Primary, secondary and tertiary packaging are only the start to all the kinds of packaging that it takes to get products and packaged products safely through the Supply Chain. There's also the void-fill, loose-fill or cushioning that may be needed to go around and between products and packaged goods to protect them in transit. Because there's the inevitable due to bumps, vibrations and all the other normal and abnormal things that can happen along the way in getting goods from here to there as safely and as economically as possible.
This is not a minor market: A 2014 study from The Freedonia Group forecasts that protective packaging demand in the U.S. will increase 4.5% per year to $6.4 billion in 2018. The study identifies the fulfillment of e-commerce sales as the biggest driver of growth for protective packaging, supporting healthy gains for products such as protective mailers, bubble packaging and air pillows, the latter of which it singles out as among the fastest growing protective packaging products.
The process can be as straightforward as loading product(s) into a container and adding the cushioning, which can be as expanded polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane (PU) foam or other foamable polymer or various takes on paperboard- and pulp-based cushioning. The myriad of materials in a range of materials, sizes and shapes are delivered into the packaging using about as many different types of equipment.
Systems can be manual or semi- automatic and can package all of the aforementioned as well as air to create air-cushioning sacs or pillows with low-cost inflators that are easy on budgets and allow users to sleep easier at night knowing their products are well protected. A benefit of this form is that the end user may be able to reuse them or, if not, deflate and toss out a flat film bag. Some vendors offer a take-back program to recycle the films back into the polymer.
A paper cushioning dispensing system can comprise a stand and a foot-actuated dispensing. These systems can dispense preset amounts or variable amounts.
For further reading, here are two more examples of cushioning equipment systems:
This semi-automatic setup relies on overhead dispensers to deliver paper-based loose-fill to cushion and protect lighting fixtures for shipment.
A foam-in-bag packaging system reduced damage and overall cost, while minimizing the amount of packaging materials used.
When does a company take the plunge into on-demand cushioning by adding a piece of dedicated equipment to its operations? One rule of thumb as a discrete tipping point is 500 packages per day.