklift handling, horizontal and vertical impacts, drivers clipping curb, etc.

Understand Your Packaging Budget

All companies seek to have 0% damage during shipping but there is a balance between product damage and packaging related costs. It is important to build an expected budget around packaging material, freight and labor costs. Investigating a $100 packaging solution when the product margin only allows for $10 is an incorrect path to explore. Having this information up front narrows down the choices allowable for your specific product.

Designing to the APE System

The first step in developing a packaging solution is understanding the supply chain in which your product is shipped through.

Creating a packaging design meant to survive an FTL or LTL supply chain can be broken down into what BoldtSmith Packaging references as the APE System. Below is a breakdown.

Allow: This references allowing the expected hazards to occur and design the packaging to survive these hazards. For example, we know that shipping a 48”x40” pallet with a flat top surface has a high likelihood to have products stacked on top of it through an LTL supply chain. Knowing this is an expected hazard and allowing it to happen requires packaging needs to be designed to survive this. Pushing back on the carrier when another pallet is stacked on top of your product is not understanding the expected hazards in an LTL environment.

Prevent: This references preventing damage that has a high likelihood of happening to create product damage. For example, it is to be expected that a pallet that has the product overhanging 2” will likely be impacted by another product/pallet or forklift. For this reason, underhang is utilized to prevent this being an issue with creating product damage.

Eliminate: This references eliminating the expected hazards to occur. For example, a 96”x48” pallet is used to ship a product that is extremely heavy on one end and light on the other. This poses two issues with handling. The pallet cannot be a 4-way entry stringer pallet due to the risk of the pallet tipping over when lifting from the openings on the 96” dimension. Also, the pallet should only be lifted from the heavy end, for this reason the pallet would only have an opening on that side. This essentially turns the pallet into a 1-way entry and eliminates the forklift operator from unintentionally causing damage.


After the designs are created, testing needs to occur to verify the design and materials can survive the intended supply chain. This thorough investigation can be broken down into two categories:

  • Lab Testing: Utilizing a lab gives a great baseline using an established testing protocol such as ISTA 3B for an LTL supply chain. It is recommended after passing one of these protocols to complete a more thorough verification by completing ship tests.
  • Ship Testing: Completing ship testing provides the data to have a high confidence level in a specific packaging design. Some of the hazards that occur during shipping are difficult to replicate in a lab environment and for this reason, ship testing provides additional data. It is recommended to be onsite prior to the product shipping and also onsite when the customer receives the product.

It is recommended to create reports and documentation for both lab and ship testing. This information can be sent to the carriers if damage does occur. This provides evidence to the carriers that the design was created and verified to survive the intended supply chain.

It is easy to point the finger at a carrier if your product is damaged during shipping and certainly unexpected hazards do occur. However, it is important to follow the outlined system in how to create and test a packaging solution that allows your carriers to be successful. WMHS

Dustin Smith is the Co-Founder and CEO of BoldtSmith Packaging. BoldtSmith Packaging is a recognized leader in packaging design, testing and optimization (

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