Packing Efficiency

The Consumerist has been running an amusing series of posts on companies that ship small things in ridiculously oversized boxes. So I was curious to see how my recent order of a 4GB MicroSD flash card would be shipped… These things, if you haven’t seen one, are so tiny it’s silly. Here’s my new card, next to the box it shipped in:

What? Can’t see it? Lower left corner, on top of the dime…

I couldn’t resist playing with some numbers.

Size of MicroSD card: 11mm x 15mm x 1mm = 0.165 cm^3
Size of shipping box: 8″ x 10″ x 6″ = 7870 cm^3
Packing efficiency: 0.0021%

If they had actually filled that box to capacity, I would have received 47,000 cards with 186 TB of storage… At a cost of $1.34 million (plus $238,000 for shipping). The 3-day shipping took 107 hours (stupid weekend), so the bandwidth of such a shipment would have been 506MBps.

“Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.” Indeed.

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9 thoughts on “Packing Efficiency”

  1. I was once told in was done on purpose because big package are a lot harder to stole while being in transit than small ones. And it seems reasonable, isn’t it?

  2. I suppose theft could be one reason, but I suspect it’s just because either their usual shippers have a minimum package size, or there’s no cost/complexity savings on their end.

  3. Since many companies and governments are advocating a cap and trade system (as opposed to a carbon tax), perhaps shipping companies are being deliberately and gratuitously inefficient in order have a greater than necessary carbon footprint for their industry, which can then easily, at almost no cost, be reduced to be well under their cap (and accrue a benefit they can sell to other industries.) Under threat of cap and trade, currently companies would want to maximise their carbon footprint, while minimizing current costs as well as the future costs to reduce their footprints.

    It’s a slightly absurd explantion :D, but the prevalence of such packaging is also an absurdity.

  4. The reason for the over-sized packing is primarily due to 1 reason, with a second, supporting reason:

    Primary reason: Larger packages are harder to lose while running the gauntlet of the various shipping carriers. Instead of buying the insurance offered by these carriers, just make the package large enough that only a bumbling idiot could lose it.

    Supporting reason: It’s much cheaper and efficient. Factor in the costs of maintaining 500 assorted sizes of boxes on hand versus just 5. You have to organize, reorder, etc. And what happens when you discontinue that single product that was using the a box size that no other products use? Yeah, you eat those boxes. Also, I’d hazard a guess that the non-standard sized boxes cost alot more; just get 5 boxes that cover that the spectrum and that problem is effectively solved.

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