Environmental testing is a very important phase for those companies that need to evaluate the behavior of their products under different environmental conditions, whether to optimize their design or to fulfill both market requirements and those of applicable regulations.
Changes in temperature and humidity or the passage of time can damage packaging materials or the products they contain, affecting their reliability, performance and structural integrity. Environmental tests help companies evaluate the performance of these products under specific environmental conditions and design products that can withstand them, avoiding cost overruns due to shrinkage, complaints or product returns.
We analyze what environmental testing is, its benefits and the application of packaging testing, particularly for fragile products, such as medical device packaging.
What is environmental testing and why is it important
Environmental testing involves testing a sample in a laboratory setting, creating artificial environments that can be used to predict potential conditions that the product + package system can experience in real distribution environments.
Its purpose is to determine whether the packaging will be able to resist the environmental hazards that it will encounter, enabling companies to redesign the system if necessary.
In particular, environmental preconditioning takes into account three key factors when testing the samples: the temperature and relative humidity that they might experience, and the time their distribution will take.
In order to perform the environmental testing, it is possible to use as a reference historically accepted standards, or to use conditions that are similar to those encountered during the distribution cycle that the package will follow.
Environmental tests include humidity, heat and thermal shock tests, among others.
Some reasons to perform environmental testing include:
- The requirement to comply with standards: many industries require suppliers to comply with certain standards and requirements, in order to demonstrate that their products are suitable for a global market. ISTA and ASTM standards often include the performance of environmental preconditioning testing methods.
- Eliminating the chances of claims or complaints: packaging testing and environmental tests allow companies to demonstrate that they have done everything that is in their power to guarantee the safety of their products when faced with claims.
- Differentiation from the competition: performing environmental tests is a competitive advantage, since they strengthen the trust in your company and its products.
- Validating or improving designs: through the use of simulations, environmental testing allows for the detection of problems in the design of the product + packaging. As a result, companies have access to information related to the protective ability of the system and are able to foresee and correct errors before launch.
Benefits of replicating the real distribution environment in a laboratory setting
- Guaranteeing the reliability of a product against the environmental hazards of the distribution cycle.
- Predicting and avoiding costs arising from defective products. Claims, shrinkage and the nonfulfillment of warranties may imply high costs for companies, including costs related to maintenance and customer service. The implementation of testing methods, including environmental tests, is therefore an investment in foreseeing and avoiding those losses resulting from inadequate protection against environmental hazards.
Testing solutions that might require environmental testing
Temperature, humidity and the passage of time are decisive factors when selecting materials in the field of packaging.
In the case of plastic packaging, for example, a high temperature could cause creep damages (container deformation) that cause instability in palletized transportation. For its part, packaging made out of paper and corrugated cardboard is affected by humidity increases that put their protective ability to the test.
In order to guarantee that the chosen packaging material will overcome these risks, it is possible to use an environmental chamber that simulates the potential environmental conditions that the product + packaging system will need to endure.
This being the case, packaging testing methods such as compression testing, vibration testing and clamp testing can be performed inside an environmental chamber to replicate the environmental conditions of certain specific distribution cycles where it is important to know the performance of a package when subjected to humidity or temperature, among other factors.
Importance of environmental testing in medical device packaging
In a sector as delicate as that of medical device packaging, the goal is to guarantee that the product will arrive to the end consumer in perfect condition in regard to sterility and safety.
Products such as drugs, vaccines and blood samples are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, especially in regard to temperature and cold chain. Thanks to environmental preconditioning for medical device packaging it is possible to predict how the product + packaging system will interact in the environmental conditions it will find in a specific distribution cycle.
In addition, there are certain standards that offer an action framework in relation to the essential requirements of medical packaging. Such is the case of the ISO 11607 standard, which guarantees that medical products and their packaging have been adequately manufactured and packaged to maintain their sterility (such as sealing and other closure systems, in addition to stacking and manipulation) and properties throughout their distribution cycle.
Relevant standards in environmental testing
Associations such as ISTA and ASTM, which design multiple standards for testing methods, include some specifications for environmental preconditioning in the samples to be tested.
ASTM D4332: Standard Practice for Conditioning Containers, Packages, or Packaging Components for Testing
This standard proposes a method for environmental conditioning and the simulation of real distribution conditions, so that the sample achieves an equilibrium with the environment to which it will be exposed. It involves performing an environmental preconditioning before other packaging testing, and it is commonly used for transport simulations.
ASTM E171: Standard Practice for Conditioning and Testing Flexible Barrier Packaging
This standard defines the method to condition a sample under temperatures and humidity conditions that are commonly found in the distribution cycle, and includes packaging materials such as paper and plastic.
This is a general simulation test for individual parcel deliveries via courier services such as UPS, DHL o FedEx, among others. Among its environmental preconditioning conditions, it includes a controlled temperature and humidity conditioning.
Do you want to know more about why you should perform environmental testing and how to do so? At Safe Load Testing Technologies we have a track-record of two decades in the transport simulation sector. Get in touch with us and let’s talk about how we can help you.