More people are receiving more goods at their homes than ever before as e-commerce continues to be the shopping method of choice. According to data recently released by the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales grew 15.8 percent in the second quarter of 2016.
With this increase in e-commerce comes a barrage of boxes and bags filled with everything that used to be purchased inside a store but is now being shipped directly to consumers’ doorsteps. And, nothing is off limits when it comes to the types of products being shipped. These days it's often things such as sensitive electronics (mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs) or even the mega sensitive components that make up those electronics.
A predominant method of preventing all of these products from damage during shipping is a free, natural resource of infinite proportions: air.
Air is the elixir that inflates plastic bubbles, pillows and tubes that cushion and cradle the contents of a vast array of e-commerce shipments. And e-tailers are floating on it.
With the first generation of air protection (the ubiquitous Bubble Wrap) the air is already there. It is “captured.” With the second generation of air protection, the air is there on demand. It is “caught.” Today, machines inject air into pieces of plastic which inflate to various shapes and sizes to meet particular shipping needs.
On-demand inflatables can also dramatically increase throughput speeds and reduce the amount of warehouse space needed to store packaging material by as much as 40:1. The ability to adjust the amount of air to fit the size of the box can also help businesses fight the rising cost of dimensional weight shipping rates.
But the part that really gets engineering geeks like me excited is this: Air is experiencing some truly unprecedented scientific breakthroughs.
Engineering science is taking air to new heights – literally. Because of advancements in polymers, plastics extrusion, and converting, we can now create air-infused packaging that can travel in non-pressurized cargo planes at high altitudes without bursting.
Those same advancements are allowing us to create plastics that can withstand impacts that were previously reserved for foams or heavy-duty cushions. Inflatables now have the strength to protect against all types of shipping distress including dropping, loading, vibration, and punctures. These stronger inflatables can replace foams, molded pulp, and other traditional packaging materials – with a lot less wasted source material.
Science is also revolutionizing the systems that inflate these more powerful plastics. We can now create inflation platforms that are smaller, smarter, and more affordable than ever, putting the power of air in the hands of everyone from billion-dollar retailers to small businesses.
It’s an exciting time to be the original innovators of air. And, we’re only just getting started.