Kill the Vibe: How Vibrations Impact Shipping

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Manufacturers like to imagine that their products will arrive in customer hands in pristine condition, exactly how they left the factory. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Shipping is a dangerous process that often subjects goods to moisture and rough handling, which can cause damage on a small or large scale. Most shippers take precautions to limit potentially hazardous sources of damage and please their clients – except in the case of vibration.

Every form of shipping produces vibration, with can damage delicate components, throw off calibration and generally harm shipped products. Manufacturers and shippers alike should take steps to thwart vibration, but that requires knowing more about this source of damage and the tools to prevent it.

How Vibration Damage Happens

Manufacturers and shippers are familiar with the concept of shock damage: If a package falls to the floor from a high shelf or is slammed against a wall during a fast turn, it could break if it was not properly protected with padding before shipment. Shock damage is typically easy to identify because there is a relatively large area of destruction.

Vibration damage, on the other hand, is much less obvious, and that makes it a bit more mysterious to manufacturers and shippers. Vibrations occur in and around nearly any machine, to include trucks, trains, planes, ships and other transportation vehicles simply due to the movements within the engine and other components of the machine. Sometimes, machines put out frequencies that resonate within themselves or objects nearby, causing those objects to vibrate. This is called mechanical resonance; a good example of this type of damage is a wine glass that shatters from a high-pitched tone. When shipped items are subjected to resonant frequencies, they can quite literally shake themselves apart regardless of how long the vibrations last.

Vibration is worst for delicate equipment that needs to be properly calibrated because it is often shaken out of calibration before it reaches customers, requiring technicians to visit for recalibration. However, vibration can also unscrew nuts and bolts, cause cracks in rigid materials and create destruction that seems well beyond the capability of mere vibes. Manufacturers and shippers who often discover unexplained damage to their freight should seriously consider that vibrations are causing unseen damage.

How to Minimize Vibration Risks

The first step to preventing vibration damage is understanding what frequencies matter. Manufacturers should measure the resonant frequencies of their products to get a sense of what kind of vibrations can cause harm. It is possible to estimate these frequencies by researching resonance of materials involved instead of putting a valuable product or piece of equipment at risk. However, if this is impossible, there are relatively easy ways to identify resonance, such as placing an object next to a speaker playing various frequencies and noting when the object begins to vibrate from the sound.

Next, manufacturers need to work with shippers to identify what frequencies are present during the shipping process. Often, manufacturers and shippers make use of vibration monitoring tools, which identify what kind of vibrations occur when and where. Usually, these tools also monitor other destructive factors, like moisture level and temperature, to generally keep manufacturers and shippers informed about the shipping environment. Then, shipped goods can be safe not just from vibration but from all sorts of causes of harm.

Ideally, manufacturers won’t partner with shippers that identify destructive frequencies. However, even if monitoring experiments yield little to no vibrations, manufacturers should take pains to keep their goods protected from vibration and shock. There are a few ways to go about this:

Foam. Foam is perhaps the best option because it comes in many different weights and materials to diffuse vibrations and cushion against shocks. Manufacturers can mold the foam around their goods, making customized protective packages. Foam can be inexpensive, making it an attainable solution for nearly all manufacturers.

Multi-directional padding. A bit more advanced than foam, multi-directional pads lie beneath goods, absorbing vibrations from several directions. The pad is sophisticated, created from layers of plywood, foam and tubing, and as a result, it can be quite expensive. Typically, pads like these are used only to protect particularly heavy and sensitive machines.

Skid-Mates. Goods shipped in crates should be protected with Skid-Mates, which function like a cushioning platform beneath goods. Skids are heavy-duty, single-deck pallets forming the bottom surface of the crate. Skid-Mates come in a variety of weight classifications, and they are appropriate for almost any type of shipped good.

Harsh weather, fire and collision pose significant threats to shipped items – but so does the act of shipping itself. Manufacturers and shippers alike should conduct further research on the vibrations affecting their freight and take action to kill the most dangerous vibes.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.