1. What is the difference between Package Performance testing and Package Integrity testing?

  2. Generally speaking, package performance testing is a quantitative analysis meaning that there are numbers involved. This assumes that one knows the fragility of the product in terms of peak transmitted deceleration tolerable, and the natural or resonant frequencies of the product. In this case, package performance testing consists of exciting the product/package system by means of impacts and vibration in order to determine that (1) the transmitted deceleration levels during impact are below product agility, and (2) that the package system attenuates vibration input at product natural frequencies. Both of these are quantitative functions and require monitoring of the product during the test.

    Package integrity testing is a qualitative function in that there is no requirement to monitor the product during the test and the results of the test are a Pass/fail analysis based on the condition of the product following test completion. This test represents an attempt to bring the distribution environment hazards into the laboratory and to subject the product/package system to an intense version of that input. Both the input itself, its severity level, and its sequence anticipated during the distribution environment are important.

  3. What is a package system?

  4. The package system is any device that contains and protects the contents from the harmful effects of distribution, or protects the environment from the potential harmful effects of the product. A typical package system can range anywhere from a minimal polymer bag to a very sophisticated and expensive system. All package systems are designed around a particular set of product specific requirements.

  5. Why test a package system?

  6. The simple fact is that this question has already been answered. If you ship something, it will in fact be tested. The distribution environment will see to it. The only question remaining is "who will see the results first, you or your client?"

    Testing of a completed or prototype package system is an easy and simple way to help guarantee successful delivery of your product without costly over packaging. By subjecting the product/package system to a standard group of test procedures, you can accurately determine its ability to withstand the rigors of distribution, shipping, and storage. You can easily and conveniently compare different materials, suppliers, designs, and a host of other variables that would require much time and high costs. Package shipping tests are also a required part product protocols, primarily medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

    In today's global economy, package testing is considered a required component of all new product development for most companies.

  7. Who writes typical package test specifications?

  8. Most package test specifications used routinely in the United States come from one of two sources: ASTM (American Society For Testing and Materials), or ISTA (International Safe Transit Association). The ASTM standards come from a committee that meets twice a year and is divided into subcommittees for various topic related purposes. These are considered consensus standards in that any negative input that is considered viable can result in a standard not being issued. On the other hand, the ISTA standards come from a technical committee of the organization. While they are not truly a consensus standard, they do represent the best thoughts and views of professionals in this industry. Both sets of package testing standards are considered extremely valuable and are widely utilized. In many cases, they are considered interchangeable.

    Many international standards also exists. However, many of these are nearly identical to those found in the United States.

  9. What does a typical package test consists of?

  10. There are two primary types of package testing conducted regularly. The first is package integrity testing (see above) wherein an attempt is made to bring the hazards of the distribution environment into the laboratory in a concentrated format, subject the product/package system to that input sequence, and evaluate the results. The second type of test is referred to as a package performance test and consists of monitoring a fragile product with accelerometers, packaging the unit in the intended container system, and subjecting it to impacts and vibration (among other inputs). The results of this quantitative test will tell the designer of the package system whether or not it will properly protect a product of known fragility in a given distribution environment.

    The typical package integrity or package performance test would consist of a series of impacts (drops), vibration, temperature and humidity, altitude, top load compression, and similar.

  11. When does the package do its job?

  12. In general, the package functions during product distribution, storage, and delivery. There are some products - cosmetics in particular - were the primary package continues to function throughout the lifecycle of the product itself.

  13. What are the "hazards" of the distribution environment?

  14. The so-called hazards of the distribution environment consist of those inputs likely to cause damage to a product. Typical of these hazards are impacts (shock) normally from manual handling, vibration (from vehicles in which the product rides), compression (from stacking of products in vehicles and in warehouses), temperature and humidity (from typical outdoor exposure), and pressure differentials (from shipping to higher altitude levels in both truck and aircraft). There are other less common hazards including dust, ultraviolet light, corrosive atmospheres, and similar.

  15. What defines an "optimum" package and how do we know when that has been achieved?

  16. An "optimum package system" is one that provides just enough protection for the product in the intended distribution environment without expensive over packaging. Clearly, in order to achieve this, one must have knowledge of the fragility levels of the product and the amount of protection afforded by the package system. This is a quantitative function and thus requires package performance testing as previously described. Furthermore, it requires that fragility testing be conducted on the product in order to quantify its fragility level to environment hazards.

    It's important to recognize that most protective packaging in developed countries is really "over packaging" representing a huge waste of material, time, cost, and scrap. The reason that most products are over packaged is because fragility testing is not commonly conducted and therefore a package integrity test (qualitative) is normal. This results in a pass/fail analysis and no understanding of the “headspace” or amount of over packaging is ever determined. Westpak highly recommends product fragility analysis and package performance testing as the best method to achieve "optimum" packaging.

  17. What test procedures (specs) are most appropriate for my product/package system?

  18. Different products, different distribution environments, and different requirements all demand different test inputs and therefore different test specifications. Westpak would be happy to assist anyone interested in further defining their test specification requirements for a given product.

  19. What role does packaging play in Supply Chain Management or Logistics?

  20. Logistics, or more recently, Supply Chain Management, has come to mean the control of all movement of a product from your supplier’s supplier to your customer’s customer. Thus, it really means control over the storage, transportation, distribution, and other functions associated with building a product and getting it to the intended customer. It has been shown repeatedly that without control over the package design, Logistics is haphazard at best. Without control over Logistics, Supply Chain Management is a myth. When viewed in this light, it's obvious that packaging design is the foundation of Supply Chain Management. In addition, without a well-designed package test protocol, you really have no idea of the quality or value of the package system.

  21. How can package testing improve the environmental impact or sustainability of my product/package system?

  22. It's no secret that about 30% of the typical landfill consists of packaging related materials. Most package systems and components complete their job once the product is delivered in good condition. After that point, the package is considered surplus and refuge. By designing a package system so that it is easily reusable and recyclable, a huge amount of waste can be avoided at little or no cost. In addition, substituting materials that are easily compostable will serve to improve our overall environment in substantial ways. Lots of other possibilities exist as well. It behooves us to pay attention to our stewardship of the earth's natural resources before they are irreversibly depleted. Package design can play a huge role in this regard. Please don't overlook it.