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Understand Shock Levels and Packaging Principles

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When you open up your presents on your birthday, you probably don't spend a lot of time admiring the wrapping—you'd much rather see what's inside. It can be the same way with the packaging that products come in, but packaging is important for protecting the things we buy as they make their way from the factory to our homes. How much shock force is produced when a box gets dropped accidentally? What kinds of materials work best to protect products from damage? This project can show you how to find out.


Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability
Specialty item
Low ($20 - $50)
No issues

Seagate Technology

  • Maria Noer
  • Dave Brucks
  • Becky Freeman
  • Icy Mackley
  • Venbing Jogwuia

Edited by Andrew Olson, Ph.D., and Justin Spahn, Science Buddies


The goal of this project is to investigate the effect of material properties on shock levels and protection against shock damage.


Products we use every day come in all shapes and sizes. Most products come in some type of packaging to protect them from damage while they are being transported. Companies spend a lot of money on designing the right package for their product.

This experiment is meant to help you explore how material properties such as hardness and weight can affect shock levels observed during drop testing. The material properties of the product being dropped, the packaging, and the surface it is being dropped onto are all important in determining the amount of shock received. This project is intended to help you understand what types of material make effective and cost effective packaging to protect products from damage.

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and concepts:



Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

Experimental Procedure

  1. Set up your materials and equipment for testing.
    1. Determine the material(s) and size(s) of product you plan to drop.
    2. Identify the 3-4 surfaces you plan to use to drop the product onto. You can choose to go to the location of the surface or, if it is portable (e.g., a small sample of carpet, wood, etc.), then collect the samples and bring them to one central location for testing.
    3. Create a table listing the variables (material, size, and surface).
    4. Secure the tape measurer or ruler in a vertical position against a non-movable surface like a wall. (This will allow you do your experiment using two hands.)
    5. Tape the resettable shock indicators to one side of the first product you are dropping.
      1. The shock indicator is a small device which has two modes: active and inactive. The indicator is inactive when no dark arrows are showing on either side of the sticker with the product name. This mode tells you that the indicator has not detected the shock level for which you are looking. The indicator is activated when it feels an impact at or above the level you are looking for—you will know that it has been activated when one or both of the dark arrows appear. For the TeleDrop brand, to reset the device to its inactive position, insert a pencil into the small hole on the side of the indicator, right where the arrow is pointing. Each arrow has its own reset button.
  2. Predict the outcome of the drop testing.
    1. Formulate a hypothesis about how you expect the material type, material size, or surface type to affect the distance the product can be dropped before it activates the shock indicator.
    2. For example, your hypothesis might be "I think a smaller piece of X when dropped on a surface of Y will activate the shock indicator at the shortest distance from the surface."
  3. Determining the shock threshold of product on each of the various surfaces.
    1. Take your first product and first surface and drop the product from 1 foot above the surface.
    2. Verify whether shock indicator was activated. If it was activated, record the activation height in a table in your lab notebook like the Data Table. If the shock indicator was not activated, then increase the drop height and repeat the experiment.
      1. You can decide how much to increase the drop height by, but make sure you use the same intervals each time. For example, if the shock indicator fails to activate at 1 foot, and you decide to raise it to 1.5 feet, and it still fails to activate, the next test level must be 2 feet. This way you'll be increasing the activation height by the same interval (6 inches) each time.
    3. Continue until you get to an activation height where the shock indicator is activated. Record the activation height in your data table.
    4. Repeat the experiment with the remaining surfaces, making sure you reset shock indicator each time it is activated.
    5. Repeat the entire experiment with second and then third products selected. Test against all three surfaces.

    Data Table

    Object Type Object Size Surface Activation height
    Wood Large Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Wood Small Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Metal Large Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Metal Small Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Plastic Large Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Plastic Small Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Wood Large Concrete  
        Wood floor
    Wood Small Concrete  
        Wood floor

  4. Summarize your findings and compare them to your predicted results. What did you learn?
  5. Predict the outcome of testing with different packaging materials.
    1. Formulate a hypothesis about how you expect different packaging material to affect the distance the product can be dropped before it activates the shock indicator.
    2. For example, your hypothesis might be, "I think using bags filled with air will protect the product at higher drop distance than using tissue."
  6. Test various packing materials.
    1. Choose the packaging materials you will be using.
    2. Create a table for recording the packaging material, the distance dropped, the surface it is dropped on, and whether the shock indicator was activated or not.
    3. Choose one of your product samples from your first experiment, place it in your packaging container, and fill the container with the first packaging material.
    4. Make sure that the packaging material completely surrounds the product.
    5. Tape the packaging container closed.
    6. Choose one surface to perform your experiment on (perhaps the 'worst case' from your first experiment).
    7. Drop your package from the same distance that had previously activated the product in the first part of this experiment. Record whether the shock indicator was activated or not.
    8. If not, continue to increase the distance and repeat the experiment until the shock indicator is activated. Record your results after each drop.
    9. Repeat the experiment with other packaging materials and record the results.
  7. Summarize your findings and compare them to your predicted results. What did you learn?
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  • An alternative to using the shock indicators would be to use:
    • an egg, or
    • an impact-activated sound toy, or
    • an impact-activated lighted toy (you would need to be able to see through the packaging to know if the light was activated).
  • Determine how small the product packaging can be and still protect the product at the desired drop distance—packaging does cost money.
  • Renewable resources and packaging. Do research on the materials commonly used in packaging. Which materials can be made from renewable resources? Can renewable materials effectively protect against shock? Would using renewable materials add to the cost (e.g., if more material is needed to provide effective protection)?


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Understand Shock Levels and Packaging Principles." Science Buddies, 23 June 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/ApMech_p009/mechanical-engineering/packaging-to-withstand-drops. Accessed 3 June 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, June 23). Understand Shock Levels and Packaging Principles. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/ApMech_p009/mechanical-engineering/packaging-to-withstand-drops

Last edit date: 2020-06-23
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