The Complete Guide to Corrugated Plastic Containers

What Are Corrugated Plastic Containers?

We often use terms like ‘totes,’ ‘bins,’ and ‘containers’ interchangeably. The one constant is that these products are invaluable in business settings, whatever the industry or sector. Whether used to store products in a distribution center, factory parts, or law firm documents, totes are indispensable assets. 

Totes represent one of the many moving parts in business operations, and much hinges on gaining an understanding of containers; how they are made, how to decide which products to choose, and their possible use cases. Your choices affect productivity, safety, product integrity, and storage capacity. 

Wrong choices have ramifications. Right choices deliver ROI.

The Most Important Decision in Choosing Containers Is Material

After determining what size containers you’ll need, the next most critical decision is choosing the materials they’re made of, such as molded plastic, cardboard, structural foam, or corrugated plastic. Many organizations instinctively select one of the first two options. However, companies seeking an agile, resilient solution increasingly choose flexible corrugated plastic.

Corrugated plastic makes up 20% of the commercial storage containers in use today. Category leaders appreciate corrugated plastic’s ability to meet production specifications with less lead time—a common sticking point of molded plastic—and be the stand-up solution cardboard boxes can never be. 

Every cost reduction and productivity increase, no matter how small, matters in today’s competitive business environment. Corrugated plastic can provide performance advantages in every application. 

What Makes Corrugated Plastic Different?

Corrugated plastic differs from corrugated cardboard in its manufacturing and performance. Corrugated cardboard sheets are made by gluing top and bottom liner boards to a fluted medium (the wavy part) sandwiched between them. In contrast, our corrugated plastic sheets are made when liquid plastic is extruded through a die to create sheets. 

This combination of resilient plastic and proven flute and liner board design gives corrugated plastic its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. Structural integrity and lightness make this an ideal material for containers used in a variety of industries. 

The plastic used can be either polypropylene, polyethylene, or custom plastics. Polypropylene, the plastic Flexcon favors for its corrugated plastic sheets, is the ideal choice as it combines strength and durability with semi-rigidity and malleability. 

The performance of polypropylene can vary widely among manufacturers based on their choice of resins and use of additives. These small manufacturing differences influence certain properties of the plastic, such as levels of UV-, fire resistance or ESD-protection. Depending on the application, the gauge of the sheets can range from 1.5 to 12 millimeters, with an average of 3 to 4 millimeters.

 Some container manufacturers, like Flexcon, control the corrugated plastic sheets they use to ensure the manufacturing process and part quality, thus, their plastic composition. Most companies use corrugated plastic sheets, often overlooking important factors that went into making them suitable for optimal or even safe use in the industry.

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How Are Corrugated Plastic Containers Manufactured?

Through a specialized manufacturing process, corrugated plastic containers can be fashioned to meet precise functionality, resilience, and size specifications. Using a 5-step process, manufacturers like Flexcon can create containers that maximize the unique properties of the raw material while minimizing capital investments:
  1. Use analysis. A critical first step is studying how a customer will use the container in their operations. After that, the container manufacturers’ R&D teams carefully consider the customer’s container usage requirements. Flexcon uses a multi-point checklist that identifies crucial facts, such as who will use the tote, what products will be stored in it, weight capacity, and the exact shelf space dimensions which more and more often tie to automation requirements.
  2. Design. The desired dimensions and process demands are translated into container specifications. These specifications are further translated into the pre-folded dimensions of the plastic required to make it. Design determines “how” to create the container through cuts, folds, and welds that leverage the unique properties of corrugated plastic. 
  3. Template creation. Computer-aided design (CAD) diagrams provide the details for a template or “tool” that would apply cuts and creases to the corrugated plastic sheets in an optimal way.
  4. Prototyping. The manufacturer will make a cad-knife-cut prototype that can be presented to the customer for evaluation and approval. These samples represent the final product style, and the client should evaluate them in a real-world setting. After testing, the client can provide any pertinent feedback to inform any final tweaks to the template before a tool is made for the production run.
  5. Production. The fine-tuned tool is used to create replicas of the perfected prototype en mass. They are applied to weighted drums or dies that roll over or stamp the plastic to produce a die-cut, a flat piece of plastic that can be assembled into a finished container. Good tools can be used indefinitely with minimal maintenance, allowing manufacturers to mass-produce exact replicas of the prototype for many years.

What Industries Benefit from Corrugated Plastic Containers?

The durability and light weight of corrugated plastic sheets mean they are easy to fabricate into a wide range of container designs. An economical manufacturing cost makes this material right for almost any industry or application.

Food and Beverage containers must be protective of their contents and easy to sanitize after use. Corrugated plastic containers wipe down easily and won’t absorb liquids, making them suitable for transporting perishable foods, such as meat, fish, or beverages. They can also be designed to stack so more fragile food items, like produce, aren’t damaged. Corrugated plastic containers can be manufactured to withstand cold storage temperatures and efficiently store and nest when not in use. 

Healthcare, Medical, or Cleanroom totes must meet the highest standards of cleanliness. Corrugated plastic totes have surfaces that are easy to sterilize and are often constructed with features like lids to prevent contamination. They can also be designed precisely for odd-shaped and expensive instruments. Straight walls maximize cube in busy storage areas, while hopper bins support efficient work. In cleanrooms, corrugated plastic containers can help organize and protect sensitive circuit boards or small chips from electrostatic shock. 

Logistics environments demand durable, versatile totes. Corrugated plastic conveyor totes can perform very well in automation and on pick lines. Manufacturers can customize their containers to add features that maximize efficiency for humans or robots. They can even be made to reduce noise and endure years of use on conveyors. Corrugated plastic containers can be quickly produced to match the volume surges prevalent in dynamic e-commerce fulfillment operations. They can also be designed to adapt to changes in product design and processes that require dividers. 

Warehousing & Distribution environments demand high-performance containers. Corrugated plastic containers can be produced precisely to maximize cube in warehouses where space is at a premium. Straight walls eliminate the space between totes. Their strength enables stacking to maximize vertical space. Corrugated plastic’s collapsing, nesting, and folding features enable efficient storage. These features reduce the space required to haul empty totes back from the clients—a transportation cost saver. 

Manufacturing is a perfect setting for corrugated plastic containers. Where floor space is gold, corrugated plastic totes can be tailored to meet specific product requirements and to maximize available space. They can be designed with features that enable nesting and collapsibility to minimize their footprint when not in use. Factories require totes that facilitate efficiency, and corrugated plastic can be bent to the precise requirements of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) or the ergonomic needs of assemblers.  

Growing and Harvesting processes benefit from sturdy, resilient corrugated plastic. Agricultural containers need to be designed to support productivity and safety in both manual and automated processes. Corrugated plastic containers can be ventilated, reinforced and sized for a full range of farm, food handling and processing applications. High strength-to-weight ratio and the potential to use sun-resistant additives, make corrugated plastic right for rugged use. And features that make them collapsible or nestable make them efficient to store when not in use.

What Are the Key Features and Benefits of Corrugated Plastic Containers?

Top Ten Reasons to Choose Corrugated Plastic

  1. Proven durability that lasts 7-10 years in postal applications.
  2. Moisture and chemical resistance protect the contents from oil, odors, and mildew. 
  3. Less expensive than sturdy molded containers for large quantities. 
  4. Sustainability, lasting 30- to 50 times longer than cardboard. 
  5. Lighter by 40% than most molded plastic containers.
  6. Flexibility that enables design innovations and agile adaptations.
  7. Lead time of 4-5 weeks versus 6 months for custom-molded. 
  8. Dust reduction from replacing cardboard with plastic. 
  9. Potential fire resistance through the use of fire-retardant resins.
  10. Conveyor-safe because the materials are lighter and less dangerous if ejected.
  11. Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) protection can be added to safeguard electronics.

Key Factors For Choosing Corrugated Plastic Containers

Why corrugated plastic over cardboard? 

Cardboard degenerates in humid environments, but corrugated plastic doesn’t. Also as cardboard deteriorates, it creates dust as it slides on floors and shelves. Over time, cardboard boxes sag, creating potentially unsafe conditions when they are stacked. Corrugated plastic keeps warehouses clean and lets you maximize safe stacks.

How long will corrugated plastic containers last? 

Corrugated plastic lasts 30 to 50 times longer than cardboard boxes. High-use sortation centers often see 6-12 years of use from plastic corrugated boxes. One Flexcon customer, the largest jewelry manufacturer in America, has been using their original order of containers for over 30 years. 

How strong are corrugated plastic boxes? 

Flexcon has built corrugated plastic boxes that can hold up to 150 lbs while standard capacity is typically 30 lbs. The high strength-to-weight ratio offered by corrugated plastic is further maximized by adding well-placed folds, welds, and reinforcements.  

How heavy are corrugated plastic boxes? 

They are about 40% lighter than solid molded plastic containers, though far more robust. Compared to sturdy plastic molded containers, corrugated plastic totes have a strength-to-weight ratio that comic book superheroes would be jealous of. The reason for this strength is the corrugation itself. The flutes—like beams in a house or ridges—provide strength and flexibility, while the air between the flutes reduces weight. 

Can corrugated plastic get wet? 

Corrugated plastic containers can get wet—by accident or by design. Corrugated plastic repels water and can be wiped clean or washed. Containers can even be made with drainage holes to help drain away excess fluids or slots to help the contents of the container breathe.

Does corrugated plastic last outside?

All materials will eventually degenerate over time when exposed to the elements, and corrugated plastic is no exception. However, corrugated plastic will hold up far longer than cardboard alternatives. UV additives or resin compositions can help the container withstand extreme hot or cold temperatures, further extending the container’s lifespan.

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How Do Corrugated Plastic Containers Contribute to Material Handling Efficiency?

Across industries today, material handling needs are impacted by increasing automation, dynamic processes, and maximizing facility space. Adaptable, economical corrugated plastic containers provide advantages for organizations seeking efficiency and value in today’s challenging business environment.

Essentials for Containers Made for Material Handling Today

Relatively quick to produce. Today’s volatile e-commerce markets and supply chains mean that containers have become even more vital for companies in a number of industries. Corrugated plastic can provide solutions without compromising on quality. Custom corrugated plastic containers can be produced in 4-6 weeks. That timeframe can be even shorter if the template already exists at a container manufacturer. 

Created to precise dimensions. Automation demands precision. A variance of a few millimeters on a tote can cause a robotic arm or vertical lift to fail and the entire system to crash. These production delays can be costly. Experienced manufacturers will create corrugated plastic totes that maintain their exact dimensions, whether empty or full and for each subsequent reorder the client needs.

Adaptable for specific systems, needs, and products. Corrugated plastic is malleable, both in its production and adaptability. This material can be used to create totes that function well in both automated environments and manual workflows by combining precise features with ergonomic handles and a favorable strength-to-weight ratio. Corrugated plastic containers are already used with Shelving, Conveyors, Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), carousels and autonomous mobile robots (AMR). Corrugated plastic is also used to make ESD containers with dividers that help pickers safely organize small chips and larger circuit boards.

Efficiently stored to maximize cube. The fact that corrugated plastic can be scored and folded to create natural hinges makes the material flexible, so it can be broken down when not in use. How to best maximize cube utilization is a concern for every business. Corrugated boxes can be stored out of the way and laid flat until needed, saving serious money in today’s competitive real estate market. Flexcon created a collapsible container system that saved one company $190,000 a year in real estate.  

Stack safely out of the way. One of the smartest ways to maximize the storage capacity of a facility is to utilize vertical space more effectively. Yet, stacking too many cardboard totes on a shelf or floor can be dangerous to workers if and when boxes fail. Corrugated plastic boxes have material integrity and can be manufactured with features to hold firmly in stacks that maximize cube. When empty, corrugated plastic forms lighter and safer stacks. Safety can be further enhanced by adding features that enable nesting or collapsing.

How Can Corrugated Plastic Containers Be Customized for Specific Applications?

Corrugated plastic performs like industrial origami. Experience enables a manufacturer to bend the material into a container tailored precisely to the organization’s needs. Customizations with corrugated plastic meet needs at a lower cost than molded plastic. Container manufacturers leverage more than knowledge to create the ideal container for the application. Manufacturers keep a library of container templates or “tools” on hand that they can customize to meet their clients’ precise requirements. Flexcon has over 6,000 standard and custom templates in its library available for this very purpose.

Corrugated Plastic Totes Are Highly Customizable

  • Reinforced bottom plates create heavy-duty totes for parts or dense materials.
  • Dividers enable multiple picks or multiply storage space by allowing users to create compartments.
  • Handles & hand holes enhance productivity, employee satisfaction, and safety.
  • Lids & covers protect contents from dust, enhance security, and seal totes in preparation for distribution.
  • Foam cushioning protects delicate products in storage or transit.
  • Color choices enable the implementation of color-coding systems that support efficiency and reflect corporate branding.
  • ESD-safe materials make totes certified protectors of expensive chips and circuits.
  • Printing aids organization and creates a space for care and safety instructions.
  • Placards & label holders allow for easy recognition of contents and can be recessed for protection.
  • Custom sizes & shapes like octagons transcend the limitations of molded plastic.
  • Features for efficient storage allow empties to be stored flat, nested, stacked or collapsed.

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Corrugated Plastic Provides Advantages with Standard and Unconventional Container Styles

Hopper Front Containers corrugated plastic allows for containers that maximize shelf cube and optimize picking from shelves, AMRs, AS/RSs, or carousels.

Dividable Hopper Front Containers corrugated plastic containers can be transformed from one container into many, facilitating fast, accurate picks.

Straight Wall Dividable Containers corrugated plastic is ideal for container designs that maximize shelf space and the space within containers. 

Horizontal & Vertical Carousel Containers corrugated plastic creates containers precise in size and light in weight for high-performance automated systems.

Stacking Tote With Corner Stackers rugged corrugated plastic containers are ideal for attaching hardware and creating safe stacks. 

Stackable Warehouse Bins corrugated plastic lends itself to creating configurable bins that stack for efficient picks. 

Nestable Containers corrugated plastic creates containers that provide the required capacity and space savings when not in use.

Pizza” Style Fold-Together Containers with Built-in Covers corrugated plastic provides a high-end step up from cardboard containers.

Collapsible Containers corrugated plastic material can be modified to create hinges and flaps that fold up flat so they can be transported at a fraction of their size.

How Can Corrugated Plastic Containers Be Used?

File Storage: Flexible corrugated plastic resists cracks and seals tight to protect documents.

Product & Parts Storage: Corrugated plastic can be customized based on the intended contents and workflows for optimal protection, productive picking, and space optimization.

Picking: Smooth surfaces, adaptable divider systems, and precise dimensions enhance productivity and safety.

Delivery: Durable corrugated plastic can be lidded, safely shipped, and efficiently returned.

Carousels: Corrugated plastic supports precise sizes and smooth openings for effortless productivity.

Conveyance: Corrugated plastic creates totes that maximize system performance, reduce sound, and endure years of wear and tear.

AS/RS: When every millimeter matters, corrugated plastic totes provide precision and cube utilization.

VLM Bin Cups: In automated environments with high expectations, corrugated plastic rises to the challenge while minimizing costs.

ESD Applications: ESD-safe corrugated plastic stores and transports expensive, sensitive electronics without damage. 

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): Precision corrugated plastic totes fit the evolving needs and high expectations of AMRs.

Specialized Applications: Corrugated plastic safely stores drilling cores, transports medical devices, and protects reels from ESD.

Why Corrugated Plastic Containers Are the Ideal Solution for Storage and Picking

Corrugated plastic is a versatile material that can be made into innumerable shapes and sizes. Durable and lightweight, it performs well in both automated and manual processes, delivering outstanding value for years.

How Corrugated Plastic Containers Simplify Conveyance

Conveyors test the performance capabilities of containers. Corrugated plastic rises to the challenge by accommodating performance features that prevent hang-ups that can slow or stop production. Design tweaks made to the containers can reduce noise while enhancing picking. Long-lasting corrugated containers can also be adapted with dividers to enhance container productivity or adapt to product line changes. 

How Corrugated Plastic Containers Integrate with VLM Systems

Vertical lift modules help achieve optimal efficiency when space is maxed out, and products or parts are tightly organized. Corrugated plastic bin cups can be customized to exact dimensions to fit as many items as possible. The low weight and straight walls support maximum capacity and cube utilization.

What Makes Corrugated Plastic Containers Right for AS/RS Systems

Corrugated plastic satisfies the demands of all types of automated storage and retrieval systems. AS/RS systems require bins, totes, and trays that maximize valuable space while protecting inventory and organizing items for efficient, accurate picking. Corrugated plastic containers reduce weight while conforming to precise dimensions that help prevent system crashes.

How Corrugated Plastic Containers Work with Carousels

The ability to fabricate containers to precise measurements with features that support efficient carousel processes makes corrugated plastic containers a high-performance choice. They can be customized quickly and at a value. Plus, they can be retrofitted with dividers to improve productivity and make them responsive to changes in processes and products—a frequent occurrence in today’s environment.

Without Totes, Billions of Dollars Would be Offline

Why Corrugated Plastic Performs Well in ESD Applications

ESD-safe corrugated plastic containers protect sensitive and valuable electronics, circuit boards, and chips in many shapes and sizes. The material can be designed with thermoformed trays and dividers that suit the form and promote safe handling. Flexibility and the ability to add accessories make corrugated plastic containers ideal for storing, picking, and transporting fragile parts and products.

 How Corrugated Plastic Containers Have Been Utilized in Specialized Applications

Corrugated plastic containers can accommodate challenging contents and conditions. Unusually shaped products, sensitive parts, or heavy, rugged commodities can be safely stored in corrugated plastic. Corrugated plastic can be formulated to resist extreme temperatures, making it suitable for both cold storage and outdoor use. It can also be made to resist the sun’s UV rays. 

Havae Questions about Corrugated Plastic? Talk to an Expert Now.

When Are Corrugated Plastic Containers Not the Right Solution?

For storing heavy items. Corrugated plastic containers do have weight limitations. That said, Flexcon has clients who have successfully stored products weighing up to 150 lbs. 

When disinfectants containing chlorine dioxide (ClO2) are used. In sterile rooms and similar settings, using ClO2-based disinfectants on corrugated plastic can cause the containers to crack. 

When biodegradable containers are required. Although corrugated plastic is recyclable, it is not biodegradable.

When containers are exposed to sunlight and the elements. No plastic is impervious to prolonged periods of outdoor use, but a manufacturer like Flexcon knows how to make customizations based on the client’s intended use. As noted above, Flexcon has additives that can help protect containers from the effects of the sun – even in open field situations.

When products need to breathe. Especially in humid environments, corrugated plastic containers are not ideal for storing apparel unless the containers used have vents to increase airflow.

When container manufacturers don’t fully understand clients’ needs. When containers made of corrugated plastic or any other material aren’t created specifically for their intended use, the results can be disappointing – or even disastrous. That’s why Flexcon’s specialized manufacturing process outlined above starts with a careful study of every customer’s needs regarding weight capacity, automation, cube utilization and more.

Why Work With Flexcon

Flexcon makes corrugated plastic, molded plastic, and cardboard containers. To date, we’ve manufactured over 66 million units. Our containers are used in almost every industry and in over three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies today. 

We view every customer engagement as a puzzle to be solved. We believe containers can be a crucial piece of that puzzle, playing an essential role in companies’ big-picture success. 

Containers matter. They are the one moving part ubiquitous in all types of organizations and industries. In fact, containers are so essential to operations worldwide that companies would have to halt production without them.  

That’s why, for over 50 years and three generations, we at Flexcon have dedicated ourselves to providing our customers with every available advantage in making the best decisions regarding their containers. 

The thing about us is we’re all about solving your challenges. The best solution for your business might involve using corrugated plastic containers, or it might involve using something else. 

Let’s find out. 

Discovering the most cost-effective long-term container solution for our customers is what we love most about our job. It’s also the thing we do best. Make our day. Talk to our team about your needs.

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