Everyone has ordered something online at one point or another. When you first decided to go online to buy something, you most likely thought about things like from where you plan on buying it, how much you’re willing to pay for it, etc. But in reality, those tasks are minute challenges compared to what goes on behind the scenes. A ton of work, research, and testing goes into packaging that item up, and getting to your household safely within a few days. Last year, I got to see how all these things are done at a summer boxing and packaging program at Christian Brothers University.
Packaging may sound like an odd career to some people, but here in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s a large and active industry. Memphis is a distribution hub for many of the neighboring areas, meaning things are constantly being shipped to and from the city. When things are shipped, packaging is almost always involved somehow or another. That’s part of the reason why CBU has its packaging program. Nearby companies, FedEx for example, are constantly looking for more people who know how to test packages, run the machinery to construct the packages, and many other tasks like these.
Christian Brothers University began its packaging program in early 2001, and it’s been growing ever since. Once the program was up and running for a while, CBU began hosting various summer programs for high school students. The Packaging Summer Program was just one of these summer activities, but it was the first one I had attended at CBU. And even so, I had a bit of an idea about what to expect. A few months back, the staff in the Engineering and Packaging departments sneaked me in for a little tour of the labs in their building. At that time I got to see all the labs, just not how they worked. This time I got to see it all, and even use some of the machinery myself.
One of the first activities I got to do, aside from another tour, was run a few tests on the strength of a sample of cardboard. Most of these tests had to do with the amount of force it took to bend and puncture the piece of cardboard. After the tests, I jotted down the results so they could later be used in calculating the strength, and maximum carry weight, of a certain cardboard box. Next, I got to see how boxes were cut out. In this case, they were using a simple, paper fold-up box. After programming the design into the computer, it sent that data over to the actual cutting machine. Here, you had to set the boundaries of the material that was being cut (so it wouldn’t cut off the material), give the machine a base reference point, which was also along the border of the material, and then press start. The machine would cut out the design you gave it in the computer, and there you have it! After punching out the design, it was easily folded into the right shape and size.
From there I went on to the packing station. There I was given an egg, and had to find a way to safely pack it into the little five-by-three cardboard box, using as much packing material as possible in the right way. The point of this was in the hope that my egg would be able to survive all the rigorous tests it would be put through later that day.
After everyone else finished their mini-boxes, we were divided into three groups of five. My group was group #1. This is where the test we performed earlier came in handy. Based on the boxes’ dimensions, and on the measurements taken earlier, we were able to figure out just how many pounds this box could hold in a perfect environment. The reason why I say “in a perfect environment”, is because some small factors, such as humidity and temperature, will also affect how much weight the box can hold. These are constantly changing, so we couldn’t account for them. Team one had almost finished calculating our boxes maximum strength, when we had to stop short for a lunch break.
At lunch, several guests from various packaging companies around Memphis came and spoke about their packaging careers. They talked about how they came to enjoy their jobs, what they did, and what types of packaging they worked with. I believe there were three main categories that they all worked in. Boxing, bottling, and plastic packaging. Boxing, of course, was about the logistics of packaging items inside of cardboard boxes, like FedEx. Bottling was all about plastic and glass bottles, what’s the most efficient way to make them, and why they’re sued so often. The latter was all about plastic packaging, like wrappers or Ziploc bags. Believe it or not, all of these things fell under the broad category of packaging. It’s not just about boxing up items and shipping them to your front door.
After lunch, we moved onto the final and possibly most enjoyable part of the day; the tests. Since team one had already finished calculating the box’s strength, we had a little extra time to prepare for the brutal and violent testing stage. Our goal was to fit all of the eggs that we had packaged up earlier into this one box, pack it with enough of the right material to absorb most of the shock, and still be able to close the box. We managed to fit all the eggs in, but we went a little overkill on the packing paper, and could barely shut the top of the box. All this was in the hopes that our tiny eggs would be able to survive all the tests, which were to come soon.
We then moved down the hall, into the first testing area. The first test was rather simple, the drop test. In this test, the box was dropped from a miniature forklift on various sides and corners. I’m pretty sure almost everyone’s eggs survived this test, but we might have lost a few here. The next test was the vibration test. In this test, the boxes were set on a vibrating platform, and shaken at various frequencies. This was to simulate the vibration from either a truck, plane, or boat.
Next, the boxes were put between two large metal plates, and slowly crushed vertically. No, it didn’t completely crush the thing flat, but it sure did leave a dent in it. All this time it was telling us how much pressure the box was under. This is where the earlier calculations came in. If these numbers matched our earlier results, it means we passed with flying colors. If not, it means that team most likely made a mistake. As it turns out, there was a twenty pound difference from the number the machine gave us, the one we calculated. For the record, that was pretty good. No, our calculations didn’t come out perfect (most likely due to the environmental differences mentioned earlier), but twenty pounds is an acceptable margin for error.
The final, and quite possibly the most destructive test, was the smash test. In this test, the box was placed on a tract, with a large wooden slab behind it. The tract was slowly lifted on one end, eventually causing the cart the box was sitting on to go rolling down the tracks, and hit a wooden barrier. At the same time, the slab behind the box would slam into the back of the box, most likely crushing any eggs inside. Each team went through this process, and then did a few tests just for the fun of it. Finally, after going through all these tests, we went back to the front of the building, and opened the boxes.
As it turns out, not all of our teams egg’s survived, but my egg made it through all the tests unscathed. One of the three teams actually had all of their eggs survive. Our team definitely didn’t win, but I’m pretty sure we all enjoyed it.
Here are some pictures of the event! https://www.facebook.com/