It happens all too often, and it did again last week. We received a set of gage blocks for calibration and upon opening the packaging, found the case in pieces. The blocks were all over the place. This set probably cost the customer close to $1,000 and for want of proper packaging, it could have become a box of precision paperweights.

When we report receiving gages or instruments that are damaged, the first reaction from customers is to blame us for dropping them. When things settle down and we explain the details, most customers realize that we probably didn’t drop their treasures on the floor. But the question remains: What went wrong?

In the absence of forklift truck tire marks on the box, the problem is usually caused by inadequate packaging on the customer’s part. What’s adequate? A large courier company representative once told me that packaging should be able to withstand a drop of 30 feet or more onto a concrete floor. This was due to multi-tiered conveyor systems at their distribution centers where boxes are not always neatly placed.

One way around this problem is to hand-deliver critical items to the laboratory for calibration. Next best would be a direct courier: one that goes from your facility directly to the laboratory. For most folks, these are not practical options, therefore regular couriers or trucks are used.

If your company is shipping instruments or other fragile products on a regular basis, your shipper will know how to package your gages or instruments properly. If this is not the case, a box of thread plug gages will look like a box of shiny bolts and be treated accordingly. The best way to prevent problems is for someone in the quality department to prepackage items. Here are some tips that may help you.

  • Gage Blocks.
  • Ensure there is padding inside the case. If you can shake the set and hear anything rattling inside of it, you need more padding inside. The padding should be foam rubber type material cut to fit the case. Fiberglass reinforced tape or duct tape should then be used to ensure the case stays closed if the clasp or locks on it fail. Place the set in a box having a couple of inches clearance all around that is filled with plastic popcorn or bubble wrap. This box should then be placed in the shipping container with appropriate cushioning.

  • Thread Plug Gages.
  • If you have access to the plastic-type dip used for cutting tools and gages, it is the best thing to use. Make sure that large gages are over-wrapped and are not able to move around in their container, otherwise the gage threads will cut through the dip. If you don’t have access to the dip, carefully wrap each member with cushioning material. Packing may be easier on large gages if you remove the handles from tri-lock members. Make sure to label handles and members to ensure they are matched up properly.

  • Thread Ring Gages.
  • Even though their threads are internal and appear to be protected because of this, thread ring gages must be wrapped individually and be prevented from moving around during transit. Do not ship rings with their setting plugs engaged.

  • Micrometers.
  • Use the maker’s original case if possible. Install padding so the instrument does not move around within the case. Over-wrap with cushioning material and tape the box. Place inside a larger box, ensuring there is packing material on all sides.

  • Indicators.
  • A piece of tubing slid over the stem and long enough to protrude beyond the contact point will help protect indicators from shocks. Each should be individually wrapped and placed within a larger box with cushioning material.

  • Long Items.
  • Long rules and straightedges should be wrapped with cushioning material and strapped to a length of 2 by 4 lumber to protect them in transit. They can then be packaged with traditional materials. A block of wood at each end should be secured to the board to prevent the rule or straightedge from shooting out the end of the material.

    If in doubt, get someone who uses these items to keep an eye on the packing to be safe.