Research Mission:

All research conducted at the Center’s labs for our sponsors is based on the graduate education mission of Virginia Tech.

The Center’s research team is focusing on developing new ways to optimize distribution packaging systems and unit loads by using the physical interaction between the components. Quantifying and improving the sustainability of distribution packages is at the fore front of our research mission. The Center has been developing life cycle inventories and conducting life cycle analysis on pallets and distribution packaging systems.

Smart and connected packaging will revolutionize the distribution packaging sector thus the Center is currently conducting feasibility studies and supply chain studies using the latest technology in smart and connected packaging.

The Center maintains an extensive research database that includes articles on subjects such as: the performance of driven fasteners, observations of damage frequency, and damage severity levels occurring in pallets. Our pallet data, in particular, is vital to researchers developing reliability-based models of pallets, containers, and other such related structures.

The Center researches every aspect of primary and secondary packaging, shipping, and material handling systems. We are also constantly striving to meet and exceed our industry affiliates’ expectations in regards to new areas of research such as electronic sensor tracking and sustainable packaging. Any questions or issues your company has, our team will find the answers!

Most projects are conducted through our Industrial Affiliate Membership Program; however, Sponsored Research projects are also available for more individualized research projects.

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Nicolas Navarro, M.S.

"Investigation into the Deployment of Smart Sensors for Distribution Packaging Tracking"

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Description: Nicolas’s research will focus on the deployment of smart sensors for distribution packaging. His research will help us create continuous supply chain visibility. Internet of Things (IoT) start to become a widely used technology in in many aspects of our life from smart refrigerators to aerospace sensors. In the distribution packaging sector, obtaining data on the shock, vibration, and environmental conditions that the package experiences throughout the supply chain will enable us to create safer and more sustainable packaging solutions. Nicolas’s research will focus on reviewing the available technologies for the distribution packaging sector and identifying opportunities for further research.

Dorina Bugledits (Ph.D)

"Investigation Into the Types of Unit Loads Carried by Pallets."

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Description: Currently the load carrying capacity of a pallet is determined by assuming that the load will be distributed evenly across the pallet. Most current pallet testing is set up using this assumption. However, this is not always the case in real-world pallet use. The weight on a pallet is actually distributed based on the type, size, and shape of the packages making up the unit load. These changes in the distribution of weight is called “load bridging” and this can significantly impact the overall load carrying capacity of a pallet.

Objectives: The proposed project will investigate different types of packages/unit loads and their effects on the load carrying capacity of pallets. This will be done through research of current literature, surveying the marketplace to determine the frequency of different unit loads, and studying the most common unit loads for their overall effect.

Alina Mejias (M.S)

"Investigation Into the Effect of Pallet Design on the Operating Cost of the Supply Chain."

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Description: Pallets, packaging and the material handling system must work together to ensure stability in the supply chain. Currently each part of the system is designed and manufactured independently which can cause equipment slowdown, shutdown, and unit load failure. Currently, research projects focus on the performance of corrugated boxes because they represent 80% of packaging materials in unit loads. We will be looking into what areas of the supply chain are affected by using low quality pallets. We will determine a method to financially quantify all of the issues caused by using these low quality pallets. The outcome of this research will allow us to develop a model tying pallets to the operating costs of the supply chain. 

Objectives: The proposed project will identify where low quality pallets adversely influence material handling and storage systems and will financially quantify these adverse effects. We will then develop a model to show how to save costs and increase efficiency by utilizing properly designed, high quality pallets.

Eduardo Molina (Ph.D.)

"Development of a Finite Element Model to Predict the Deflection of a Stacked Unit Load of Corrugated Boxes."

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Description: Different types of unit loads can cause load bridging on pallets, which means that the weight is not distributed evenly across the pallet. Various factors including box size, aspect ratio, coefficient friction, number of layers, containment force, etc. influences the amount of load bridging. The investigation of the load bridging effect using physical testing is complex, expensive, and time consuming. Using finite element modeling would significantly increase the effectiveness of load bridging research.

Objectives: The proposed project will validate experimentally, in 2D and 3D, a finite modeling system for testing the interactions of packages causing load bridging. And, once validated it will be used to develop an adjustment factor to help apply the testing results of a pallet loaded using a uniform flexible load to a pallet loaded with corrugated boxes where load bridging occurs.

Chandler Quesenberry (M.S.)

"Investigation into the Effect of Pallet Stiffness on the Strength of Corrugated Boxes."

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Description: Chandler will investigate the effect of pallet stiffness of the strength of corrugated boxes. His research will help us increase and safety and optimize the cost of unit loads.

Historical research indicated the stiffness of pallets have a significant effect on the stress distribution on the top of the pallets which influences the strength of various packaging materials such as pails, bottles, and drums. However, the effect of pallet stiffness on the strength of corrugated boxes was only investigated for symmetric box loading conditions. Chandler’s research will focus on quantifying the effect pallet stiffness on the strength of asymmetrically loaded corrugated boxes.


Mary Paz Alvarez (MS)

"Investigation into the Interactions Between the Components of Palletized Drums and Pails During Storage and Distribution"

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Description: She will conduct research to investigate the interaction between pails, drums, and pallets. The research investigates the potential load bridging and unique stress distribution caused by pails and drums, and also explores how a pallet affects the strength of pails/drums; this could offer significant cost reductions to the industry.

Objectives: This research will require Mary to conduct hands-on work within CPULD’s testing laboratories using multiple data acquisition systems, software, and testing machinery.


There are three main benefits for our industry partners through our research projects:

Interaction with students

The personal and professional skills of the students are developed through conducting industry sponsored research projects. The presentations at the end of their research provides an excellent opportunity for interaction with our best students who are potential future employees or summer interns.

Find solutions to your company's
existing real life problems

Our students develop and present solutions to real life problems throughout the year. As a member company you can bring your real-time problems to the Center and have a research project developed around solving your company’s issues!  The students’ solutions developed through their research projects give our supporting companies a competitive advantage.

Networking opportunity

Our supporting companies are composed of packaging producers, suppliers, and final customers. Our bi-annual meetings, at which students present their research findings from the previous year of projects, provide a great opportunity to network with other industry members who are your company’s potential suppliers, customers, and future employees.

How can I sponsor a research project?

The Center offers two primary ways to work with us on research projects.

Our Affiliate Membership is designed to provide an opportunity for groups of companies to sponsor fundamental research projects that can create benefits for the whole group. Each year, projects are voted on by all of our members, and once the research is completed, the sponsoring companies can use the generated information to increase the competitiveness of their companies. In addition to the research information, companies also get discounts on short courses and contract testing projects.

The Center also offers a more individualized research partnership through our Sponsored Research Program. These projects are more tailored to the individual company, and Virginia Tech also offers a mechanism to transfer the generated IP to the sponsoring company. The results of the research projects remain confidential for up two 2 years.


Work on Issues That Matter!

Our researchers focus on highly applied projects focusing on current challenges in the packaging industry:

  • Most projects are sponsored by large multinational packaging corporations.
  • Sustainability is in the core of all research projects.
  • You research results might be built into an internationally used pallet design software package and used by thousands of packaging professionals.

Get Paid to Study!

Our M.S. and Ph.D programs are designed to help you focus on your research and not worry about finances:

  • We cover your tuition for the duration of the research project.
  • We offer competitive research assistantships to cover living expenses.
  • We help international students with getting an F1 student visa.

Make Industrial Connections!

You will have a chance to work on our internationally recognized pallet testing laboratory as a Graduate Laboratory Manager. During this experience, you will gain hands-on managerial experience and work on real life contract testing projects with major packaging companies. The interaction with the companies will give you, life-long connections that will help with the job hunt while the projects will give you actual industrial experience.

The history of RESEARCH conducted in our center...

Below you will find dissertations and theses written by past graduate students in our programs.
Market Studies
Pallet Durability
Smart Packaging
Sustainability Studies
Unit Load Interactions
Unit Load Stability
Wood Pallet Design

Check back soon for research conducted on Smart Packaging!

Contact Us for More Info about our research: