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Equipment damage: 8 main causes of products breaking in transit

Equipment damage: 8 main causes of products breaking in transit

Identifying the ways in which your tools, products or equipment can become damaged in transit

The cost of returns to retailers and online sellers is well publicised.

In fact, it is estimated that returns cost UK retailers £60 billion in 2016 (£20 billion of which came from online purchases).

Even Amazon, widely regarded as the leader in e-commerce, has grappled with this issue, the company has spent $6.6 billion on delivery in 2014, yet only receiving $3.1 billion in fees for doing so.

What is less widely reported is the impact of returns on B2B companies. As whilst the proportion of orders being returned because of customers changing their mind is significantly lower (having become an expectation in the B2C sector), the issues are generally seen around faulty products or equipment.

This issue of product or equipment damage in transit has, in fact, become a major challenge for businesses in specific areas.

wasted time on site

Impacts on your business

Unlike B2C operations, there are in fact a couple of ways that business to business suppliers and industrial companies can suffer from transit damage.

Firstly – and as with virtually any seller of goods – products that are damaged in transit are returned, either for a full refund or replacement.

This leads to considerable cost in terms of the return shipping, having damaged stock that potentially is written off, sending out a new item, the admin surrounding this and also the negative impact it can have on your company’s reputation.

Secondly, and something which is often overlooked, is that equipment, parts or components damaged in transit can lead to a significant amount of wasted time.

transit damage

Secondly, and something which is often overlooked, is that equipment, parts or components damaged in transit can lead to a significant amount of wasted time.

For example, if you have field engineers arriving on site with specialist tools or parts that are damaged, they are not able to do their job (wasting time, causing delays and again damaging reputation).

Similarly, if you are part of another manufacturers supply chain, components that you supply to them that are damaged can slow their own production lines (or even halt it in extreme cases), affecting not only their operational productivity but also the relationship between your businesses.

How can equipment be damaged in transit?

This is why it is essential to ensure your shipments – whether of components or parts to a customers manufacturing plant, products to end users or even the specialist tools and equipment to your service engineers, are protected during transit.

However, in order to ensure appropriate and effective protection is put in place, it is important to first understand the types of damage your tools, products or equipment may face.

As such, the main 8 causes of items becoming damaged during transit and shipping are as follows:

The rest of this guide highlights exactly how these factors can cause damage to your parts, components, tools, equipment or even finished products during transportation.

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Impact / Shock

Although perhaps obvious, any shock or impact that your tools, products or equipment suffer can cause irreparable damage.

Impact is defined as a high force or shock applied over a short time period when two or more bodies collide. The effect depends on the relative velocity of the two bodies to one another.

The kinetic energy on impact will see the items deform, which will absorb most or all of the force of the collision. Sound and heat energy is also released, but depending on the speed of the impact, there is not sufficient time for the deformation to occur, resulting in fractures of the material.

This could be caused by mishandling, products being dropped, collisions during transit or even individual items colliding with each other inside their packaging if not secured correctly.

The outcome means your products or equipment will have cosmetic damage (at best) or will be damaged to the point of being inoperable at worst.

This is why foam cushion packaging – to protect items within – and durable equipment cases that can absorb more of the force of any impact are frequently used for shipping high-value equipment and specialist items.

choosing the correct exterior case

Vibration

Many specialist tools and equipment – and even components for specific industries – can be sensitive to vibration.

Whilst it is inescapable that every mode of transit subjects your shipment to some level of vibration, it is important to determine what is known as the “natural frequency” of your items and compare this with the vibration characteristics of your chosen packaging.

However, the highest risk of damage is observed when the vibrations created during transit coincide with the natural frequency of the item (or its’ critical components) which then causes resonant frequency vibration excitation.

prevent damage in transit

It is therefore important to assess any packaging material (for example foam inserts) and judge (or test) whether the material will perform in direct coupling (i.e. unchanged vibration), attenuation (decreased vibration) or amplification (increased vibration).

Failure to do so could result in your specialist components, or highly calibrated equipment, arriving at its destination damaged or impaired.

Luckily, specialist foams such as Plastazote and even Stratocell can be used to create packaging and inserts to provide the optimum level of protection from vibration for specific items.

Moisture

Moisture can take the form of leaks, spillages, rain and even atmospheric conditions (i.e. condensation). All can prove fatal for your products or equipment.

This is particularly true for any items that feature or rely on electronic components for their usual operations. The reasons for this are two-fold.

cases that protect from moisture

Firstly, water conducts electricity. What this means when moisture gets into your equipment’s electronics, is that the water creates short circuits, effectively re-routing the power current to paths of lower resistance (to somewhere it is not meant to go). If this in itself does not stop the item working, the subsequent overloading of specific components will.

Secondly, even if the power source was not present / active during the exposure to moisture, and the device or part is fully dried out, the corrosion caused by the water when in contact with various connectors and other elements can prevent the power current flowing correctly.

The other point to bear in mind is that you may be supplying parts or products that feature a decorative surface that may become damaged by contact with water (think high-end fabrics or automotive cabin components). This “cosmetic” damage can be just as costly depending on the circumstances.

As a result, there are now a wide range of specialist waterproof cases available, all with IP ratings that will ensure any moisture will not be able to penetrate the case (even if submerged for prolonged periods).

Dust

Dust is another factor that has particularly serious consequences for any equipment that relies on electronics.

Firstly, dust inhibits the movement of air. As such, any equipment or product that uses fans for cooling can be negatively affected, overheating and placing a strain on components before likely failure.

Secondly, dust attracts moisture. If dust is present within a component or part, moisture is able to adhere to it (whereas it would otherwise not have been able to) and begin causing damage as detailed previously (corrosion, short circuits etc.).

Finally, even small amounts of dust may result in inaccurate or false readings, particularly in highly calibrated equipment. This can be particularly serious in industries such as medical, research and precision manufacturing).

As with moisture damage, this is another reason why IP rated equipment cases are increasingly used to protect specialist equipment in transit.

Dust Proof Cases

Static charges

Also known as electrostatic discharge (ESD), static has been around forever. However, it is only with the increased use of electronics and equipment that relies on these that it has become an issue.

In layman’s terms, ESD is a tiny version of lightning. As current dissipates through an object, it is seeking the easiest path to ground to equalise. Whilst this can often be through the metal frame of a tool or component, it can also be through integrated circuits and boards.

Whilst this may not necessarily result in damage, the static can burn holes (sometimes visible to the naked eye) and cause heat damage to the surrounding area.

Over time, repeated instances of ESD like this will degrade equipment’s internal components over time, at best shortening its usable life or at worst causing instant, catastrophic failure.

There are various forms of packaging that provide protection from ESD, which includes the outer packaging as well as specialist inserts (i.e. anti static foam) which can be used to channel any harmful charges to safety.

Temperature / humidity

Whilst humidity raises similar issues to those detailed above regarding moisture ingress, what can also cause damage to tools and components is temperatures.

Extreme heat can cause parts to become pliable and even melt, whilst low temperatures can cause materials to become brittle and degrade. This can also damage components such as led displays and screens.

However, subjecting your products or parts to these extremes is actually fairly rare (unless of course, you export specialist items for research or military purposes – to name just two). Another way that temperature can cause damage is exposure to frequent changes.

temperature control cases

This can cause items to expand and contract as they heat and cool. Whilst this may well be within operational tolerances, it can weaken connections and structures, eventually leading to their failure. At a less severe level, these changes can cause calibrated items to return inaccurate data or recordings too.

This is why specific items may need to be shipped using insulated containers or packaging, in order to mitigate the effects on the equipment or parts.

Poor handling

Although this arguably falls under shock and vibration, as it is a factor that can be controlled it has been included on this list.

It is also one of the most common ways for your equipment or products to become damaged.

And whilst it may be easy to blame couriers and shipping companies (who admittedly are facing the increased challenge of growing e-commerce order fulfilment), it could just as easily be your customers or staff causing the problems.

For example, do your field engineers or service technicians simply chuck the case of tools into their vehicle when they have finished their job? Does the team loading orders onto your lorries or transport know the value (or fragility) of the items?

If you are renting out equipment do your customers take time and care to repack it before returning?

All of these scenarios could be leading to equipment damage.

The only real solution is well-designed packaging or shipping cases that can only be packed in one way, offers protection from mishandling and is tailored to the specific application or equipment.

poor handling

Wrong cases / packaging

This leads to the final point – that the single easiest factor to be able to control equipment damage is how your package your items.

For example, if you are sending out extremely high value, or fragile products that cost thousands of pounds, then corrugated cardboard packaging is unlikely to the best solution.

It is worth thinking about the cost of packaging vs the cost of having to replace returned items or faulty equipment.

If a protective case with custom foam costs £300 to provide the optimum level of protection, but the cost of replacing a specialist part would cost £5,000 (or more), then it does not make sense to underspecify the packaging.

When you also factor in the costs of field operatives stuck on site not being able to do their job, the loss of business from key customers due to frequently delivering damaged items or even the reputational damage you will eventually incur, choosing an appropriate form of packaging could make a significant difference to your business and overall profitability.

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In Summary

Equipment damage in transit can be a major headache for any company.

It can lead to costs rising through returns, written off products and wasted time on site. However, it can have more insidious consequences, such as negatively affecting relationships with your customers, delaying major projects and even leading to a poor perception of your company.

So, by understanding the types of damage your products, parts and equipment face, you can begin taking stapes to ensure they are adequately protected.

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