BLACKSBURG, Va. – Ever wonder how much your packages get thrown around before they get to your doorstep? That’s what researchers at Virginia Tech are trying to figure out.
Dr. Laszlo Horvath at the university’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, along with his students, placed sensors in boxes, shipped them to California and Canada and back again so they could see just how much the packages moved during the trips with UPS and FedEx.
“The sensor can measure the drop orientation, how many times the package is dropped, whether it’s a corner or an edge drop, what is the height of the drop, so we can learn a lot about the actual distribution,” said Horvath.
“Shock events, impact events, vibration events, from all axes,” said graduate student Yuyang Huang.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Horvath said companies might not have as many employees working at distribution centers and more people are ordering online.
“So they have to ship a lot more items and they have a lot less people,” said Horvath. “So we wanted to know whether that affected the harshness of the distribution.”
The sensors are calibrated before each shipment to ensure they can detect every bump and every drop.
Packages can typically withstand an 18-inch drop.
So far, the research has detected 30-50 inch falls. Most impacts and damages are small, but they do see human handling errors, including in Roanoke.
“When they loaded the package into the parcel truck there was a 56-inch fly. Somebody threw that package into the truck and the package was bouncing and rolling inside the truck,” said Horvath.
The research study will last past Christmas and Horvath said about 70% of all parcel deliveries each year are made in November and December.
When they get the results, if they find that packages are being handled less carefully, they can do something about it to prevent damage.
“If we find out that we do have harsher handling, then we can modify our processes. And now, us packaging engineers now we can design packages to survive that,” said Horvath. ”We want the customer to have a good experience. We want to help companies to help their customers have a good experience.”