How To Evaluate Your Corrugated Shippers

Evaluating corrugated based on performance needs opens up opportunities to resolve many common headaches, drive cost savings, simplify specifications, and make the entire packaging process more efficient.

Brennan Leuenberger, Packaging Engineer II

July 21, 2021

5 Min Read
Photo credit: Siwakorn –

Performance-based specifications are a different way of evaluating corrugated shippers. While many packaging engineers begin their career learning the ins and outs of corrugated shippers — their terminology, test methods, manufacturing processes, and more — they often don’t look beyond ASTM D5639, Standard Practice for Selection of Corrugated Fiberboard Materials and Box Construction Based on Performance Requirements.

When making decisions on packaging design, leveraging performance-based specs allows engineers to specify the strength of the shipper based on performance needs, rather than less relevant metrics like the edge crush test (ECT). Evaluating corrugate based on performance needs opens up opportunities to resolve many common headaches, drive cost savings, simplify specifications, and make the entire packaging process more efficient.


Sustainability benefits.

The primary benefit of evaluating corrugate based on its performance needs is that it allows engineers to design a shipper that fulfills its need while using less material, which significantly enhances sustainability efforts.

If a packaging department isn’t already using primarily recycled papers, reevaluating corrugated packaging based on performance needs also provides an opportunity to transition away from virgin materials. Converting may produce positive effects on the supplier’s side of the supply chain.

In opening up the options and leaving paper sourcing up to the suppliers, it reduces supply constraints and has potential effects on the carbon footprint, such as reduced shipping distances. A packaging team may discover paper combinations that are more efficient for their machines, freeing up run-time, consuming less energy in the long run, and decreasing the amount of waste.


Simplifying communication.

A performance-based system is also conducive to well maintained and seamless specifications, one of the backbones of an effective packaging engineering process. It ensures a level of communication between engineers, manufacturing plants, procurement, and suppliers. It reduces the amount of data to be managed by cutting back on the need to document paper weights, ECT, Burst Strength, or caliper — and instead focusing the testing and measuring process on dimensions, strength targets (theoretical and tested), and fluting.

While it doesn’t negate Item 222  of National Motor Freight Traffic Association’s National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) and Rule 41 of the National Railroad Freight Committee’s Uniform Freight Classification (UFC), which require an ECT or burst strength test, it does remove them from packaging negotiations and specifications.


Reducing costs.

When considering the potential cost savings of transitioning to performance-based shipper specifications, there comes a time when members of the organization and suppliers need to discuss pricing. This process requires accurate communication of the packaging needs from the organization to the supplier, and a performance-based system streamlines that communication to compression requirement and supply environment details.

By taking specifications like ECT values out of the conversation, there is less room for error. The organization is no longer purchasing a specific material, they are purchasing the assurance that the packaging will meet the product’s needs.


More accurate results.

While the McKee Formula (which requires an ECT value) assists in determining the resulting strength of a shipper, this formula determines the strength need.



where …

BCR = box crush requirement

S = # of shippers high

P = # of pallets stacked

X = shipper gross weight

W = pallet weight

L = shippers per layer

SF = Safety Factor

This formula first calculates the number of shippers above a single shipper by multiplying the number of layers by the number of pallets high in transit or warehousing, then subtracts by 1 to account for the bottom shipper. This value is multiplied by the gross weight of the shipper. Next, it accounts for the weight of the pallet by simply dividing the weight of the pallet by the number of shippers per layer. It then adds these two values and multiplies by the Safety Factor. The resulting value is the strength a hypothetical shipper will need. 

Safety Factor is important to the equation and requires an accurate understanding of the package’s shipping environment, along with the ability to consider the factors in degrees of granularity. Some organizations may choose to use a set safety factor value and others may choose to calculate it each time based on specific transit routes and pallet patterns, such as column versus interlocked. Regardless, it is important to understand the supply chain environment for when establishing the baseline need.

While calculating the compression need, an engineer will also need to test the items currently used in the packaging portfolio. This provides a baseline to identify areas of opportunity when comparing the two values. A potential issue can arise if information on why the original item was specified the way it was is not available. In many cases, examination of the package’s intended shipping environment (such as cold storage) can provide clues to help overcome this problem. If no issues present themselves, the item can be effectively transitioned to the performance-based format.


Consult with experts.

Transitioning to performance-based specifications may seem like a complex process, but the results save time, money, and potential headaches while improving sustainability by reducing material usage — all things a packaging department strives to achieve. If you think your packaging operation can be better served by a performance-based system, reach out to an expert with experience applying performance-based specifications. Hiring a consultant to help implement this process is an investment that will pay off in the long run.

About the Author(s)

Brennan Leuenberger

Packaging Engineer II, Adept Packaging

Brennan Leuenberger is a Packaging Engineer II at Adept Packaging. He has worked in the packaging industry for since 2014 and has experience in packaging optimization, test protocols, cost savings initiatives, and a variety of packaging materials for the consumer packaged goods (CPG), food and beverage, and medical device industries.

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