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Emily Newton

Quality Insider

Six Packaging Quality Control Checks

Steps companies can’t afford to skip

Published: Monday, July 25, 2022 - 12:02

Staying on top of packing quality-control measures can have positive ramifications for companies. For starters, products are more likely to arrive undamaged if they're in appropriately robust boxes. There’s also a safety element involved. Suppose a fragile item shatters in transit due to improper packaging. If the broken item has sharp edges, a person could be cut while trying to open the product. They might not even realize anything’s wrong until they reach inside and get hurt.

Fortunately, following an established set of checks can prevent such issues. Here are some steps not to overlook.

1. Test the package’s strength

It’s essential to see how a package will hold up when subjected to the many stresses it may undergo from the time it leaves its original location to when it reaches a final destination. The edge crush test is one of the best-known ways to check resilience. It’s a compression-based method to see how well a box retains its shape when placed in a stacked orientation. The most accurate way to perform it is to put the package between two metal plates and program a machine to exert a particular amount of force.

Another option is a puncture test. This evaluates how well the package withstands penetration by sharp objects, fingers, or other risks. Many companies also perform drop tests as part of packaging quality control. This assessment involves letting a package fall from a specified height, then checking the contents to see if they survived the impact.

Items such as potato chips, cereal, and cookies often come in packages with adhesive or pressure-sealed seams. Running a peel test helps packaging experts verify that a container’s material is stronger than the seal itself. If it isn’t, the box often rips open at a point other than the seal, causing spillage and making it difficult to reseal the container to maintain freshness.

A vibration test proves helpful if a package is likely to travel long distances over rough roads. People use vibration platforms and put containers on them in specific orientations for about 10–30 minutes.

Performing these strength tests may not happen internally. Not all companies have the space and equipment to do them. However, hiring a third-party service provider is a practical alternative.

2. Examine the sealing or binding

Most packaging quality-control checklists have sections where inspectors must select the kind of seal or binding the package has, then verify it’s keeping product in place as expected. For example, a box might have paper tape, staples, a nylon strap, or any combination of those.

However, someone might not apply the tape firmly or well-centered enough across the container’s flaps to keep them in place. Packaging straps usually feature durable material, but issues like rough handling or contact with a ragged edge could cause fraying.

Quality checks allow inspectors to spot and remedy these problems sooner. Advanced machinery can also supplement visual assessments. A recently introduced modular gluing system for use with corrugated cardboard packaging improves the previously used options for checking that boxes have enough adhesive. Those methods required putting additives in the glue to make the adhesive appear fluorescent and detectable by inspection cameras. The new system can check for glue without requiring additives, even when inspecting printed packages. Eliminating the additives reportedly makes the adhesives about 50 percent less expensive.

3. Maintain a parts inventory for packaging machines

Many industrial facilities have various packaging machines that are necessary for smooth operations. A critical piece of equipment breaking down and being out of commission for even a few hours could significantly reduce the company’s output and result in disappointed clients.

However, companies that build a parts inventory and keep it updated can reduce the frequency and length of unplanned downtime. The items in a spare parts inventory vary depending on a company’s budget and operations. However, the components that are replaced most often are good candidates for consideration.

It’s also worth considering how likely a machine is to break down. Newer ones are probably less likely to fail than older pieces of equipment. The disruption experienced if a particular machine stops working can also influence decisions about the must-have components for a parts inventory.

Creating a parts inventory for packaging equipment isn’t a one-time exercise. The number and type of components a company has on hand will change if there are any significant alterations in package volume or type handled.

4. Instruct workers on how to report packaging quality-control failures

Packaging is typically the first thing consumers see. It can have a tremendous effect on sales and reputation. It’s essential to ensure that flaws aren’t overlooked, so good procedures are important. However, employees need more than in-depth checklists to follow. They also must have easy-to-follow protocols for reporting faults or defects. Employees who are unsure how to report issues or do so incorrectly could cause inaccurate packaging quality-control statistics.

Decision makers should evaluate which methods would allow workers to capture the most necessary, correct data while maintaining high productivity. Suppose an employee perceives that reporting an issue is too cumbersome. They may stay silent after coming across a problem, figuring someone else will catch and mention it later. A packaging company’s representatives may also use a quality management system to reduce failures and mistakes. In that case, all staff members work toward a collective goal of consistently high quality.

ISO 9001 now has a worldwide reputation as a trusted standard for helping companies maintain quality assurance. Obtaining this certification involves performing an internal audit, and training personnel to adhere to new or tweaked operating procedures. However, becoming certified shows current and potential clients that a packaging business prioritizes quality.

5. Allow time for increased testing when using new packaging

Companies may need to increase their investments in packaging quality control when making significant changes. For example, consumers increasingly demand sustainable packaging when possible.

However, a study showed that 49 percent of packaging companies cited challenges with meeting testing standards when using sustainable materials. Some of the other issues mentioned were costs and ensuring the items could perform well enough to protect goods. However, those findings don’t mean packaging leaders should feel discouraged about making eco-friendly switches.

Test results can help people see what’s going wrong, making it easier to take the right steps to solve the issues. The results are a helpful reminder that things won’t always go as expected when making packaging changes.

Packaging company leaders should also remember that the biggest test of new packaging often comes through customer experiences. Consumers may mention that their boxes arrived dented, but the contents remained protected. However, the feedback could also be more severe, such as when people say the products arrived severely damaged. 

6. Vet suppliers and hold them to minimum standards

Packaging quality control must occur at all stages of the supply chain. Companies must specify standards for external partners to meet and obtain metrics to verify they fall within the necessary ranges. It’s vital to ask numerous questions when selecting suppliers for a shortlist. Questions could include whether the company operates locally and if it adheres to certain sustainability principles.

However, suppliers must consistently meet particular performance requirements. That may mean fulfilling orders on time or passing quality tests. Packages may also have to adhere to an overall defect rate of less than a certain percentage.

Company leaders who work with decision makers should also clarify what happens if suppliers consistently fall short of the mark. Must they pass an in-person plant inspection? Will they be put on probation?

Having a clear-cut system for gauging quality is one of the best ways to set and maintain packaging standards for everyone involved. Representatives at British supermarket chain Asda use a scorecard system for packaging-print quality and consistency. The brand has 12,000 SKUs, necessitating a streamlined approach. The system provides one numerical score representing the package’s print quality and color performance, making it easy to interpret.

Once everyone’s clear regarding the specifics, that knowledge will work as an ongoing incentive to keep quality levels high. Suppliers that comply are more likely to enjoy long-term and profitable relationships.

Packaging quality control is essential

Taking proactive steps to ensure packaging remains at a high quality level supports a company’s overall reputation and increases the chances of satisfied customers. These six checks will help decision makers verify that they’re not overlooking a critical element.


About The Author

Emily Newton’s picture

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the innovations disrupting the scientific and industrial sectors.