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Compressing a package

Getting ready to drop


Vibration machine

Compression machine

Freight sled

Freight sled in action

Altitude machine

Temperature machine



MEMPHIS, Tenn.--You may think the boxes you send or receive through FedEx have it rough, but nothing they go through is like what the more than 4,000 a year that the company processes at its Package Lab are subjected to.

The company offers a free service -- to any FedEx customer -- to test how a package will perform under very tough conditions. This is crucial for companies that ship lots of products. If they pass, great. If not, the lab offers recommendations on how to make them survive in the future.

As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I traveled to Memphis to see first-hand the kind of torture FedEx puts these packages through.

Here, we see an engineer inspecting how a package is performing while being compressed with more than 50 pounds of pressure.

Click here to read my full story on FedEx's Package Lab.

Caption by / Photo by FedEx

A technician prepares to drop a package using a machine that lifts it up and then slams it down to the floor. The idea is to test each and every side and edge of the package. Boxes aimed at the domestic market will be dropped 10 times, while those that go international will hit the ground 20 times.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A package falls rapidly after the machine slammed it to the floor.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

This is the Package Lab's vibration machine. Packages are put on this machine and vibrated to mimic what they'll go through on a FedEx truck or airplane.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In order to test how strong a package is, the lab puts them into this compression machine, which applies significant pressure. If the box buckles before too much pressure is applied, it's clear that it will not withstand being stacked under many other boxes.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Large freight packages are put on this sled and then slammed backward to mimic the beating they'll take either on a truck or plane, or when someone is carrying them around on a forklift.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A look at the freight sled in action.

Caption by / Photo by FedEx

This machine lets lab engineers test how a package or its contents will perform at high altitudes. The idea is to see if it can perform satisfactorily when being driven, say, over the Rocky Mountains.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

This machine can subject a package to hot or cold temperatures, in order to be sure it, or its contents, can survive those extremes.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

FedEx has begun shipping CubeSats, or small satellites, and helped some of its clients by designing a custom package for the devices.

Caption by / Photo by FedEx

Another service offered by the Package Lab is package design. Customers who want to find a new way to box up various products can ask the lab to help them customize a solution. An example is these three guitars, which are similar but subtly different. The manufacturer wanted to find a single package that could hold any one of them, rather than having to rely on a different type of box for each.  The idea is to allow the company to save money by being able to buy boxes at scale. FedEx came up with a way to achieve the goal.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
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