The 3 Cs: Innovations in computer packaging design

We've all experienced problems with product packaging at some point. Fancy boxes you can’t recycle, large boxes for a small product and everyone’s least favorite packaging material — Styrofoam. Businesses placing large orders can find it difficult to manage the volume of boxes and packing materials, an obstacle to efficiently unpacking and setting up equipment, as well as a challenge to their recycling and waste management goals.

At Dell, we are committed to developing innovative solutions to help solve these packaging problems with the ultimate goal of helping businesses and households reduce their packaging waste. We turned this commitment into our 3Cs packaging strategy that focuses on the cube, the content and the curb.

Cube: Reduce packaging size

In 2008, Dell announced its “Cube” goal: to reduce overall packaging volume by 10 percent by the end of 2012. In FY12, we exceeded that goal ahead of schedule — volume was down by 12.1 percent as a result of innovative design and streamlined cushioning. Additionally, we created Multipack to reduce unnecessary packaging for your business by combining multiple products in one box for large orders. This significantly reduces packaging and helps reduce deployment time, transportation costs and storage space. 
3Cs Packaging
For example, we can ship a fully configured chassis in a single box, enabling you to unpack and start up a new blade server in about 15 minutes.

For larger customers, Multipack can reduce deployment time by up to 47 percent.

Through FY15, our strategy has saved $53.3 million and avoided 31.3 million pounds of packaging, and we're not done.

Content: Use recycled or sustainable materials

Our packaging engineers continually assess each element of the complex packaging life cycle to determine which materials will best protect your product while reducing environmental impact. We also choose the materials that make the most sense for each region — using what’s locally available, cuts the packaging’s carbon footprint and can even generate local jobs.

In FY15, we began using the Finite Element Analysis and Shock Response Spectrum to identify new opportunities for optimizing our packaging configurations and using fewer materials. These tools, which we also use to design our products, enable us to more precisely determine where and how products need to be protected by packaging. Our packaging engineers were able to develop new configurations of products within their boxes, reducing the amount of material we needed for packaging while also decreasing the box size itself so we can fit more boxes on a pallet for shipments. These new configurations are also helping us streamline the number of box and cushion form factors we use, which will help us better standardize around a core set of source materials at a much greater scale.

We're also constantly looking for new eco-friendly materials.

Bamboo cushioning inserts
Bamboo cushioning insertsBamboo is an eco-friendly, rapidly renewable material, which serves as a great alternative to foam. In 2009, we were the first technology company to use sustainable bamboo cushioning to replace foams in some products. We now ship many of our tablets and phones, plus most laptops in cushioning made from bamboo as its characteristics make it ideal for protecting lightweight products. The bamboo used for our packaging grows close to the facilities that manufacture our products, reducing its packaging related carbon footprint and is sourced far away from pandas’ known habitats.
Learn more about the recyclability and compostability of the bamboo.

Mushroom packaging

Seeking a greener alternative to petroleum-based cushioning materials for heavy packaging, Dell has piloted the use of mushroom packaging. The mushroom bioscience is based on using common agricultural waste products. Cotton hulls, rice hulls or wheat chaff are placed in a mold and injected with mushroom spawn. Five to ten days later, the mushroom root structure completes its growth. While it is as strong and protective as Styrofoam, it is organic and compostable. Dell is in the pilot phase of mushroom packaging and is the first major company in our industry to put this new biotechnology to use. We believe this material is best suited to our heavier products such as servers and desktops, so our initial pilot shipments are for the PowerEdge™ R710 server in the Multipack packaging configuration. The combination of Multipack and mushroom cushioning make for a super-green solution that we hope sets a new industry standard.

Cushioning made from recycled content

To cut waste further, we use recycled-content materials for many of our other cushioning materials. Specifics vary by world region and product shipped, but include thermal-form high-density polyethylene (HDPE) made using recycled-content plastics derived from recycled milk jugs and detergent bottles. Additional, we use molded paper pulp, made from recycled paper, with some of our desktops. Both help return commonly recycled materials back to use again.

Curb: Make packaging easily recyclable

When your new products arrive, we want to keep your focus on using and enjoying them — not on searching for ways to store or dispose of packaging and old products. We offer multiple options for recycling products at your home or business, and have met our goal of making 75 percent of packaging recyclable at curbside. Here’s a guide to the recyclable and compostable packaging materials we use.

Recyclable boxes

Our boxes are made from recyclable corrugated cardboard, so you can easily add them to your typical recycling stream. What’s more, our corrugated cardboard contains at least 25 percent recycled content, helping reduce reliance on virgin materials. And much of our sourced corrugated cardboard contains some recycled content, helping reduce reliance on virgin materials.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

Our HDPE cushioning, which is made from 100 percent recycled content from milk jugs and detergent bottles can be recycled through many curbside and corporate programs. The number of communities collecting these "nonbottle rigid plastics" continues to grow rapidly in response to demand. In the U.S., visit Earth 911 to review your municipal recycling program or check with the city.

Mushroom and bamboo

Municipal recyclers will take bamboo cushions just as they would corrugate cardboard or paper. Of course, recycling is just one way to responsibly return your packaging to use. Our newest alternative packaging materials, mushroom and bamboo, both are also compostable. Customers can add either to their existing compost pile, and businesses can shred the mushroom packaging for use as landscaping mulch.