Packaging in International Freight Forwarding (Air Freight): Filling Materials

International Air Freight Consultant

One of my articles, posted here, already discussed packaging. The central theme of that article was wood used as packaging and filling material. A further article may be necessary to explain the terms mentioned there viz. IPPC and ISPM 15.

In this article, I shall draw your attention to a filling material, which is used quite often i.e. styrofoam chips.

Apart from large machines and machinery parts that are transported on the international trade lanes, smaller electronic and fragile goods are also moved by air, sea or road. Obviously, each of these modes of transport requires individual standards of packaging, as the risks vary in their form.

Irrespective of the mode of transport used, one common factor is the haulage. Before a freight can be put on board a ship or an aeroplane, a lorry is required to transport that cargo to the place of loading.

The second factor that plays a generally ignored role is vibration. Vibration transmitted from the vehicle to the freight will, inadvertently, affect the content. One should not forget that a freight will be subject to various movements during transit and any form of movement will have a direct impact on the content within the packaging.

The general scenario of movements

  • Fork-lift
  • Pallet jacks
  • Tail lift
  • Engine vibration transmitted through the body of the lorry
  • Movements during loading the freight on a ULD ( fork-lift )
  • Movement via loading equipment during transfer into the aircraft
  • Take off, landing and in-flight vibration

Movements arising out of all the above factors are influencing the contents without our noticing it. Providing protection to the contents must take all these forms of influence into consideration.

This is where the so-called styrofoam chips need to be looked at in a fully different light. Chips, being loose pieces, will move because of the vibration they receive. The chips are set in (almost) continual motion which releases the air that is trapped between the gaps. This will change the density of the structure of filling material, because as the air escapes, the chips will resettle into a new formation.

The chips from the top will move gradually down, exposing the top of the contents. thus leaving that part of the freight without any protection. This will mean that the padding that was available at the top area of the freight will vanish exposing the contents to risks from external sources. Since cartons do not have a big resistance, the absence of any padding beneath will cause the shocks of an impact to be transmitted directly to the contents.

If the filling is not done well, the chips on the sides, too, will settle down, exposing the flanks of the freight. Any lateral shock will thus be passed over to the pieces inside. No external damage may be visible. Any form of damage will be brought to light only after the contents are taken out of the packaging. Advice: It is better to avoid chips and use styrofoam blocks.

Professional help in right packaging can help prevent damage to consignments. My suggestions and views come from my experience. I have helped my clients. The term packaging might sound innocent, but a damage due to wrong packaging will result in unnecessary losses and problems. Need help? Write me an email:

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Author: surenpillai

Experienced freight forwarder. Managed freight movements across all the continents. Highlights were the technology roadshows (EMEA) and Trade Lane Management India. All the above combined with Customer Relationship Management, foreign agent management, dedicated key account management. Previous experience as a teacher of English. Member of the Queen's English Society