Package cushioning is used to help protect fragile items during shipment. It is common for a transport package to be dropped, kicked, and impacted: These events may produce potentially damaging shocks. Transportation vibration from conveyors, trucks, railroads, or aircraft can also damage some items. Shock and vibration are controlled by cushioning so that the chance of product damage is greatly reduced.

Cushioning is usually inside a shipping container such as a corrugated box. It is designed to deform or crush to help keep levels of shock and vibration below levels that may damage the product inside the box. Depending on the specific situation, package cushioning can often be between 50 and 75 millimeters (two to three inches) thick.

Internal packaging materials (sometimes the same ones used for cushioning) are also used for functions other than cushioning. Some are used just to immobilize the products in the box and to block them in place. Others are just used to fill a void and do not have a cushioning function.

Molded expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) cushioning

Design factors

When designing packaging, the choice of cushioning may depend on many factors:

Common types of cushioning

End caps and corner blocks
Molded pulp cushioning
Thermoformed end caps for a hard drive

Loose fill – Some cushion products are flowable and are packed loosely around the items in the box. The box is closed to tighten the pack. This includes expanded polystyrene foam pieces (Foam peanuts), similar pieces made of starch-based foams, and common popcorn. The amount of loose fill material required and the transmitted shock levels vary with the specific type of material.[2]

Paper Paper can be manually or mechanically wadded up and used as a cushioning material. Heavier grades of paper provide more weight-bearing ability than old newspapers. Creped cellulose wadding is also available. (Movers often wrap objects with several layers of Kraft paper or embossed pulp before putting them into boxes.)

Corrugated fiberboard pads – Multi-layer or cut-and-folded shapes of corrugated board can be used as cushions.[3] These structures are designed to crush and deform under shock stress and provide some degree of cushioning. Paperboard composite honeycomb structures are also used for cushioning.[4]

Foam structures – Several types of polymeric foams are used for cushioning. The most common are: Expanded Polystyrene (also Styrofoam), polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyurethane. These can be molded engineered shapes or sheets which are cut and glued into cushion structures. Some degradable foams are also available.[5]

Foam-in-place is another method of using polyurethane foams. These fill the box, fully encapsulating the product to immobilize it. It is also used to form engineered structures.

Molded pulp – Pulp can be molded into shapes suitable for cushioning and for immobilizing products in a package. Molded pulp is made from recycled newspapers and is recyclable.

Inflated products – Bubble wrap consists of sheets of plastic film with enclosed “bubbles” of air. These sheets can be layered or wrapped around items to be shipped. A variety of engineered inflatable air cushions are also available. Note that inflated air pillows used for void-fill are not suited for cushioning.

Other – Several other types of cushioning are available including suspension cushions, thermoformed end caps and clamshells[6][7] , and shock mounts.

Design for shock protection

Drop test of cushioned package to measure the transmitted shock

Proper performance of cushioning is dependent on its proper design and use. It is often best to use a trained packaging engineer, reputable vendor, consultant, or independent laboratory. An engineer needs to know the severity of shock (drop height, etc.) to protect against. This can be based on an existing specification, published industry standards and publications, field studies, etc.

Knowledge of the product to be packaged is critical. Field experience may indicate the types of damage previously experienced. Laboratory analysis can help quantify the fragility [8] of the item, often reported in g-s. Engineering judgment can also be an excellent starting point. Sometimes a product can be made more rugged or can be supported to make it less susceptible to breakage.

The amount of shock transmitted by a particular cushioning material is largely dependent on the thickness of the cushion, the drop height, and the load-bearing area of the cushion (static loading). A cushion must deform under shock for it to function. If a product is on a large load-bearing area, the cushion may not deform and will not cushion the shock. If the load-bearing area is too small, the product may “bottom out” during a shock; the shock is not cushioned. Engineers use “cushion curves” to choose the best thickness and load-bearing area for a cushioning material. Often two to three inches (50 – 75 mm) of cushioning are needed to protect fragile items.

Cushion design requires care to prevent shock amplification caused by the cushioned shock pulse duration being close to the natural frequency of the cushioned item.[9]

Design for vibration protection

The process for vibration protection (or isolation) involves similar considerations as that for shock. Cushions can be thought of as performing like springs. Depending on cushion thickness and load-bearing area and on the forcing vibration frequency, the cushion may 1) not have any influence on input vibration, 2) amplify the input vibration at resonance, or 3) isolate the product from the vibration. Proper design is critical for cushion performance.

Evaluation of finished package

Verification and validation of prototype designs are required. The design of a package and its cushioning is often an iterative process involving several designs, evaluations, redesigns, etc. Several (ASTM, ISTA, and others) published package testing protocols are available to evaluate the performance of a proposed package. Field performance should be monitored for feedback into the design process.

ASTM Standards

See also


  1. Hatton (July 1998). "Effect of temperature on the cushioning properties of some foamed plastic materials". Retrieved 18 Feb 2016.
  2. Singh, S. P.; Chonhenchob and Burges (1994). "Compariison of Various Loose Fill Cushioning Materials Based on Protective and Environmental Performance". Packaging Technology and Science. Wiley. 7 (5): 229–241. doi:10.1002/pts.2770070504.
  3. Stern, R. K.; Jordan, C.A. (1973). "Shock cushioning by corrugated fiberboard pads to centrally applied loading" (PDF). Forest Products Laboratory Research Paper, FPL-RP-184. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  4. Wang, Dong-Mei; Wang, Zhi-Wei (October 2008). "Experimental investigation into the cushioning properties of honeycomb paperboard". Packaging Technology and Science. 21 (6): 309–373. doi:10.1002/pts.808.
  5. Mojzes, Akos; Folders, Borocz (2012). "Define Cushion Curves for Environmentally Friendly Foams" (PDF). ANNALS OF FACULTY ENGINEERING HUNEDOARA – International Journal of Engineering. FACULTY of ENGINEERING ‐ HUNEDOARA, ROMANIA: 113–118. Retrieved 8 Mar 2012.
  6. Khangaldy, Pal; Scheumeman, Herb (2000), Design Parameters for Deformable Cushion Systems (PDF), IoPP, Transpack 2000, retrieved 8 Mar 2012
  7. 5515976 A US US 5515976 A, Moren, M S, "Packaging for fragile articles within container", published 14 May 1996
  8. Burgess, G (March 2000). "Extensnion and Evaluation of fatigue Model for Product Shock Fragility Used in Package Design". J. Testing and Evaluation. 28 (2).
  9. Morris, S A (2011), "Transportation, Distribution, and Product Damage", Food and Package Engineering, Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 367–369, ISBN 978-0-8138-1479-7, retrieved 13 Feb 2015

Further reading

External links

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