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Packaging for a Purpose

By AICC Staff

June 1, 2018

When you hear the term “shipping container,” you generally do not think of the Great Pyramid of Giza, but that is exactly what it is—in this case, a carefully designed and crafted container to transfer the Pharaoh Khufu to the afterlife. Today, the afterlife is probably beyond your shipping radius. Thankfully there are lighter, stronger, and more recyclable methods available than two-ton granite blocks. For all the pyramids’ outward appearance of volume, the actual usable space is little more than that of a three-bedroom ranch house.

But the structural basics are still the same today as they were in 2600 B.C. You want to design for a purpose, choose the most appropriate materials, manufacture as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible, and more often than not, make it brown.

The Challenge

The packaging industry continually searches for new ideas and new processes to create structural components with greater strength and lighter weight. Weight generally translates into cost, while strength is a function of design and materials. The only building materials available to the Pharaoh’s architects to match the design expectations for the pyramid were granite blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. And at more than 5 million tons of total weight, they probably were not concerned about having to ship it to Memphis.

“Thankfully, there are lighter, stronger, and more recyclable methods available than two-ton granite blocks.”


Flash forward a couple millennia, and you come across Caesar’s Roman army, who not only knew how to build roads, but also figured out how to build an arch to span rivers and valleys. The arch directs pressure downward and outward, creating strong structures that have the ability to support heavy loads. Put another way, the Romans invented the stone and mortar equivalent of flutes and starch to provide rigidity to the structure. This breakthrough allowed the creation of large interior space to be open and usable. These spaces evolved into enclosed markets, grew into cities, and were connected by Roman roads spreading commerce throughout the empire. Goods needed containers to be transported, and the available technology and materials created barrels and crates to move goods and livestock. These wooden crates were functional, but expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. And as size increased, structural integrity fell off noticeably.

Now jump to a time closer to our own, and the 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln. The tall hats of the time favored by Lincoln were able to stand up due to a process of “pleating” paper to create ridges and valleys. This process provided great strength with little weight and was first used in commerce to ship glass objects. A gentleman named Oliver Long added a second layer of paper, encasing the pleated paper, and the corrugated sheet was born.


Today, the world of e-commerce, digital printing, CAD design, and specialty equipment would be totally beyond the scope of Khufu, Caesar, and Lincoln. But the technologies and products of today germinate from seeds sown long ago. This seemingly simple marriage of sheets of paper is now responsible for a huge portion of world commerce and is one of the indispensable and most important products in the world—extremely strong for its weight, able to conform into many shapes and sizes without losing integrity, totally recyclable, and collapsible for shipping and storage. In many ways it is the perfect product.

Today’s factories, with extensive automation and increasing digital technology, are far removed from the builders of the pyramids. But they do have one thing in common: They both paid their employees. The legend of the pyramids being built by slaves was a myth. The land was so fertile, there was ample time for men to work on monuments for the kingdom, and they were paid in kind.

The fact that they were paid in beer probably did not hurt recruiting.

PortraitJohn Clark is director of analytics at Amtech Software. He can be reached at