Co.Design

Attention, Amazon! Students Have Designed The Perfect Cardboard Box

Two Cooper Union undergrads constructed a box that's less wasteful, easier to pack, easier to open, and good looking, too.

While some companies, like Ecovative, are tooling around with highly sustainable alternatives to shipping products around the world, two undergrads have just reinvented the humble cardboard container itself to be more efficient.

Extremely wasteful, environmentally harmful, and hard to put together, the standard cardboard box is as much of a practical necessity as it is a bane to a country dominated by big box retailers, warehouse clubs, and free SuperSaver shipping. Where others looked at the ubiquitous cardboard box and saw a necessary evil, undergraduates Henry Wang and Chris Curro saw a problem that needed to be solved. Their solution? The Rapid Packing Container, a cardboard box for the 21st century that is not only less wasteful than traditional paper boxes, but which can also be put together in seconds and easily reused.

As students at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at Cooper Union, Wang and Curro started by identifying a few key problems with existing cardboard boxes: they use too much material, they are hard to open, and difficult to pack. The design of the Rapid Packaging Container addresses all of this and more.

Because they are designed to be disposable, cardboard boxes are inherently wasteful. Every year, in fact, over 100 billion cardboard boxes are manufactured in the United States. Some of that cardboard will inevitably be recycled, but not as much as anyone would hope: in 2011, only 37% of all fiber used to make new paper products came from recycled sources. That means that up to 63 billion cardboard boxes a year are made out of newly felled trees.

For the Rapid Packaging Container, Wang and Curro used about 15% to 20% less cardboard than traditional paperboard packaging, while maintaining a maximum 260-pound load strength. The Rapid Packaging Container gets away with using less cardboard thanks to the physical redesign.

Here's how it works. Before they are taped together, most cardboard boxes have two open ends: top and bottom. The bottom is reinforced with twice as much cardboard when folded to make it strong enough to support the content of the box's load weight, even though tape might be the only thing holding it closed. Wang and Curro realized that by designing their Rapid Packaging Container so that the bottom of the box was a single, structurally-sound piece of cardboard, they could eliminate a lot of waste.

This top-loading system also has another practical benefit: it's much easier to fold. All you need to do to fold the Rapid Packaging Container into the right shape, in fact, is take an unfolded box and press it into a custom jig, then close the top and affix it with the built-in adhesive strip . Comparatively, a regular cardboard box needs to be folded manually, and then reinforced with packing tape, which can be a cumbersome and error-filled process.

All of these design flourishes would make the Rapid Packaging Container a dream for many companies. But the end-user design is delightful too. Instead of ripping open a taped-together cardboard box, opening a Rapid Packaging Container is as simple as pushing a tab on the top of the box and having the whole thing unfold itself flat again before your very eyes. Even better, it's fully reversible, meaning that if you receive one in the mail, you can just turn it inside-out for a label free box that you can then send to someone else.

According to Wang and Carro, the Rapid Packing Container already has a patent pending, and the clever design duo are currently looking for manufacturing partners. Anyone else hoping that a company like Amazon invests to make the Rapid Packing Container the cardboard box for the 21st century?

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25 Comments

  • The design is very clever, but to claim a 20% saving in board is not completely true because If you have noticed that the thickness of the cardboard used is thicker than the cardboard used for this size of box, so what they are saving eventually is how many "square foot" of cardboard, and not the total consumption of cardboard, since cardboard is measured in Weight/Area. so in order to have a strong box they have to use heavier cardboard (thicker boards). Also this cardboard from my experience is Virgin Kraft, ie: not recycled, because recycled kraft is softer.

  • Muhammad Salik

    this is great... but the only thing concerns me is that box's safety n security in transit... reason why e-commerce/courier companies uses lots of tapes and cardboards to make it strong and safe. i hope they have considered this point too.

  • Using less material has been practiced in the corrugated packaging industry for many years, and every package is custom engineered so that the least amount of material is used without compromising strength. There is always room for innovation, so we hope that these students will considering applying their talents to the manufacturing industry. However, corrugated’s environmental and product performance is outstanding and should be recognized as such.

  • These students have designed a pretty cool box that may work for some applications, but Fast Company’s article is full of misinformation.

    It’s simply not true that traditional corrugated packaging is “extremely wasteful” or “environmentally harmful,” and the faulty math concluding that 63 billion boxes are made from newly-felled trees is inaccurate.

    Here are the facts: • In 2012, 91 percent of all corrugated produced in the U.S. was recovered and recycled. No other packaging material has a better recovery record. • The average corrugated box is made from 46 percent recycled fiber. Additional fiber comes from a 100 percent renewable source – trees that are responsibly farmed in managed forests. The mix of old and new assures a sustainable fiber supply as well as high-performance package strength. • Corrugated fiber can be recycled up to nine times. In addition, corrugated may be reused several times before it goes to the recycling bin (or baler, in a commercial setting)

  • Gail Kanaszyc Kalina

    Need to fact check a bit. How about using the correct word - corrugated, not cardboard. The trees used for new packaging in the US are felled in MANAGED FORESTS. The trees are grown specifically for the paper industry and two trees are planted for each tree cut. Factories that assemble large quantities of boxes will have machines to do that work. Very few boxes are assembled by hand. Boxes are formed from single sheets of "corrugated board" how can the bottom be thicker than the sides/top? Corrugated is biodegradable, how does that hurt the environment. Also, the folding carton industry has been using this type of design for years. But, I will commend you for your research and forward thinking.

  • Yeah.. I have a box maker hear at work that spits out a box in 3 seconds. Bottom is already taped. Then pops it on an automated line to be filled. Another machine pops the stickers on it and tapes the top after the product is packed. I have no doubt Amazon does the same thing. At best, you'd have to market individuals walking into the post office.

  • Christopher Robin Roberts

    This is high quality work for students and there are some interesting ideas here. There are also some questions. I think these guys could benefit from some hands-on time with cardboard manufacturers as well as fulfillment centers and shipping companies. I think they will find a variety of problems to solve and discover why boxes are designed the way they are. Clearly they can empathize with the end user's issues with opening boxes. Now they need to understand the whole lifecycle to truly innovate.

  • Maurizio Avi

    on the constructive side: you could use one of those stickers that indicates if the box has been open because it doesn't glue as well and/or the sticker's text actually indicates it has been open - just like the stripe over the pin code for a new cash card/credit card.

  • Maurizio Avi

    if its so easy to open don't you think it may get open on the way and content stolen (at best) lost (at worst)?

  • Marcus Low

    Hi! This is a brilliant invention and certainly worthy of note in today's society. I am just curious though, that with the ease of opening the box would it cause any problems like say during transportation? Noted that the box opens when you just push in at the top, perhaps it could be possible that while transporting goods these flaps are pushed down and the goods unravel themselves mid transporting. what is the safety mechanism behind this box? or if there isnt, perhaps a more secure mechanism could be installed in the box to ensure that the box stays sealed unless opened by some human force. :) thanks and do hope to hear from you! it's a really good idea though congrats on this!

  • Amelie Szez Tan

    It would help if they can also demonstrate the strength of the box, how much load it can take without breaking apart while being transported.

  • Glenn Meder

    I want to commend the inventors. Don't listen to the naysayers. 99% of people in the world are critics, and 1% are the doers and creators. Whether you have the final solution or not is yet to be determined. Listen to the feedback of your customers (not the critics) and solve their problems. You are on the right step by finding a consumable product that has huge potential. Now sell it! It's about execution. Get one company on board, then grow from there. Good luck!

  • Richard Ballermann

    Geez, there is just so much wrong with this unfortunately. I'll highlight one thing I caught in the text above, other commenters have taken care of the rest.

    If you have ever worked with corrugated cardboard to package something, you know how easily it bends along the corrugation lines. Those extra flaps on the top and bottom where the box closes creates a load bearing face with corrugation running counter to eachother, making the box very strong given the material used. Their solution to remove this "wasted cardboard" by only have one layer on the ends completely ruins the structural integrity that comes from opposing corrugation lines. As archaic as it may seem, there is very little you can do to improve on current box design; it's simple and remarkable tough.

    Not to mention, this thing looks like it will pop open just by looking at it. Pat the students on the back, but please, change the damn headline of this article.

  • Nimish Doshi

    What about security? How do you prevent theft during all stages of transport. It might be a good internal shipping solution, but may not work in the real world.

  • That's right. If it's so easy to open and close, what's to stop someone from opening the package and then easily closing it again. The recipient would have no idea it had ever been opened, whereas with a typical box that's taped you probably would.

  • Or someone opening it and adding something to the package like some mysterious dangerous powder or something. I'm also concerned about the durability. Taped boxes are taped all the way across the top. This box only has the strip in the center, with loose corners that could fold up and become problems. It seems that this box would be much more easily damaged in shipping since the edges have open slits in them.

  • Vaibhav Nahar

    I have a question for the inventors -

    We all know logistics for boxes go through a lot of mishandling and rough-handling and what not.

    How does the design feature in that respect. Is it sturdy and rugged enough to secure the contents of the package still. Visually it does not appear to be quite a solution for hardcore logistical solution.

    Especially here in India, cargo and logistics go through all kinds of weather, channels and rough handling, the reason why a lot of cargo that is shipped or sent, there is a maximum wastage of 10% due to rough channels of distribution and supply.

    I am reachable via email - vaibhavnahar88@gmail.com. Would appreciate if the designers would answer to my question.

    Cheers