What the Heck is Dunnage?

Don’t be fooled by the old world sound, dunnage plays an indispensable role in modern supply chains. Though it’s often overlooked as mere foam and dumpster fodder, dunnage is anything but. After reading this post, we at Flexcon hope you see dunnage in a different light.

So what is dunnage?

Dunnage is material used in shipping and warehousing to protect, organize and facilitate product movement. Most often it takes the form of dividers or foam inside a container, but dunnage can sometimes do its duty on the outside of a container as well. Dunnage is used to safeguard and separate items being shipped across the globe or around the facility. Let’s just say that if containers are the backbone of supply chains, dunnage is the tissue and tendons keeping everything together and making things move.

Dunnage does a lot.

Dunnage does important work. We’re not just talking about Styrofoam peanuts here. Circuit boards need to be separated by dividers so they don’t bang into each other. Sometimes products need dunnage that is ESD-safe so they are protected from static electricity that damages them. Windshields need shielding from scratches on the factory floor as well as while they’re being shipped.

The protective role of dunnage encompasses everything from cushioning products or parts from shock to blocking oblong items in place. It can also mean providing steel reinforcement or safeguarding products from the damaging effects of moisture or light.

Keeping items organized is another important role of dunnage. On pick lines and with automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), divider systems promote safe, efficient work by protecting workers as well as products.  

Dunnage also performs the role of keeping products oriented properly, so workers handle them correctly and weight is distributed evenly.

Returnable and reusable dunnage minimizes materials costs. In the case of products requiring complex packaging, being able to reuse dunnage takes the margin of error out of packing, thus lowering risk. Dunnage that can be opened, unloaded and resealed quickly and easily is a boon for efficiency.

Materials match the need.

Container engineers draw from a wide range of modern materials in choosing the right dunnage for the job.

Plastic is often used to form molded parts inside the container like vacume-formed trays and dividers. Partitions can be semi-rigid to support the weight of products while providing flexibility that ensconces unique shapes.

Foam can be cut precisely using water jets to fit products snuggly and hold them in place. Foam is lightweight and inexpensive, but not as resilient as other materials.

Steel is used to reinforce containers or hold heavy products in place. Steel dunnage is also used to aid handling by forklifts.

Cardboard is commonly used for its flexibility in protecting a range of weights. Its porousness can protect against moisture. Engineers at Flexcon also like cardboard for its ability to be precision-cut using a laser jet.  

Good dunnage goes right to your bottom line.

Dunnage can be precisely engineered to maximize the number of products that fit in a container while minimizing a container’s warehouse utilization. Choosing the right lightweight dunnage materials can also keep freight costs down.

Well-designed dunnage supports uptime on the production line through features that aid handling by conveyors and ASRS. It also keeps assembly lines and pick lines moving by promoting safety and preventing injuries.

Dunnage can reduce your cost of damaged inventory and it can mitigate the risk of production delays due to damaged inventory. When you’re dealing with large, heavy, oblong items, dunnage reduces the risk of accidents and costly breakage by evenly distributing weight and maintaining the proper orientation of the product.

Make dunnage design part of your container design.

The best time to consider your dunnage is while you are specing your containers. Considering the container design and dunnage at the same time multiplies your options for satisfying the requirements of the container.

Flexcon makes dunnage design part of the process of container design. Flexcon’s client service and engineering team asks the right questions and listens to clients in order to ascertain the demands of packaging, material handling and what the company needs to accommodate the products or parts.

Key considerations for dunnage design.

  • Part size and weight
  • Desired pack density
  • How weight should be distributed
  • Details of lineside presentation
  • Maximum container weight
  • Part orientation and dividing
  • Whether Class A protection is required
  • Potential shock risk
  • ESD sensitivity
  • Production volumes

Dunnage done right.

In the end, dunnage is a means to protecting your investment and promoting efficient operations. Your parts and product, people and process are always the star of the show. ROI should always be the main consideration and simplicity should be your guide. The hallmark of good design is simplicity, and experts look at dunnage as a problem to be solved while avoiding overkill. A case in point is Flexcon’s team recently redesigned a kit for a medical device manufacturer that costed 1/20th of the prior case they’d been using.

The Dukes of Dunnage

Flexcon brings three generations and 1000s of dunnage designs to bear in solving your material handling challenges. Our expertise solving problems in countless industries gives us the knowledge base and experience to definitively satisfy your needs while providing the best value for your budget. Let us find the perfect dunnage for your perfect container. Reach out to learn more.