Analyst Insight: The shipping and handling of lithium batteries has become a highly challenging and regulated endeavor. Given the fire risk associated with this hazardous material, heavy restrictions on transport and storage, from commercial aircraft bans to state-of-charge rules, have been imposed. As a result, organizations often struggle to cope with the impact of these requirements on the supply chain, and find a safe, compliant and cost-effective approach to packaging these materials.
Even those who follow hazmat shipping guidelines to the letter might still run up against issues. That’s because the unexpected can — and often does — happen. What if a battery is damaged before or during its journey? What if a product containing a lithium battery is involved in a recall? Manufacturers, retailers, distributors and logistics providers that handle or ship lithium batteries need to better prepare for situations such as these.
Changing shipping regulations, along with the need to minimize the impact of shipping lithium batteries in the supply chain, require a new approach to packaging. Conventional cardboard boxes are flammable, and if its contents ignite, the box might not just fail to contain the fire, it might actually fuel it. That’s why most shipments of lithium batteries and battery-powered devices require gels, heavy liners or other fire-retardant fillers.
Today, organizations must truly think “outside the box” when it comes to packaging. Today’s next-generation packaging materials are engineered specifically to provide a thermal barrier for the transportation and storage of lithium batteries and the devices that contain them. Modern packaging options provide improved flame retardance and arrestment, thermal management, pressure management, blast containment, and gas and smoke filtration.
In many cases, companies using re-engineered packaging can eliminate the need for gel packs, beads, liners, pellets and fillers in the products they ship, making the transport of lithium-related items safer, easier, more cost-effective and more compliant than ever.
By rethinking their approach to boxes and shipping, companies can leverage packaging as a strategic supply-chain component that promotes safety for anyone handling or transporting dangerous goods, improves recall and return management, and affords a competitive advantage. Investing in next-generation packaging can positively impact the following business facets:
Product recall processes. The impacts of a product recall are devastating enough without adding the potential for an incident while the item is being shipped back to the manufacturer. A recall can cost a business millions of dollars, and severely impact both reputation and the bottom line. Not only can next-generation packaging help streamline the handling of a recall, it can also help prevent additional (and more costly) incidents, accidents and exposures as the product makes its return journey.
Supply-chain disruption. Whether you manufacture or distribute lithium battery-reliant products, time is money, and the ability to keep shipments moving is paramount to business success. Supply-chain and transport network disruptions are a very real concern, especially with hazmat. If a dangerous goods shipment fails to meet hazmat compliance regulations, or if a battery-related incident halts transportation in its tracks, the cost of lost time, compliance fines and possible negative press could be significant.
Whether your organization manufactures, sells or ships lithium batteries or devices powered by them, they’re not going away any time soon. If anything, they’ll become more pervasive. It’s never been more important to ensure absolute compliance with regulations around shipping and handling of these hazmat materials. By investing in next-generation packaging, shippers and others involved in the supply chain can improve safety, achieve better operational efficiency, and reduce the risk of stopped or delayed shipments.
Bill Barger is Senior Packaging Product Manager with Labelmaster.