125KTB  – what is it really?


125KTB goes hand in hand with FEFCO 0201. A “standard” box made out of “standard” board. FEFCO has done a pretty good job of standardising box styles. Some would argue that styles are limited and human designers can do better. But the benefits of reducing reinvention and raising consistency can’t be ignored. These codified styles are a lingua franca – everyone knows what they mean.

But is 125KTB really a standard?  Changes in pulp quality, paper composition and processing chemicals have eroded the meaning of the most popular board. Corrugated plants are shipping boards with 100gsm liners and 85gsm flutes or less, still labelling it as “nominal 125KTB”. We have even seen reduced calliper – R flutes shipped as B.

The critical question must be whether this practice harms our industry and our customers…

Without board standards, manufacturers and distributors cannot rely on the consistency of the product supplied. Comparing products is meaningless. Apples and oranges come to mind. A box designed and tested using one board may perform quite differently if made from another board ordered as the same.

Even from the same supplier, a first order may use a high specification or “upgraded” batch; with subsequent orders using the normal specification or “standard” batch. The first passes tests with flying colours, whilst the second fails unexpectedly in use.

The ability to compare creates many opportunities. Packaging is optimal where it just meets the service requirement ie it is neither too weak nor too strong. In this way, its economic and environmental costs can be minimised – the latter is the key driver in many of today’s buying decisions.

How could 125KTB be reset to something meaningful today? A standard measure is likely needed at each conversion stage. Performance-driven rather than nominal (such as weight). It also needs simplicity – difficult when demands are not universal, so performance means something different depending on the scenario.

In any case, resistance to static crush is the most assessed characteristic. Cross-directional short-span crush of paper (SCT CD), edge crush of board (ECT) and case compression (BCT) values. This is the principle of the US Box Makers Certificate, which carries ECT and maximum dimensions and contents weight. It is also the approach adopted by the likes of DS Smith, which provides SCT, minimum ECT and PACE codings.

Yet, there are significant challenges. Corrugation combines papers, and the ECT achieved is variable. Production scheduling utilises upgrades to improve efficiency. If each batch requires certification, it will likely need testing off the corrugator, which adds cost and could impact MOQ levels. Do you think these are justified?

Will a standard emerge? And if so, what will it be? In the meantime, how is a comparison made by producers and customers alike?

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