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ADDISON, Ill. — It looks like a torture chamber for cardboard and bubble wrap. At a lab in suburban Chicago, UPS Inc. tests new packaging designs by dropping, shaking, and smashing boxes with brutal-looking equipment.
The point is to see what type of packaging can withstand the trip from supplier to customer, protecting the delicate products inside.
From cupcakes to live crickets, products of a mind-boggling variety are now shipped by online retailers to consumers around the world. As the holiday shipping season throttles up, companies want their products to arrive safely.
But they also demand sustainable materials for their packaging so they can boast of being green.
On top of that, they want to reduce their costs.
The UPS Package Design and Testing Lab helps with all that, crunching and squeezing prototype packaging for 750 businesses a year and designing innovative new boxes for an additional 50 customers.
Men’s suits arriving at the store wrinkled? That’s a job for UPS’ Quint Marini and his team of eight packaging engineers.
Their new design for a perfect suit box solved the problem by layering 10 suits on hangers in alternate directions and keeping them in place with a built-in strap.
“It took us five months,” Mr. Marini said.
Boxes to protect fragile frosting on cupcakes, to keep cheesecakes cold, to keep pharmaceuticals at room temperature — Mr. Marini’s team has designed them. Their busiest time is summer when companies get ready to introduce new products.
A typical testing workout takes four hours. Boxes get a 900-pound hug from the compression table. They crash 17 times from the drop tester.
They endure the cruelty of the bridge impact tester, which slams into them from the sky like a karate chop. They shake for two hours on the vibration table, which mimics a bumpy truck ride. The altitude chamber simulates flight conditions; it can explode a bag of potato chips.
Other shipping companies, including FedEx Corp., have similar labs.
Mr. Marini gets some odd requests.
One supplier of reptile foods wanted to ship dead rats and live crickets together.
Mr. Marini advised against it: The dry ice needed to keep the rats from decomposing would have suffocated the crickets.