FedEx Labs: Drop, Squeeze and Shake

Not only does a package absolutely, positively have to be there on time, it also has to be in one piece.

That's where the FedEx package test lab comes into play.

A team of workers here shake, drop and squeeze packages to see if they will hold up to the trauma of shipping. How else could that case of wine or computer get to you intact?

"We're interested in how well a package is going to perform in the FedEx handling system," said Larry F. Rutledge, the head of the lab. "We want to make sure that a customer's package arrives safely, damage free."

FedEx will test any shipper's package for free and then make recommendations for redesign. The companies send over their boxes -- with the DVD player, computer or book inside -- for testing.

There are three primary tests: the drop test, the compression test and the vibration test.

During the drop test, the box is allowed to plummet to the floor over and over again, on every side and edge to see how it holds up. The compression test tries to determine how a box will hold up with lots of other boxes stacked on top of it. And during the vibration test, a box is shaken for nearly an hour.

After the tests are completed, the lab staff takes photos of the packages and then opens them up to see how the goods fared.

Suggestions are then made to the retailer about their packing procedures.

It can make a big difference. Nieman Marcus, Rutledge said, saw a 23 percent drop in damaged packages for its home goods collection after having FedEx examine its box designs.