FedEx TechConnect

Sending products to consumers may seem like a simple task, but are the packages arriving intact after traveling across the country or overseas? Memphis-based FedEx TechConnect built a new, state-of-the-art facility that simulates any travel conditions a package may encounter to provide its clients with the best packaging solutions.

“You can move something with FedEx from the desert or dry areas of the West Coast to the more humid, hot areas of the Southeast and up north to the areas that are cooler, and all those conditions have an impact on the box, tape and labels,” President and CEO of FedEx TechConnect Cary Pappas says. “The new facility is not only a testing and design center, it’s a customer education center. We make sure our customers have all the tools they can utilize with FedEx to provide proper packaging.” 

The first FedEx packaging lab opened in 1987 as the company began to focus more strongly on customer service. “We were an express transportation company in the beginning and focused much more on air than truck service,” Pappas explains. “We have evolved tremendously over the past 30 years. Just as we have evolved our services, so have our customers because their needs change.” 

Today’s global economy brings significant opportunity for businesses, but Pappas explains that it also brings a number of packaging factors to consider when shipping products. FedEx TechConnect is focused on making sure its services meet the needs of the current generation. “We use the ‘Golden Package’ rule,” he adds. “We treat every customer’s package like it’s a golden package by ensuring you get it on-time and in good condition. It’s important to focus on providing value-added services to our customers.” 

World-Class Facility

The FedEx TechConnect Packaging Design and Development Lab opened in May and is the culmination of three years of design and development work. “FedEx handles about 10 million packages per day and commerce on this scale requires a scientific focus on proper packaging,” Pappas says. The 31,792-square-foot facility serves both big and small FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight customers, providing free package testing and design service. 

The company could not retrofit its older packaging lab because the design of the building posed a number of constraints. “It was better for us to build from scratch than try and retrofit the old facility because it wouldn’t give us the capabilities we have now,” Pappas says. 

The state-of-the-art packaging lab is equipped with three dock doors, a five-ton gantry crane, a forklift course to test skidded freight, an emergency generator, advanced temperature and humidity control, and an altitude, humidity and temperature chamber. “FedEx ships anything you can image from computers to medicine and shipments need to withstand subzero temperatures to high humidity,” Pappas adds. “The lab allows a window into the travel conditions of that product.” 

The FedEx TechConnect Packaging Design and Development Lab is staffed with 17 employees: seven packaging engineers, seven technicians, two support personnel and one manager. The building is LEED-certified and its environmentally friendly features include large windows and skylights for natural light, high-efficiency HVAC, smart lighting system and native, low-maintenance vegetation in landscaping. 

Superior Packaging

“A key portion of our quality management efforts is to ensure customers are satisfied with every interaction,” Pappas explains. “We like sayings around here and our ‘Purple Promise’ means that every customer experience is outstanding.” 

To guarantee outstanding performance, everything from the tape to the label on the box is vital during shipment. If a label falls off due to environmental conditions, it is extremely difficult to figure out where that package was going, Pappas explains. “It’s critically important to test that and all the materials included in the package,” he adds. 

Packaging engineers at the lab work with companies to ensure their products make it to the final destination intact. The process starts with a customer sending their product in the current packaging they use and requesting the lab test different packaging options for shipping the product. The goal is to begin testing within 48 to 72 hours of a sample’s arrival to ensure issues can be quickly identified and resolved. If necessary, FedEx packaging engineers will perform on-site evaluations at customer locations to discuss packaging solutions. 

FedEx TechConnect’s packaging engineers use the latest technology and testing protocols, including equipment that drops, squeezes and shakes in various forms of packaging to test its strength and effectiveness. Diagnostic equipment is also placed inside the box to “see what the product will see” during transport, Pappas says. “We identify things we are concerned with and offer suggestions on what their packaging solution may look like,” he adds. “The customer receives a written report on how the product packaging performed and we can design it for them.”

The facility tests to International Safe Transit Association standards and is ISO 9001 certified. Engineers meet with 2,600 customers and test more than 5,000 packages annually. “We have some incredibly talented people and I really do believe our folks bleed purple every day to ensure every customer is satisfied,” Pappas says. “They are difference-makers.”

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