FAQ: Distribution Testing Expert Answers the Most Frequently Asked Questions.

FAQ: Distribution Testing Expert Answers the Most Frequently Asked Questions.
Learn about Smithers’ distribution testing clients’ frequently asked questions, and read the latest on differences between ISTA testing and more from Tim Rice, Manager of Commercial Distribution and Package Testing.

What is the difference between ISTA 3A and 3F?

ISTA 3A and ISTA 3F are general packaging performance tests but each represent different types of distribution channels:
ISTA 3A is intended for  individually packaged products shipped through a parcel delivery system, such as FedEx or UPS. The test is appropriate for different types of packages commonly distributed as individual packages (small parcel), either by air or ground. 
ISTA 3F is also for packaged products that are shipped as individual packages but in this scenario going from a distribution center to a retail outlet in a mixed pallet configuration. Typically, the packaged product is shipped into the distribution center in a unitized load (we test to ISTA 3E here), then the unit load is broken down at the distribution center and placed onto a mixed load pallet with other various products going out to the individual retailer.

What is the difference between ISTA 3E and 3H?

ISTA 3E and ISTA 3H are general tests widely used for full pallets of products or larger containers:
ISTA 3E is a test that is used to predict the effects of shipping in a unitized load of similarly packaged products from the point of manufacture to its destination in a full truckload scenario. Smithers leverages this method primarily for the food/beverage and consumer goods industries, but has also used it for other products and industry segments as well.
ISTA 3H is a packaging test that is used to predict the effects of shipping for mechanically handled bulk loads of similarly packaged products going from a manufacturing location to its destination  in a full truckload format.  This procedure is widely used within the automotive, industrial, and construction industries, but also has applications in other segments. Some examples are components contained within a steel rack, a bulk bin, a gaylord, or in some situations it’ll be a unique product bolted directly to a pallet.

What are the differences between ASTM D4169 and common ISTA standards?

ISTA and ASTM are both recognized standards that may be used to test packaged products against hazards found  in a typical supply chain environments. Each require a bit of knowledge or experience when selecting the most appropriate method.
The most common question our experts receive is whether an ISTA or ASTM method will work best for our clients. Both tests are similar but not equivalent from a test intensity or sequence perspective. Our customers use a good mix of both procedures as it does depend on which industry you are working within. ISTA tailors its vibration test duration specifically based on the shipping distance, whereas ASTM is more generic in recommending a vibration test duration based on the shipping lane. ASTM allows you more flexibility by leveraging Distribution Cycle (DC) 2, as it is a bit of a “choose your own adventure” where you select the specific tests for your plan.
Both are great at predicting how your packaged system will perform when exposed to the rigors of a supply chain when used properly. Ideally, you would want to match the testing procedure to the actual supply chain hazards as best as possible. Within each of the standard issuing bodies, test options have potential to cause over or under-testing of your packaged system. We feel it’s best to speak with one of our experts to aide in determining the most appropriate test path forward.

I typically perform only over-the-road “testing”, what benefit is it to test in a lab setting?

A live, over-the-road ship “test” (a single shipment of outbound and inbound) does not capture many of the hazards and possible intensities your system could potentially see in the field. You’ve under-tested at this point. A live ship “test” is a single data point assessment. Compared to a laboratory test which is going to challenge your packaged system to all of the typical hazards it would see in the field. This gives you confidence, given the test method was designed and selected appropriately, when releasing your product for distribution it will significantly reduce any potential damage related concerns. 
The time it takes to complete an over-the-road type of assessment could be unknown and the risk of potential for losing the samples is high.
With lab testing you have ultimate control over test conditions that are consistent and repeatable. This is helpful when you are evaluating a design, product, or package change, and are looking to understand the effect on the performance of said change. Consistent and repeatable tests can also be applied to various product / package combinations for benchmarking purposes.

How can we help?

Our distribution and package testing team, work with clients on a wide variety of logistics challenges and can help you develop compliant, high-performance packaging while overcoming environmental and supply chain challenges. Our services help to ensure that your products are protected in transit.
To learn more about Smithers’ distribution and package testing and our capabilities, contact Tim Rice, at trice@smithers.com.

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