Distribution Hazards Your Packaging Needs To Be Prepared to Encounter

By Bob Fiedler | Associate Principal, Packaging Optimization Your product and all of its packaging are up against some pretty harsh and unforgiving conditions during transit...


By Bob Fiedler | Associate Principal, Packaging Optimization


Your product and all of its packaging are up against some pretty harsh and unforgiving conditions during transit throughout your distribution channels. Even when stacked on pallets within boxes idling in the warehouse, your products are at risk for packaging damages to occur.

If you’ve been following our packaging blog topics, you’ve already got a good sense of how to design your products and packaging for distribution and steps to take to reduce product damages by protecting them from various  distribution hazards.

But what exactly are these main distribution hazards your packaging and products need to be prepared to encounter on their distribution journey?

Common Distribution & Packaging Hazards Defined

Distribution Hazards

It’s one thing to identify and define these seven main packaging hazards but to really begin to understand these packaging hazards, it pays to be aware of how your product + packaging degrades throughout your supply chain environment and subsequent distribution cycles.

1. Rough handling
  • Rough handling comes from both mechanical handling (fork lifts, clamp trucks, push-pull pallets, etc.) and manual handling–the bane of small-to-mid-sized packages and their delivery firms everywhere.
2. Warehouse stacking & storage accidents
  • Warehouse stacking and storage accidents – including crushed or collapsed stacks—come from excess stack height, stack instability and/or obstruction of aisles and exits that makes maneuvering a forklift hazardous.
3. In-transit stacking
  • In-transit stacking (in truck trailers) often means boxes are stacked up to 9 feet high, with several hundred pounds per square foot of downward force applied, even in short stacks. It’s not hard to imagine what happens when the driver slams on–or even taps on–the brakes in rush hour traffic or makes a sharp turn.
4. Vehicle vibration
  • Vehicle vibration transmitted to packaging and vibration-sensitive products during shipping (especially via truck) can create what’s called “resonant damage.” Without cautious pretesting in a lab using ASTM D4169 protocols to avoid this damage, even carefully packaged items like air conditioner condenser tubes can and will vibrate and crack.
5. Loose load vibration
  • Loose load vibration means contents ranging from fresh fruit and produce to improperly packaged glass, metal components, plastic packs and closures can and will suffer in-transit damage.
6. Rail switching
  • Rail switching damage from boxcar sorting/switching/routing and container on flatcar (COFC) transfers between rail, truck and ship can all compress and damage freight and packages–not to mention damage from forklifts, reach stackers, straddle carriers, cranes, swap bodies, side lifters, tilt deck trucks and hook trucks.
7. Ambient temperature & humidity
  • Ambient temperature and humidity conditions can affect both properly and improperly packaged products and packaging materials in normal supply chains, as well as cold chains Likewise, temperature-controlled trucks that don’t maintain an optimal in-transit temperature range risk degrading an entire truckload of product.

The key to designing packaging that mitigates your exposure to these supply chain distribution hazards is tracing the entire journey of your product end-to-end, from manufacture to consumption, and understanding precisely what exact conditions are actually experienced along the way, across all modes.

With that knowledge, appropriate packaging that stands up to these main packaging hazards can be created without wasting time and money on protecting your products from elements that are never actually encountered.

Check out the presentation below originally presented at APICS 2015 for real-world packaging damage examples and additional tips on how to avoid them.

The seven distribution packaging hazards all waste time, money and supply chain manhours–not to mention customer goodwill. Here’s an instance where “done right the first time” really pays off in supply chain savings.


Bob Fiedler is a Principal Associate of Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization competency and Packaging Fellow with the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP). He earned a lifetime achievement award from ASTM D10 Packaging Committee in September 2014 and worked closely with Alfred H. McKinlay to create and establish ASTM D4169 as the leading global package testing protocol.

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