Shipment Packaging Illusions – Why 1/4 inch bubble wrap, crumpled newspapers and the like are useless

A reasonable example of over-packaging

Recently I have had a series of inbound shipments where the person packaging the item for shipment said they knew how to prepare a shipment, but they did a very risky packaging job.

I lucked out as it seems, as damages were mostly avoided. But bitter past experience is that if the electronics or musical instruments had been damaged that shipping insurance would not cover the loss.

Reality is insurance is some protection from unanticipated events, but is no cover for taking unreasonable risks by packaging poorly.

The usual line is to use the Manufacturer’s original packaging, and then a suitable over-packaging.

Well that is idealistic at best, as gear is usually long separated from any original packaging, some gear never had packaging ready for modern shipping in the first place, and usually there is minimal information on how to prepared the gear before it even goes into the packaging. And truth be known, people are cheap and want to avoid disassembly with shipments becomeing multiple packages. Some rules of thumb:

  • Do your research – if the transformers, tubes or other parts originally shipped separately follow suit now.
  • If it moves, or could move, figure a way to immobilize or protect it. On musical instruments they “cork the keys” and on electronics spacers and tape can secure things.
  • Consider using a professional pack-and-ship service. If I don’t have access to original SHIPPING boxes and materials, I use a UPS Store that I know does a large volume of delicate shipments. They have become someone I trust to pack things right.
  • If you have to buy a set of original packaging, do so.
  • Always over-package, with a heavy box larger than the packaged original separated by a shock absorbing material on ALL SIX sides.
  • Think that your package could travel upside down, receive harsh bumps or even be dropped.
  • I take photos at each stage, just in case.
  • Make sure your shipment is insured, which can include 3rd-party options or being ready to cover a loss yourself (called self-insuring).
  • I try to cover the original packaging or the item itself with plastic, to make it waterproof. Use the quickest courier you can afford, as the difference in price can extend a couple day journey to weeks, where your item can be abused, stored in poor environmental conditions or go missing.
  • Try to keep to a signature delivery, as drop-on-the-doorstep packages go missing, get wet, freeze or fry in the sun more than signature-required packages.
  • If your electronics or musical instrument has a case, make sure it is a “shipping grade case” rather than a convenience-case.  If you have ever seen a set of Anvil tour-grade cases and compare them to the end user case, you will know what the difference is all about.
  • Some stuff can’t be shipped my normal couriers.  There are specialty services that you can use.
  • Consider the person unwrapping, as they have to get your tape and packaging undone without damaging what you sent.

Some all to often used shipping materials which simply do not provide any protection are:

  • Crumbled Newspaper
  • Little Bubble Wrap and most any bubble wrap in a single layer.
  • Foam Peanuts unless they are several inches thick, pre-compressed at packaging to keep them in place, kept away from your electronics (have you ever dug peanuts out of a heatsink? not fun) and kept from pouring out if your outer box gets torn.
  • The stuffing from old pillows (yup I have had people use that stuff thinking it made a difference).
  • Packaging that crushes and stays crushed, rather than bouncing back.

Here are some links:

Done write most things can be successfully shipped, done wrong every shipment is a gamble.



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