July 2014 | How-To | Ten Tips

Preventing Shipment Damage

Tags: Risk Management, Packaging

While it is impossible to prevent every mishap along the supply chain, shippers can take action to reduce product damage and returns. David Faulkenberry, senior vice president of logistics provider XPO Last Mile, offers these damage prevention tactics.

1. Allow time for testing. Before implementing a widespread rollout of new merchandise, packaging, or providers, test their real-world performance. Send several trial shipments that closely mirror the weight, volume, and nature of the products you'll be shipping.

2. Use impact, shock, or tilt indicators. Attach these inexpensive devices to the outside of boxes to indicate if a shipment has been jolted, mishandled, or improperly loaded. This allows you to identify and resolve damage trends, and assign accountability.

3. Seal the deal and cushion the blow. Seal packages with high-quality, pressure-sensitive plastic tape to ensure they are securely closed and impenetrable to environmental odors and moisture. Place adequate cushioning between products and shipping containers to protect goods from the rigors of handling.

4. Fill the void. Empty space isn't just a problem inside boxes, crates, and pallets. Every significant gap around the perimeter of your packages allows them to shift, fall, or collide with other items during transit. To minimize risk, strive to thoroughly cube container and trailer loads, and use dunnage such as airbags to fill in any remaining spaces.

5. Factor in the boomerang effect. To ensure protection for returned items, make original packages easy to open and reuse so customers won't tear, slice, or otherwise compromise the protective materials when opening the shipment.

6. Opt for air-ride transportation over spring-ride for high-value goods. Repetitive roadway vibration can rub your product the wrong way. Although trucks with air-ride suspension systems can't eliminate the risk of vibration-related abrasions, scuffs, or leaks, they substantially reduce the possibility.

7. Don't cut corners on box-cutter training and package-opening instructions. Educate receiving and delivery workers on safely wielding box cutters to avoid scratches, rips, and other costly product damage—as well as injury. The boxes should display opening instructions—including where to cut and where not to cut—to protect merchandise inside.

8. Just subtract water. Container rain or cargo sweat—excessive condensation that builds up within containers due to temperature and humidity shifts—can cause corrosion, warping, or mold that can ruin products. To maintain optimal dryness, add desiccants to moisture-sensitive shipments traveling overseas or through a range of climatic conditions.

9. Give forklifts their due (diligence). Ensure that crossdocks and warehouses have clear, uncluttered aisles so forklifts can maneuver easily. Emphasize the importance of using only the handling equipment designated for a task—some product loads can be easily broken or toppled if handled by the wrong kind of equipment.

10. Inspect at tender. Every player in your products' chain of custody must thoroughly inspect all shipped items for any signs of damage or changes in count or condition at the time of tender. Notations should include not only what area of a box has sustained damage, but also the specific nature of that damage.