We are all familiar with the one-time shipment packaging products available. Our computer monitors, laptops, and televisions typically come in custom Styrofoam packaging. Basic packages might come with bubble wrap or messy shipping peanuts. If you are packaging highly sensitive units or units that will be shipped many times – reusable packaging products should be considered.
In Reusable Packaging products, Styrofoam, bubble wrap, and peanuts are typically replaced with more durable foams. The two most used foam types in reusable packaging are Polyurethane and Polyethylene foams.
Polyurethane (PU and also called Polyester)
This is a spongy foam like the consistency of foam used in pillows or mattress covers. It is an open-cell material which means it will absorb liquids. This foam is used for packaging extremely lightweight units and is used when the foam is in contact with delicate areas of units that are susceptible to scratching – such as the face of LCD or plasma TV’s and computer monitors.
This is more rigid than Polyurethane. It is closer to the properties of Styrofoam but is much more pliable and flexible. Styrofoam can easily be broken if bent but Polyethylene foam will not split or break when bent. Polyethylene foam has closed cells so it will not absorb liquids. This foam can be used for packaging almost any unit and is many packaging designers prefer using it because it does not absorb liquid.
Polyurethane is a dark gray color. Polyethylene is black. (both come in many colors – white, yellow, blue, etc.)
There are different densities of both foams. The most common is two- pound per cubic foot density. A cubic foot is 12“ x 12” x 12” so the two-pound denotes the weight of a solid one foot cube block of foam.
Four, six and nine pound per cubic foot density foams are also available. The nine-pound Polyethylene foam is the density of a soft wood. This would be used in applications where a unit weighs several hundred pounds.
The cost of the Polyurethane vs. Polyethylene foams is very similar but the cost increases with higher density foams.
Polyurethane Foam – Hard Drives, cameras, lenses, lights, music recording units, microphones, and sensitive electronic components.
Polyethylene Foam – Large Plotters, rugged units like metal fixtures, microphone stands, heavy industrial machine parts, large speakers or amplifiers, heavy cables or cords.
In highly sensitive environments where static electricity is an issue, anti-static foams are available. Both the standard Polyurethane and Polyethylene foams can come with anti-static properties which help dissipate the electric charge inside a package.
The anti-static foams come in the same densities as standard Polyurethanes and Polyethylene foams.
Cross Link Foam
Cross Link Polyethylene foams are used in applications where Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is a concern. Standard Polyethylene foams have air pockets throughout the foam but the Cross Link foam has a flat surface area. This helps reduce the foam particles that are created by the friction between the foam and unit as it is removed and placed into the foam.
Cross link Foam can be found in a light gray color as well as black or charcoal.
High Density Polyethylene Sheets
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) sheets can be used in foam cushions where a heavy item has a small surface area in contact with the foam. The nose of a missile, sharp end of a drill tool, or sharp metal edges of industrial units are all examples of small surface areas.
HDPE can also be used as support in a removable tray. The HDPE will give the tray some rigidity while being removed from case.
Typically color is black, but can be white or gray. ABS can also be used.
A good foam designer will ask several questions about the units being packaged and the environments where they will travel to in order to pick the correct foam for your application. Price, lead time, and ease of assembly are all areas that a designer will consider while designing the right packaging for a project.
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