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5 dunnage options and returnable packaging inserts

Emily Parker: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Efficiency & Productivity | Guides and Advice xx

Common container insert options analysed

A guide to selecting the correct reusable packaging inserts for your application

Inefficient handling of parts can play a significant role in the success (or otherwise) of your manufacturing.

It can waste time. Lead to product damage. Slow down production operatives in finding the parts they need or preventing them from quickly seeing when they are going to run out of something.

If your business is experiencing any of these difficulties, a range of returnable packaging inserts and dunnage options can prove invaluable.

But which do you choose? Which insert type is most suitable for your business, industry, products, or application? This guide analyses the most commonly used options:

  • Correx® dividers and inserts
  • Foam dunnage
  • Vacuum-formed insert trays
  • Custom inserts
  • Single trip corrugated (cardboard)

Please continue reading to see further details of each option and which is best suited to your application.


Returnable packaging inserts

Selecting inserts or dividers for your returnable packaging or handling containers

The number of different dunnage options can initially seem quite daunting. How do you select the correct returnable packaging inserts for your business or specific application?

Several different factors can influence which option is likely to be most successful.

Considerations can include – but are not limited to – order volumes, size, shape, and value of the items you are transporting or handling, the environment the inserts are used in and, of course, your budget.

Why use tote inserts?

But before analysing which insert options would be best for your specific application, it is essential to consider why you would use them.

Arguably the key benefit of using packaging or container inserts of any type is to minimise movement within the outer container during transit or handling. This movement is the most common cause of damage to parts, components, and products either during movement around your production facility or wider supply chain.

A euro container with Correx dividers inserted
Selecting an appropriate dunnage option for your handling containers can have significant benefits for your business.

All options available -including foam dunnage, Correx® divisions, Bubble-board inserts and vac-formed plastic insert trays – can prevent this movement (and the resultant damage) by housing each item within its own recess or “cell”.

Doing this has other benefits too.

For starters, it makes loading and unloading the parts and components easier. It makes moving multiple parts much more efficient. It allows for quicker visual stock checks “at a glance”. And it means the totes or outer containers cannot be overloaded (aiding health and safety).

Ultimately, as well as preventing damage to parts during handling or transit (and the associated costs), the right dunnage can significantly improve your productivity too.

Selecting a suitable container insert

Choosing the best dunnage option for your specific application

So, without further ado, this guide provides an analysis of which container insert or dunnage option would most suit your specific application.

Please note that whilst this provides a solid overview, there are many nuances that may influence specific industries, processes, and individual businesses. If you would like further specific advice, you can speak with a member of the GWP team for assistance.

Correx® dividers

Best all-rounder

Correx® dividers are an excellent all-round solution for virtually any application.

Tooling and unit costs are relatively low compared with other options, although you may see additional costs incurred through increased assembly times (compared with some of the other insert options).

Plastic container dividers are available in various configurations, different colours and even ESD safe (i.e. anti-static) versions.

A production operative placing an assembled Correx divider set into a tote box
Correx divider sets provide excellent versatility as well as enhancing productivity and part protection.

However, they only create simple cells, which can limit protection for higher-value items. Besides this, they are effective only in single layers (as they do not retain their shape or hold their contents once removed from their outer container). This latter point can be rectified somewhat by using layer pads, however.

All this means that for most handling or returnable transit packaging applications, you should consider using Correx® division sets.

Vacuum formed trays

Best for protection and mid-high volumes

Although commonly used as standalone plastic trays, vacuum-formed trays are arguably the best container insert option when both usability and protection are required.

Being tailored to the shape of the products or components you are handling or transporting, they can almost completely eliminate movement.

This protection offered by vac-form trays can minimise surface scuffs, scratches, and mishandling in general.

A stack of vacuum formed trays in a factory
You can tailor vacuum formed insert trays to your specific requirements - although there are high upfront tooling costs.

They are also great for usability. As a single piece of material, vac-formed dunnage can be easily stacked and layered within a single outer tote. They are also a popular choice for use as kitting trays.

However, they are only suitable for mid to high-volume requirements due to the high tooling and setup costs.

Correx ® inserts

Best compromise between cost and performance (for lower volumes)

Custom Correx® inserts are effectively a compromise between Correx® dividers and vacuum-formed trays.

Formed from a single piece of material with shapes specific to the parts or components cut out, they offer increased protection against movement while maintaining lower unit costs.

Saying that, they are more expensive (and less versatile) than plastic division sets, whilst not offering the same level of protection as vacuum-formed options. They are also not as competitive cost-wise in high volumes.

A custom insert holding an automotive part
Custom inserts manufactured from Correx (or Bubble board) provide numerous benefits.

Foam dividers and dunnage

Best for low volumes

A key benefit of foam dividers and similar dunnage is that they incur no tooling charge (although there is usually a small machine setup cost – insignificant compared with tooling).

Foam dunnage also provides excellent levels of protection, offering cushioning protection against impact or mishandling.

A tote container with foam dunnage inside
Foam dividers work similarly to Correx inserts, but provide additional protection for parts.

However, the individual unit costs are high (meaning they are suitable only for lower volumes), and they can “shed” material (creating dust) over prolonged, repeated use.

Whilst ESD foam grades are available, increased potential for surface contact can often increase the risk of shorting and static damage.

Engineered foam inserts

Highest levels of protection

If you have very delicate (or expensive) parts or components, engineered foam inserts or trays provide the highest levels of protection.

Foam can achieve this through the option to engineer precise levels of cushioning protection into the insert, using advanced software, drop test data, and various differing foam grades.

As with other forms of foam dunnage, the material can be susceptible to a degree of shedding of fibres, making them unsuitable for some medical or clean-room applications.

They are also relatively high in cost (certainly compared with other dunnage options), although eliminating damage to expensive parts or componentry often offsets this.

A black and blue custom foam insert
Custom foam inserts and trays provide the highest levels of protection.

Corrugated cardboard dividers

Lowest cost option

Corrugated cardboard dividers (and other paper-based inserts) are the lowest-cost solution when looking at dunnage.

As with Correx® dividers, cardboard inserts can be supplied in many configurations and help with organisation and damage prevention in transit.

A factory worker assembling cardboard dividers
Cardboard dividers are a low cost option for single trip applications.

Due to the nature of corrugated cardboard (less hardwearing than plastic materials), reusability is limited, and they are generally only used for single-trip applications.

They can also shed particles (similarly to foam) and are not resistant to moisture. However, they can benefit from various coatings to add water resistance, VCI corrosion inhibitor, and anti-static properties.


Sourcing your dunnage options and returnable packaging inserts

Even armed with the knowledge in this guide, choosing the correct container inserts for your business can still be a big decision – but this is where GWP can help.

With over 30 years of experience in single-trip packaging and returnable transit containers, GWP can supply the full range of dunnage and insert options for your boxes or totes. GWP are also among the UK’s largest Correx® and foam converters and provides extensive corrugated cardboard manufacturing and design facilities.

What this also means – aside from being able to source your entire packaging requirements from a single source – is that you can benefit from genuinely impartial advice on what would be the best insert or dunnage option for your specific application and industry.

Find out more

If this sounds like it could help your business, please do not hesitate to speak with a friendly, knowledgeable adviser today. You can reach a GWP team member on 01793 754 444 or email

Further reading

About the Author

Emily Parker, GWP Correx sales office manager

Emily Parker

Sales Office Manager | GWP Correx®

Emily, an expert in anti-static and returnable packaging, joined GWP Group – and the fledgeling GWP Correx® division – in 2014. [Read full bio…]

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