Why Is Protective Packaging Important?

Loss due to a damaged product can have a crippling effect on manufacturers. Every industry accepts that a percentage of products will get damaged at some point, and builds that into their profit forecast. With proper employee training, implementation of dunnage/cushioning systems, and adherence to general product handling guidelines, the percentage of damage loss can be decreased. Protective packaging may seem a necessary evil, but over-packaging can also become a drain on profits, to the point that the protective packaging costs more than it saves in damaged goods. The answer to “how much packaging is too much?” is vastly different for each package-product system, and should be evaluated on an individual basis.



The most cost effective package might seem to fall in the red circled area, where the packaging cost and damage cost meet, but this doesn’t account for the costs that might be incurred throughout the rest of the supply chain. So, really, the optimal packaging cost would be in the green ellipse, which includes the lowest point of the total cost curve. The goal of designing and implementing protective packaging is to get the most protection out of the lowest total system cost. Let’s look at different forms of dunnage and cushioning which can be employed to protect products on an individual package basis and unit-load basis.

The functions of dunnage are broad, but ultimately the purpose of dunnage is to provide additional protection for the product. It offers protection by functioning as bracing/spacing, void fill, abrasion prevention and additional stacking strength.

When it comes to bracing/spacing, the function of dunnage is to position the product properly in the package and keep it in an exact spot. In some cases, the product is placed in the middle of a package away from container walls to prevent damage due to dents caused during transportation. Spacing is necessary for products such as glass bottles that can hit each other during shipment and cause breakage. Materials for bracing/spacing are usually semi rigid materials – rigid enough to keep products in proper position, but also soft enough to absorb some shock.  These airbags prevent the boxes from shifting around during transport which can lead to product damage.



The main purpose of void fill is to prevent contents from shifting inside a shipping container by filling unused space. Void fill materials are not dimensionally specified by a designer in a specific arrangement. Instead, it is the packers responsibility to properly fill the package to protect contents. Popular void materials include packing paper, packing peanuts and air pillows.

Abrasion prevention is necessary throughout distribution, especially during transportation when vibration occurs. Vibrations can create a rubbing action that damages the product by abrasion. Materials that coat package surfaces or wrap products are used to alleviate abrasion. This product is stretch wrapped within the package to avoid abrasion.

Many corrugated containers cannot handle the high loads that may be stacked upon them during transportation and storage. Adding an insert is a cost efficient way to provide additional stacking strength. Corrugated fold-ups are usually used for this purpose.

While dunnage is sometimes thought to be a waste of space, it can offer great protection for a product. There is a wide variety of dunnage options- the type of product you have will determine which dunnage is right for your needs. Check out our Packaging Distribution course to learn more!

Discussions on protective packaging and logistics will be held in November 2018 at Automotive Packaging Summit. Register here!

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