What Spec Case Do I Need: A Better Way to Respond

Confused Customer

“Can you tell me what spec box I need?” – is a fair question from a packaging buyer to a sales representative.

“Hmm, err” – a common but poor response.

Providing an answer is hard for salespeople. The easy way out is by offering heavier-weight packaging. This is a bad solution – more material, energy, and cost.

“It depends”- would be an accurate answer. The performance of corrugated packaging is dependent on many factors.

We review the common factors to cause uncertainty to help identify a better approach. To find what steps can help buyers buy and which technologies may help.

Step One – What is the performance required?

Let’s start by thinking inside and outside the box.

What is the weight, fit, and fragility of the contents inside the box?

Is the strength coming from the box, the contents or both?

And is there a risk of puncture of the box from the inside?

The outside of the box meets the environment and will experience changeable conditions. Highs and lows of temperature and humidity alter performance.

Many boxes, once filled with a product, pack onto a pallet. The stacking method, pattern, accuracy, and overhangs all have an effect. The greatest load requires aligned vertical sides throughout. The whole case base must sit on the pallet. Cases weaken over time under load or if vibrated. Warehouse practice to double stack pallets increases the load to support.

Carrier networks are at the other end of the spectrum of predictability. Some say a journey into the unknown. Imagine the back of a van during the last few delivery miles. Unfortunately, most cases will fail if a lawnmower is thrown on top.

Gathering data about the service life of the case helps refine specifications. It is also an argument against collecting and re-using boxes because they degrade.

Step Two – Design

Design specification sets what to manufacture. Collect the style, size, material and options (such as printing). It helps to know the intended contents.

Common styles are glued cases (such as 0201), folded cases (such as 0427), wraps (like 0409) and envelopes. Changing the design, material, or dimensions alters the strength of the container. Printing weakens a case. Likewise, variable height scoring, shelf-ready perforations, or handle cut-outs.

Step Three – Materials

The primary material (paper, containerboard, liner or medium) is organic matter. Strength comes from fibres: the individual plant cells and the links between them. But cells are not uniform, and neither is the resultant board. Recycling paper breaks the organic matter into smaller pieces. The ‘virgin’ fibres get shorter, the resulting material more uneven and weaker. Each recycling degrades it further.

The fluting also defines performance. A series of flattened triangles is not uniform. The starch joins, the air gaps and the multi-layer nature make it difficult to model.

Then there is the use of nominal values in board descriptions. “125KTB” no longer means two 125gsm sheets (one Kraft, one Test paper) sandwiching a 5mm flute. It reflects performance within a range and depends on current sourcing and production.

In summary, many factors affect a case’s expected and actual strength. Some elements are predictable, and others not. Corrugated is strong and light compared to other materials but not uniform. Calculating performance can be complex and is not perfect.

Advice given by salespeople is unlikely to be accurate without help. Still, customers have a right to a suitable product. The industry can do better at establishing requirements and finding solutions.

Making things better

Major brands procuring significant volumes can adopt a whole supply chain approach. Involving designers in finding small changes to uncover big savings makes sense. Box testing checks that the cases reach the required performance. This avoids costly mistakes. Certifications from bodies such as the ISTA make sense.

Yet many buyers do not have this help when forming their choices. Even those who go on to test performance may start their journey without advice. Those wanting smaller quantities never get help. Merchants selling stock boxes provide generic guidance. At 5kg consider a double wall.

It is in the seller’s interest to be able to tell customers what to use. It demonstrates knowledge and builds relationships. Proper specification gains customer satisfaction and avoids disputes. It also improves profits. Lightweighting is good for the environment. Plus, it cuts costs to meet budgets and creates opportunities for more profit.

We need tools to guide both seller and buyer. They should be simple to use, quick and cheap. By providing these, we can democratise access to the right packaging.

As we have highlighted, the product and its operational environment are complex. It is unreasonable always to consider every factor. Yet addressing the bigger issues moves the whole market forward.

Introducing software when collecting requirements can help. Some things are always known – dimensions and contents weight, for example. Calculations using this can rule out unsuitable containers. Basic checks avoid wasted design time later on. Salespeople can help customers get closer to an appropriate specification.

Of course, we should not ignore the price of the product. Putting pricing with specification means buyers can move forward faster. It helps them know they have identified and compared all options.

Packaging.ai specialises in helping sales progress. Our software collects information to help both buyers and sellers. Ruling out bad options early. It helps assess styles and materials against requirements. It provides costing to compare to customer budgets.

We are looking for collaboration partners in corrugated manufacturing.

We value expertise and welcome input and exchange. We offer early access to tools to help sellers and buyers achieve better. 

Interested in what we are doing? Please get in touch for a chat.

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