Packing guidelines to avoid damage in transit
Receiving a new shipment of goods, or hearing that an export has reached its destination safely is arguably the most rewarding part of international trade. This thrill can soon turn into disappointment if the goods did not survive their journey, which is why packing a shipment correctly is an essential link in the chain of fulfillment.
Exporters must bear these major concerns in mind when packing.
- Protection against damage
- Practical limitations
- The nature of the goods
Returning goods, or having a shipment returned due to damage in transit can be a huge burden in terms of time and money. Consider the following as you prepare your goods for transport to avoid the inconvenience and cost of a repeat delivery.
Consider the realities of the journey
Can your boxes withstand stacking and being pressed up against other objects, especially amongst the unknown weight and dimensions of another shipper’s goods in consolidated cargo? If you have breakbulk cargo (not containerised), it will likely be stacked, handled and fastened in a number of ways both with boarding and onboard the vessel, including being carried by a forklift.
While at sea, a ship can move in six different ways as shown below. Before delivery to your freight provider, pack a sample box and re-create these movements as best you can to understand the limitation of your packaging.
If your goods are being sent by plane, make sure it can deal with rapid tilting during take-off and landing. Think ahead and make sure everything inside the packaging is tightly compacted to deal with this scenario.
Once it has arrived at the destination port or terminal, your shipment will inevitably travel to its final destination by road. Can your packaging solution withstand vibration or shocks during road transport and mechanical handling?
Invest in good quality packaging material
Always use double-walled or reinforced boxes specially intended for the weight of your goods. These boxes may be pricey, but the additional cost more than pays for itself in avoided loss due to goods arriving damaged.
No matter how sturdy your box is, if you’re putting fragile goods inside without filling the surrounding space, you are massively increasing the likelihood of damage. A good guideline is to leave 6 cm of space between the goods and the inside of the box. Fill this space with inorganic, lightweight, impact absorbing packaging material such as packing peanuts or air cushions.
General rule of thumb: A shipment can withstand transport if content remains unaffected after dropping a packed box from a height of 1 meter.
Palletising is recommended for larger shipments as it streamlines handling and provides structural security, assuming the goods are properly stacked. Edge protectors, paperboard and shrink wrap can be used to further protect palletised goods
The H-taping method
Even the best box does not suffice as a good packaging solution if it is poorly sealed. Taping your boxes using the H-taping method and high quality packaging tape ensures a good seal which reinforces the box and deters tampering.
Know the packaging requirements of your destination, cargo and method of transport
Pallets come in two standard sizes; 120 x 80 cm and 120 x 100 cm. Regardless of which size pallet is used, the height at which it is packed is limited by the method of transport. For airfreight it is advised not to go over 158cm for the sake accessing the cargo hold. With sea freight you need to stay within the maximum height of the container’s door. This would be 228 cm for a standard GP container and 258cm for high cube containers.
To avoid costly holdups and possible loss of your cargo, be sure to understand the packaging required and the expectations of customs at the place of destination. For example, wooden packaging and pallets are regulated by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to ensure the raw material has been adequately treated for potential pests. Failing to provide proof that wooden packaging meets these regulations can result in the destruction of your entire shipment.
Dangerous or hazardous cargo
The UN and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has set packaging requirements involving a series of protocols to guarantee safety during the transportation and storage of dangerous goods. This involves testing packing material to ensure suitability in the case of each type of hazardous cargo and certifying packaging that is proven suitable.
All cargo considered to be dangerous goods, as well as the classification and packaging requirements thereof can be found in the UN Dangerous Goods list.
To ensure packaging is in line with UN packing requirements, consult the UN specification mark printed on the packaging material or container.
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About the author
Frieda-Marié de Jager
With a degree in design from CPUT, Frieda-Marié started her career in digital and content marketing in 2013. Since joining Import Export License in 2019, she’s created several e-books, guides, blog posts, and newsletters on international trade. On weekends you can find her building Lego with the family, walking her beagle, or whipping up a storm in the kitchen.