E-commerce was a lifeline for consumers around the world when they were confined to their homes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as restrictions ease and tight with new variants and waves, online shopping shows no signs of slowing down, giving rise to record-breaking delivery statistics.
Logistics firm FedEx delivered roughly 100 million more packages in the 2021 holiday season between Black Friday and Christmas compared to 2019, and 10% more than the previous record 2020 season. And, according to analyst Boston Consulting Group, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have gone from a few deliveries per week to a handful of retailer distribution centers to almost daily deliveries to hundreds of fulfillment centers.
In the Compass article ‘Damage-free deliveries,’ we looked at how the surge in e-commerce has led to CPG companies shipping more products directly to consumers (DTC). Not only have they had to completely change their fulfilment model, but they must also deal with fresh challenges around how they package their items, both in terms of preventing damage and facilitating easy returns.
“Traditionally, CPG companies designed packaging solutions with the retail shelf in mind,” Eric Hiser, technical vice president at Michigan-based International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), told Compass. “Products are packaged in bulk and put on a pallet – they have ‘strength in numbers’ and there’s relatively few touchpoints along the distribution chain. But this all changes in a DTC scenario.”
Unfortunately, this new set up carries inherently greater risk of damage to items during delivery. Estimates suggest that over 21 million items were delivered broken during the Black Friday sales period in the UK alone.
Experts believe that high damage rates are closely linked to packaging failures.
“Not having enough packaging material has significantly increased the risk for damage,” Kyla Fisher, a sustainability analyst and program manager at The American Institute for Packaging (AMERIPEN) told Compass. “But consumers are also equally as frustrated by overpackaged products.”
Advances in computerized simulation and testing technology are helping to ease the problem, and packaging makers like Amcor, Plastic Technologies and PepsiCo are taking advantage. They all use simulation technologies on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to identify the most robust packaging designs and materials and then virtually test the packaging in multiple transportation scenarios, covering exposure to high temperatures and pressures, to mitigate failures.
“By building simulation specifically for e-commerce, we can rapidly gain understanding of the physics and actual requirements for the containers to pass,” Hansong Huang, head of Advanced Engineering at Amcor, told Compass.
Similarly, Plastic Technologies has evolved its simulation efforts to tackle root-cause failure analysis and, ultimately, improve packaging quality. For example, through simulation it was able to rule out heavyweighting a juice container prone to bulging and addressed the problem with a geometric modification to the logo panel instead.
Simulation provides an opportunity for CPG companies to develop more sustainable packaging solutions too.
“In exploring new polymer materials made from renewable sources, their properties are plugged into simulation to predict performance and cost position in a realistic context,” Huang explained.