Shipment Damage Prevention

Damage reduction offers an accessible route to reducing costs associated with the process of supply. Consumer products (CPG / FMCG and slow moving goods) are vulnerable to damage; industrial goods (machinery, electronics, and equipment) can be vulnerable to damage as well.

In 2004, a Smithers Pira Strategic Futures report examined various studies on shrinkage in the European FMCG supply chain and estimated the cost of damage in Europe as between €2bn to €3bn per annum. Data from 1999 shows globally the claim value for damaged cargo from 95 million container movements per year by sea was around $5.6bn and this is likely to have increased significantly in the last 15 years in line with increased global container traffic.

For consumer packaged goods, damage causes reduced on-shelf availability which equates to loss of sales. The impact on an individual consumer may be only small, but the total result of damage to a brand owner or retailer is significant.

Smithers Pira Damage Reduction Expertise

Smithers Pira regularly undertakes projects supporting clients to reduce damage in transit and this commonly involves a mix of field and lab based activity. Field based work involves observation of real life events, damage quantification and process mapping in order to properly understand the requirements of product and pack in real life. In recent years Smithers Pira has undertaken supply chain audit projects around the world, including China, Brazil, Kenya, India and Egypt, as well as extensively in Europe and North America. Field projects support laboratory activity by enabling highly effective test selection and analysis. 

Long Term Elimination of Damage and Example Projects

Once a specific issue has been identified and resolved, many clients use Smithers Pira to set up performance tests and specification improvement processes to ensure performance in transit is satisfactory for new packaged products in the future. Often this involves development of a tailored laboratory test method and ongoing validation of packed product in Smithers Pira's laboratories.

Smithers Pira has undertaken damage reduction projects for numerous clients; a few examples are as follows:

  • Glass bottle damage elimination - high value fragrance product brand owner
  • Damage reduction for innovative value-adding closure - international liquid soap pack brand
  • Pack re-design validation and damage prevention - water bath equipment manufacturer
  • Damage root cause analysis from pallet instability - range of health and personal care consumer products
  • Evaluation of damage mechanism in support of new pack development - complex high value optical instruments
  • Evaluation of damage and analysis of new pack requirements - commercial paint application system.
Common Damage Failure Modes

Breakage and fatigue failure

During vibration and shock events occurring in shipment and handling, components, materials and bonds are subjected to stress. If the input level of the hazard is above the performance threshold of the package or product then failure will result. Even for more durable materials, the repetitive nature of road and air journeys (vibration) can cause wear, puncture, rupture or fatigue. Breakage and fatigue are most common for glass and metal packaging and components, but plastics packs and closures can be susceptible.

Pallet / Load Stability 

Instability in packaged loads occurs from high displacement (low frequency) hazard events, resulting from road vehicle cornering or braking, or from mechanical and automated handling machinery (including fork lift trucks, pallet trucks and pallet conveyor systems). Instability is particularly an issue for taller unit loads and pallets, and loads where light weighting and cost saving projects have eliminated corrugated material. Instability is seen more and more for containerised shipments and sea journeys where container utilisation needs to be optimised so loads are made taller. Instability can occur rapidly during more vigorous events (like road vehicle cornering) or over a longer time period (for example under static load during prolonged storage - creep). Stability issues are also seen commonly for promotional retail displays and for double stacked pallet distribution.

Smithers Pira has developed its own stability test method based on using an inclined impact tester and this has been used to identify suitable packaging solutions to address stability issues in the field.

Abrasion/print scuff, decoration damage

Surface damage occurs as a result of repetitive vibration resulting from road or air shipment, and from pack to pack contact. The damage is normally to a printed surface, but can be to an unprinted component or surface. In severe instances, abrasion or scuffing can result in punctures and leakage - this is most commonly observed for thin-walled metal beverage containers during roll cage mixed load conditions in the retailer distribution system, where vibration and point-loading combine to result in pin-holing of the beverage can sidewall.


Both vibration and impacts are known to cause leakage from bottles and flexible packs, as well as rigid metal containers. Leakage from one container often causes contamination to other samples being distributed so the implications can be significant. Package testing allows validation that leakage will not occur or can support resolving a known leakage problem.

Accidental actuation

Consumer goods and medical/healthcare products incorporate ever more innovative dispending features. The same is also true of commercial and industrial goods such as cleaning products and chemicals. The more complex and innovative the dispensing component or closure, the higher the scope for leakage while under vibration conditions or as a result of increased point-loading during storage or distribution. Premature actuation is the dispensing of the product accidentally during distribution - this can be dangerous if the product is hazardous.

Stress cracking

This is failure of a pack (break down of the packaging material structure) from non-compatibility between the packaging material and the substance within the pack (normally a liquid). Environmental stress cracking normally occurs from long term storage combined with compressive conditions (stacked storage).