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Containers with dividers and other dunnage options for totes

Ian Cook: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides and Advice xx 31616

Enhance Your Containers / Totes

How to choose the best insert option for your handling totes and returnable packaging

If you are already using in plant or line side handling totes, or indeed returnable packaging as part of wider supply chain, the chances are you are well aware of the benefits of using containers with dividers.

But what if are looking to source and / or develop a closed loop system for your operations? What is you are already using dunnage for your totes, but do not feel they are performing as well as hoped.

What if you don’t even know what dunnage is?

Totes with dividers
Dunnage refers to the inserts - such as dividers, foam or layer pads - which can be added to your handling containers

Regardless of what stage you are at in your project, this guide aims to provide a comprehensive list of the dunnage and insert options for your reusable totes.

This means that whether you are looking to upgrade what you are currently using, or are starting from scratch, you can make an informed decision on the best option for your business, products, parts, industry and / or application.

Quick Reference / Contents

01: Why is Dunnage Important?

Improvements in efficiency and protection

Handling totes and reusable, multi trip containers are great.

They enable easy movement of parts, components or products around your factory or even between different sites in your supply chain. Their hard-wearing nature means that, after the initial investment, they are exceptionally cost effective and long lasting.

They are also great for the environment, helping to cut down on waste that needs to be recycled or sent to landfill.

However, if many components are simply placed “loose” into a container, they are free to move around inside during transit. This can cause problems.

For starters, the contained parts can damage themselves through colliding with each other.

This can lead to the rejection of certain parts, with the cost to your business of this wastage being obvious.

Custom totes
You can realise a number of benefits through using dividers for totes, including improved efficiency and minimised handling damage

Besides this, when it comes to removing the items, they can be tangled or hard to prise from the container.

Even they can be removed easily, having everything thrown in together makes it much more difficult to manually check the stock levels. This affects the efficiency of initial checks, but can also mean that ongoing “at a glance” checks are much harder to carry out.

The impact of this?

If the amount of components or parts is allowed to run too low, then the knock on impact could be delays in production whilst additional items are found from elsewhere.

The impact on your manufacturing productivity can have serious implications for your business’ competitiveness.

Yet these potential issues can be easily resolved simply by using suitable dividers or inserts for your containers.

02: Dunnage Options

The dunnage options to enhance your totes / returnable packaging

So if containers with dividers can make such a profound difference in your manufacturing processes and supply chain, what are the various options you can look to take advantage of?

The widely used dunnage options for totes are as follows:

  • Correx® Dividers
  • Specialist material dividers (e.g. Bicell)
  • Foam dunnage
  • Corrugated with specialist finishes
  • Integrated cradles
  • Vac formed trays
  • Insert containers (SSI)
  • Layer Pads
  • Air-sacs / Void fill

Please continue reading for further information on each of these options, their specific applications and benefits, and how you can apply this to your specific processes and requirements.

03: Dividers (Correx®)

Versatile cell partitions / divider sets

Whilst dividers – also referred to as divisions, divider sets or even cell partitions – can be manufactured from a range of materials, perhaps the most widespread is Correx®.

A fluted polypropylene material, corrugated plastic Correx® is durable, strong and relatively easy to convert into intricate shapes and designs.

This makes it perfect for the creation of adjustable divider sets.

The main purpose of these partitions is to sub divide a larger tote or container to make it suitable for carrying a larger number of smaller parts or components.

Custom dividers
Custom dividers, frequently manufactured from Correx®, are the most versatile and flexible way of improving your totes

Creating these cells or “pockets” offers a number of benefits.

Firstly, they vastly minimise (or completely eliminate the movement of the parts during handling or transit. This means that not only can they not cause damage by colliding with each other, but do not suffer damage from colliding with container walls (as the distance of potential travel is reduced considerably.

Besides this, by placing a single part in each partition it makes quick stock checks of the contents much more efficient and easy.

Another key benefit of using tote inserts of this nature is that they are configurable to suite a wide range of parts or components. The increments on the dividers ensure the size and layout of the cells is easily modified, making them adaptable to changes in specifications, parts being used, and even making them reusable if a specific line or product become obsolete.

The nature of Correx® also means it is durable, hard-wearing (being available in different grades depending on the application), resistant to moisture, can be easily cleaned and can be stored flat when not in use.

This means they are likely to last for the same time as your chosen outer containers.

And finally, whilst it is possible to specify custom sized Correx® dividers, they are usually available in stock sizes designed to fit most common totes. This means that they can be ordered on short lead times for urgent requirements.

04: Specialist Dividers

Specialist material dividers (Bubble-board)

Whilst Correx® dividers offer an exceptionally versatile and long lasting way to improve the efficiency of your handling totes and supply chain packaging, they can in fact be enhanced further.

This is through the use of specialist materials offering additional properties and benefits.

For example, Correx® can be supplied in a fabric covered grade. This provides the key benefit of providing a soft surface for the components to be placed against, which in turn reduces the number of parts rejected due to damage to surface finishes.

This is particularly important for consumer goods, automotive parts and any painted or polished surface.

It also means that the costs to your business of damaged and written of stock, plus potential customer returns and even production delays (if particularly high volumes are being damaged), is greatly reduced.

Specialist dividers
Specialist dividers, such as those manufactured from Bubble-board, offer additional cushioning and scuff protection

Besides this fabric covered Correx®, Bubble-board is also widely used for dividers.

Whilst also being available in a fabric (spun bond) grade, Bubble-board is also offered with a foam laminated surface.

This foam or “cushioning” grade not only protects surface finishes but also adds a level of protection against impact and sudden shocks that may be caused by mishandling or normal transit conditions. This again reduces damage, and in turn lowers costs.

Finally, if your manufacturing uses or produces electronic parts or components (think circuit boards, microchips etc.) then static can actually be a surprising prevalent cause of damage.

Whilst you may be mitigating this by using anti-static or conductive containers – and if you aren’t you should be – you can further enhance these containers with anti-static dividers too.

Manufactured from either a conductive grade of Correx® (known as Corriplast), or from carbon coated corrugated cardboard (Corstat), these dividers will help to safely channel any static charges away from the contents of the container, keeping them safe from damage.

05: Foam Dunnage

High performance foam dividers and inserts

Whilst Correx® and Bicell dividers can provide excellent levels of protection, it may be the case that you are transporting or handling very delicate or sensitive items during your manufacturing processes.

If this applies to your business, then foam dividers or foam dunnage can be utilised to provide the highest level of protection.

In fact, using specialist software, it can even be possible to calculate the exact levels of cushioning protection required for a specific item, and the foam manufactured accordingly.

This is the extreme end of the scale however, and is more frequently found in high performance protective cases. It usually results in the creation of routed profiles and shapes creating foam inserts that are tailored to the exact shapes of the items being transported.

This is often too expensive for use within returnable packaging containers and line side totes, but foam can still be used successfully for these applications.

Foam dunnage for totes
Foam dunnage for totes - as well as helping to organise and separate parts - also offers additional protection from mishandling

For example, at the most basic level, foam can be used to simply to line the tote.

It can also be used to create foam dunnage which simultaneously holds the parts / components in place and also offers them surface protection and cushioning. Foam pads and blocks can also be used alongside other dividers.

Finally, for larger parts or items foam end caps can be used.

Whilst normally placed onto the product or component before being placed in the tote or transit container, it is obviously critical that the foam and container are compatible and tight fit is achieved to prevent any unnecessary movement during handling or transit.

06: Corrugated Cardboard

Corrugated dividers with specialist finishes

If a very specific property is required, then it may be worth considering corrugated cardboard dividers.

Whilst not offering anywhere near the longevity of Correx® division sets, they are also considerably cheaper (although when looking at lifetime cost, the need to replace them more frequently makes them a more expensive long term option.

The real advantage that they can offer however is the ease with which they can be coated to provide varying performance.

For example, as mentioned above corrugated board can be coated to provide anti-static performance. In fact, Corstat is widely used for conductive divider sets in a wide range of industries.

However, corrugated can also be treated with VCI corrosion inhibiting coating to protect metal objects from rust. This can be particularly useful if such objects are likely to be shipped via sea freight.

They can also be easily coloured (which may help with batch control and identification), and provided with an anti-scuff finish for protecting highly polished or painted surfaces.

The key point to consider however is that the longevity of each of these solutions will be less than that provide by Correx® or Bicell – although depending on production cycles and cost targets, this may not be a major consideration / issue.

07: Integrated Cradles

Integral dividers, inserts and fittings

Whilst removable divider sets and dunnage usually provide the most flexible solution for enhancing totes, they are not the best solution for every business.

In fact, if you know you will require a high volume of a specific type of divider – for example for a widely used part or component, it is possible to have the dividers fabricated to be an integrated part of the exterior container.

Using Correx® and other corrugated plastics (and indeed certain types of cardboard if longevity is not a requirement), custom totes and containers can have the divisions designed into them.

The benefits of this are an easier inventory of packaging to manage, the ability to fold both the outer tote and divider flat when not in use (e.g. return journeys), and also means that divider sets would not become separated from their outer container.

Besides all this, the compatibility between part and divider can be greatly enhanced. The fit can be made virtually perfect.

Integrated cradles for totes
Working with a specialist designer, such as GWP, you can have totes designed and manufactured with dividers or cradles integrated into the main tote

The negatives of this approach are that if the component or part changes or discontinued, it is unlikely the totes can be re-purposed for use elsewhere.

They may also be slightly higher in cost due to the design time required to tailor them to the components. It may also not be cost effective if you already have perfectly good totes that could be utilised.

However, for new and large volume requirements (or even those that require complete elimination of movement to enhance protection), integrated dividers are an option that should be seriously considered.

08: Vac Formed Trays

Moulded plastic insert options

Integrated dividers are a great option if you are sourcing new containers. But what if you already have moulded totes that could be used?

Rather than writing off the cost of these containers (which can be expensive depending on the quality), and if you really do not think divider sets will work, then vacuum formed trays are an option to consider.

The benefit of vacuum formed trays is that are usually tailored to the shape of your specific parts, components or products. This means they completely eliminate movement, holding the item securely in place. They are also vastly cheaper than foam inserts (in mid to high volumes) that would achieve the same thing.

The downsides however are that they are not as adaptable as cell partitions (as with integrated cradles / dividers), and they provide little if any cushioning protection from impact.

They are only really cost effective in mid to high volumes as well, due to the high setup and tooling costs.

Vac formed trays
Vac formed trays are a decent, low cost option for enhancing your line-side containers

09: Insert Containers

Tailored container inserts for SSI Schaefer totes

You may find that, depending on the range of totes that you are using, they may have a selection of insert containers designed to work seamlessly with them.

A good example of this is the EF Series inserts from SSI Schaefer.

Effectively a collection of smaller totes, they are manufactured so that they can be arranged inside the larger outer totes to create a network of storage compartments as required.

This effectively means that they have the advantages of using Correx® dividers, but with the added benefit of potentially being used as a standalone container too (which is useful if the container needs to be taken out for easy access to parts during manufacture).

Saying that, they are considerably more expensive that divider sets and considerably less adaptable. But, if this is not an issue, and you are already using the related outer container, it is an option worth considering.

Insert containers
Some tote ranges - such as those manufactured by SSI Schaefer - may offer a range of standardised inserts and dividers

10: Layer Pads

Material for layer separation

Layer pads, despite being one of the most simple forms / components of reusable packaging, can prove exceptionally useful when used alongside other dunnage options.

Effectively a sheet or material (commonly corrugated cardboard or Correx®), the pad will act as a layer separator. This means that multiple layers of components can be used in a single outer container, being paced in dividers with a layer pad on top, and repeated as required.

As with divisions, the layer pads can be made from anti-static material or have surface finishes to prevent scuffing of surfaces, and are available in custom sizes or standard dimensions to fit virtually any tote.

11: Air sacks / Void Fill

Low cost solution

Finally, air sacks and other forms of void fill may be used in your returnable supply chain packaging (although less so in line side and in plant handling totes).

Designed – as with other dunnage – to prevent movement of the parts or components during transit, they are the lowest cost option of all listed here.

The trade-offs are that they are generally less effective, are not reusable, have a need to be disposed of or recycled after each trip, and are not particularly good for your environmental impact.

However, for specific applications (trips between production facilities for low cost items prone to damage for example), or where cost is the overriding factor, then they may be worth considering.

In Summary

Why you should be utilising containers with dividers

GWP will be happy to offer your business genuinely impartial advice on what is the best solution for your specific market, product, application or current situation.

As a supplier of both single trip and returnable packaging for almost 30 years, we have the skills, know-how and manufacturing capabilities to ensure you see the maximum benefit from your packaging processes.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Ian Cook, GWP Group managing director

Ian Cook

Managing Director | GWP Correx®

Ian heads up GWP Correx®, having outstanding knowledge and understanding of supply chain, reusable packaging & handling products [Read full bio…]

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