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Cushy shippers cradle TVs

It's one thing to cushion a small shipping case of nuts and bolts; it's quite another to ship a heavyweight wide-screen TV. Ask Toshiba America Consumer Products, which relies on honeycomb cushioning to brace shipments of some of its recently introduced large-screen and wide-screen television sets bound for dealers, distributors, mass merchandisers like Circuit City and Best Buy, and many other outlets across the U.S. and Canada. As economical as they are protective, the corrugated-based inserts added to the large, bundled television set shipments facilitate shipment assembly, reduce labor and offer improved cushion durability, Toshiba says.

The big picture for Toshiba recently was becoming certified according to ISO 14001 standards, which concentrate on environmental issues. That led to creating a new, protective shipping package for two of Toshiba's newer wide-screen TV models that includes inserts made of Hexacomb® Cushion Comb™ from Pactiv. Launched last September, the new shipping container translates into improved protection that meets stringent requirements for the 40-in. and larger TV models, as well as stepped-up environmental friendliness.

Cellular structure
Made from kraft linerboard and water-based adhesives, Hexacomb honeycomb and Cushion-Comb are 100-percent-recyclable. The paper is sliced into strips glued together to form a pattern of nested hexagonal cells similar in appearance to a beehive honeycomb, creating superior shock absorption. The cellular structure is precrushed to create the Cushion-Comb style, and is engineered to minimize the transfer of road shock to the fragile electronics.

Hexacomb's vertical cell orientation enables it to handle the heavy TV loads without loss of strength, while the water-based adhesives allow the cushioning to be recycled with other paperboard products.

"Working on the new ISO standards prompted a look at a packaging alternative," echoes Frank Ruotolo, packaging engineer at Toshiba's plant in Lebanon, TN. "We had been using a combination of molded and fabricated foam cushions, rolled-up corrugated and support posts and corrugated top and bottom trays," he says. "Sometimes, there were perception issues related to the packaging. In the past during shipping, while there was no damage to the TV, there were perceptions by consumers or distributors that because corners of the shipper looked dented, there was damage–solely because of the physical appearance of the container."

As a leading developer and manufacturer of advanced digital entertainment products, Toshiba strives to stay at the top of the dial in new home entertainment products. Toshiba America Consumer Products is considered a major source of digital home entertainment, with one of the most extensive lines in the industry, be it the latest in HDTVs, projection units, combination TV/DVDs, the flattest flat-screen or the tiniest portable.

When the firm began specifying packaging components for the launch of two new TV models–a 42-in. wide-screen and a standard-format, 43-in.–Wurzburg, Inc., a Memphis-based packaging fabricator and distributor that has worked with Toshiba on past packaging projects, suggested Pactiv Corp.'s Hexacomb honeycomb and Hexacomb Cushion-Comb. Weighing a mighty 140 and 150 lb, respectively, the newly introduced TVs required product protection, packaging recyclability, shock absorption and shipper durability, explains Dick Fisher, container division manager at Wurzburg.

"This cushioning is a natural for use under the particular ISO certification requirements," says Fisher. "Hexacomb cushioning has memory and doesn't fracture. Cushion-Comb is what makes this new package work. It absorbs the shock experienced by such products during transport. That's when we decided to show them Pactiv's Hexacomb line. The challenge was to design Hexacomb components with the right amount of shock absorption and cushioning."

Durable and easily assembled
Pactiv's proprietary Hexacomb and Cushion-Comb fabrication process and paper chemistry allow the new cushioning to provide consistently repeatable performance characteristics similar to those found in expanded polyurethane, polyethylene and polystyrene foams, Fisher says. Working to devise the right configuration for the two newest TV models, a packaging team devised different structural versions and, a battery of performance tests later, a structure for the heavyweight TVs and their accessories resulted. This includes a corrugated base tray from International Paper of 275#-test, B/C-flute, that measures 42 x 21 x 6 in.

Wurzburg positions four Hexacomb Cushion-Comb pieces inside the tray and glues them in to stabilize the TV set in-transit. Two of the pieces supporting the front of the TV measure 10.5 x 8 x 1.5 in.; the two securing the back measure 10.5 x 4.5 x 1.5 in.

Topping these pieces are preassembled, die-cut Hexacomb honeycomb corner pads that are scored and folded in half, to create layers inside the tray. Measuring approximately 1-in. thick each, these left- and right-hand pieces minimize the number of cushioning parts required and facilitate labor and assembly. The die-cut pieces have slots that accommodate the contours and "feet" of the TV. A diagonally cut piece of Hexacomb honeycomb is then added and hot-melt-glued in to stabilize the feet of the TV as well as brace and block the entire set. Then two rectangular corrugated stand-up tubes are inserted into the die-cut slots to provide stacking strength. All of this is topped by a corrugated 275#-test, B/C-flute half-slotted container (HFC) from MeadWestvaco, printed in blue and black with Toshiba brand information and slid over the TV and protective cushioning assembly.

Originally, Fisher tells PD, the same corner post size was used for both front and back corners of the tray until simulated incline drop and vibration tests showed that the difference in product weight distribution could be better controlled with back posts measuring half as wide as the front posts.

Wurzburg ships the assembled TV base tray and the inner cushioning components to Toshiba in Lebanon, where domestically distributed Toshiba televisions are assembled. Each TV cabinet is conveyed downline on an assembly pallet and "filled" with the required internal electronics and other components. When assembly is complete, the TV is lifted by a suction device from the assembly line pallet and placed into the corrugated shipping tray. The tray is first lined with a sheet of 1/8-in. expanded PE foam from Wurzburg for surface protection of the TV cabinet before the set is slowly lowered into place. Next, the load moves downline to a pair of operators who place a second sheet of 1/8-in. EPE foam from Wurzburg on top of the TV.

After the wrapped TV is properly fitted into the corrugated shipping tray, assembly line operators add the corner posts to anchor the unit, left. Then the operators hoist the corrugated HFC over the entire shipment, center, and strap it securely. Toshiba's TV assembly plant, right, includes electrically equipped, conveyorized carriers that transfer sets to packoff.

Operators then bag the TV in 1.5-mil PE film, also from Wurzburg, before loading in the corrugated stand-up tubes into the die-cut slots of honeycomb in the tray and finally slide the HFC over the entire unit before banding it securely. Next, the center joint is taped, and the load is banded securely. The HFC is erected by hand. The load then conveys overhead and through a tunnel to an ajoining distribution center across the street.

Bracing the TV set within corrugated shippers, the honeycomb inserts help the firm realize customer appreciation benefits, Ruotolo says. "Our first shipment using this package was in July. While it helps us meet our environmental goals, the pack is more durable. We no longer get the 'perception of damage' feedback, because the package arrives at its destination without any cracks in the cushioning or displacement of its components."

More information is available:

Honeycomb cushioning material: Pactiv Corp., 847/482-2259. Circle No. 214.

Cushioning and tray fabricator, foam sheeting, PE bag: Wurzburg, Inc., 901/525-1441. Circle No. 215.

Corrugated tray:International Paper, 800/223-1268. Circle No. 216.

HFC: MeadWestvaco Corp., 203/461-7400. Circle No. 217.

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