Virginia Tech® home

Saewhan Kim's Research

"Investigation into unit load stability from various factors in material handling" 

Saewhan Kim

Saewhan Kim

Saewhan Kim

Ph.D. Student.

Find Saewhan on LinkedIn



Saewhan Kim recently graduated from CPULD at VT with his Masters degree and was accepted to continue his research and is now working on earning his PhD. Saewhan received his Bachelors from Ryerson University. Prior to coming to VT, he was an undergraduate research assistant in the Sustainable Packaging Research (SUPAR) lab at Ryerson University.

Saewhan’s research focuses on the mechanical interactions between unit load components, such as pallets and corrugated boxes, and the environmental benefits of packaging optimization methods using mechanical interactions. He is also focusing on analyzing the environmental impact of a wide range of packaging types.

Research Abstract:

Trends focusing on packaging sustainability are emerging, not only in consumer packaging, but also in distribution packaging which is transported in unit load form. Wooden pallets transporting corrugated boxes are the most common unit load type in the United States. Recently, it has been observed that modifying pallet top deck stiffness can significantly affect the strength of corrugated boxes depending on various unit load design factors. It was also recently discovered that this phenomenon can be used as a tool for packaging cost optimization. However, there is still a knowledge gap regarding how this unit load optimization method could affect the environment.

This study was conducted to investigate the environmental effect of optimizing a unit load by increasing the stiffness of its pallet’s top deck and reducing the board grade of its corrugated boxes using life cycle analysis. Numerous unit load designs were investigated using different wood species, pallet top deck thicknesses, corrugated boxes sizes, corrugated flutes, and board grades. The initial and optimized unit load scenarios were created to ensure that the unit loads offered the same performance. The scope of this study was cradle-to-grave, including raw material production, packaging manufacture and use, and the end-of-life processes on wood pallets and corrugated boxes. The results showed that optimizing the unit load offsets its environmental impacts by up to 23%. The environmental benefits in most of the impact categories were primarily due to the reduction of the corrugated material used (except for ozone depletion). Ozone depletion was mainly governed by a change in the amount of pallet materials.

This study showed that the unit load optimization method involving increasing the stiffness of the top decks and reducing the corrugated board grade could be an effective way of reducing the overall environmental footprints of unit loads.