There are two types of
suspension cushions available today. The first relies on
film tension, and the second relies on internal air
cushions consists of a urethane film stretched over a
plastic, wire, or corrugated frame. When a product is
placed between two of these frames and the frames
brought tightly together, the two plastic films will be
stretched to encapsulate the entire product. The tension
in the films will provide a restoring force to prevent
the product from moving away from the center position.
Internal air pressure
suspension systems consists of a bag-within-a-bag. A
tunnel connects the two bags on one or more ends and
provides an opening to the interior of the system. A
product is first placed into the system while the air
pressure inside the bags are ambient. Then the space
between the two bags is pressurized with air. The air
pressure between the two bags compresses the inner
plastic bag tightly against the product and suspending
it in the center of the system. The air pressure also
closes off the opening(s), securing the product in
place. The air pressure in this case provides the
restoring force to keep the product centered during
Advantages for suspension
cushions in general include low cushion material weight,
volume until used is very small, and flexibility in
packaging different sizes and shapes of products with
the same system.
larger overall volume when packaged compared to foams,
may not be available in all regions due to patented
designs, may require pressurized air, and small amounts
of damage to the system generally are catastrophic
leading to a complete failure of the system.
Suspension cushions are
still fairly new, so should be carefully evaluated
against conventional materials before use. The potential
for a cheap, flexible cushioning system makes suspension
cushions an attractive choice for high product mix
Tension suspension systems are generally not recyclable
due to dissimilar materials being permanently connected,
and may or may not be reusable depending on the
materials used. Air pressure suspension cushions are
generally reusable, but may not be recyclable as
co-polymers are commonly used to reduce air leakage.
Both types can represent a large decrease in the amount
(weight and volume) of materials used to cushion a
product to the same level as conventional materials.
7.3 Air Cushions
Air cushions are similar
to the internal air suspension cushions above except
they are lacking the internal bag. This means that
instead of placing the product inside the system, the
air cushions must be placed around the product (like EPS
peanuts only fewer are required).
Advantages include small
volume until inflated when they become very large in
volume, low cost, and flexibility in cushioning a
variety of products using the same material.
manually intensive, cushion quality depends on operator,
pressurized air required, slow, and may allow the
product to shift during transit.
Air cushions are best
used for dunnage material to fill void spaces. It is not
recommended that air cushions alone be used as a
cushioning material for products.
Same as for air pressure suspension cushions.
8.1 Source Reduction
The best way to help
protect the environment is to use less packaging
material to begin with. This reduces the pressure on our
limited resources and has the added benefit of reducing
techniques, high-tech materials, and state of the art
design and test systems can reduce the volume of
materials in a package by 50% or more while maintaining
cushioning performance. Bulk packaging of products (also
known as postponement packaging) can result in even
greater reductions in material required per product, and
further cost savings.
Using source reduction
will almost always result in a material cost savings, as
well as help protect the environment the best.
The next best way to help
protect the environment is to design packaging cushions
to be reusable and to set up a program so that they are
Resilient foams, whether
fabricated or molded, are the best candidates for
The packaging in a
reusable package system ideally collapses down or can be
taken apart to reduce the overall volume. Molded
cushions and thermoformed trays can be designed to
stack, reducing overall volume as well.
Cushions as part of a
reuse program should be inspected before reuse for
damage, contamination, etc. Each time they are inspected
they should be marked or branded. This allows a cushion
to be retired after a pre-decided number of uses.
Resource America © is a
company that specializes in returning packaging from the
customer to an Authorized Package Producer ®. Other
return systems are possible, especially when closed-loop
distribution systems exist.