The success of almost any business that delivers products is its shipping logistics.
But it’s not just how the box gets where it’s supposed to go, but how the product itself is put together to fit in the box that can make a real difference to the bottom line. Today, it’s all about the “Great Compression”—a foldable product that is not only more cost-efficient to ship in a flat box, but also more flexible for end-users.
Isaac Merrit Singer made commercial sewing machines available to individual consumers by employing the principles of assembly line mass production and interchangeable parts originally developed to manufacture Colt firearms. Equally important, as Matthew Bird, a professor of industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design, pointed out to Slate, is that the “first sewing machines came in wooden crates” designed for convenient and efficient shipping.
Flat Packing Has Cost and Environmental Benefits
About a hundred years later, Bird notes that furniture maker Ikea accomplished something equally revolutionary with flat packing. Like many great ideas, the concept came about through serendipity.
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According to Fortune, a designer took the legs off of a Lövet table so it would fit in his car trunk. The light bulb went off that this was a way to eliminate the costly and time consuming task of furniture delivery and assembly. Flat packing allowed consumers to pick bookcases and tables up and fit them into their cars, instead of needing to have them transported on a truck. The reduced cost of the item, increased convenience and immediate gratification through the elimination of shipping time more than compensated for the time (and frustration) required for the chore of self-assembly.
Flat packing also benefits the environment because goods can be placed into shipping containers without wasting space. As Forbes points out, “global freight transportation and distribution systems account for nearly three billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions each year. That’s equal to over 700 coal plants.” Any packaging system that optimizes space utilization helps improve shipping’s carbon footprint.
Related Article: Earth Day Aspirations: Saving Money While Saving the Environment
Folding Safety Helmets Can Fit in Vending Machines
Products that fold up into convenient packages are increasingly popular not just to reduce shipping costs and environmental impact, but to improve ease-of-use. Consider the bicycle helmet. Not the easiest thing to carry around, especially if you’re biking to and from work or just going out from one place to another. So how about a helmet that folds? It may be an "open and shut case for the future of helmets," if one company has its way.
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Even though production has just begun on the Morpher™ folding safety helmet, it won the 2015 Edison Gold Innovation Award as well as the Popular Science Magazine Invention of the Year 2014. The idea is that the helmet provides all the protection of a “regular” helmet, but can easily fold away into a bag and be carried comfortably. While currently aimed at cyclists, it will eventually be marketed to other uses of sports safety helmets such as skiers, hockey players, snowboarders and horse riders.
In addition to greater convenience, the helmet’s flat profile increases accessibility to the product, just like an Ikea kitchen cabinet packed in a flat box. The Morpher team envisions selling the helmets in vending machines at bike shops and rental points (a Morpher survey reports more than 90 percent of renters don’t wear helmets). Easy accessibility translates to greater use, which is a great thing for a device that increases safety.
A Folding Mattress is Much Easier to Deliver
How about something much larger? Ever try to move a bed mattress? It’s a big, cumbersome object that can be difficult to move around corners and upstairs. That’s why people pay to have it delivered. But the Tuft and Needle mattress comes in a box that one person could conceivably carry. All you have to do is unwrap it and wait for it to decompress.
The lesson here is that in the time of the Great Compression, the more you can do make your product fit into a compact package, the lower your shipping costs, the better for the environment and the more customer convenience. That’s nothing any company would want to belittle.