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Electronics, Telecoms and Appliances

Why slow, wet and cheap is the optimal and most sustainable way to ship electronics

Electronics are both complex and fragile products. This fact plays a big part when companies in the electronics industry make decisions about the supply chain of everything from computer motherboards to the latest generation
smartphones. The primary priority of the decision making is often to protect products from moisture damage during transport. This is where the logic goes out the window, as many companies in the electronics industry choose outdated, ineffective, or unsustainable solutions.

In this report, we’ll take you through two client cases that show that ocean freight can be sustainable, safe and cost-effective. They can be due to our innovative moisture protection solutions, that keep your sensitive products dry and safe even in the wettest conditions. We’ve had the pleasure of helping companies in the electronics industry change to a more sustainable and effective moisture damage protection solution and hope this report will convince you to do the same.

A little context before we get to it

Historically the complexity and type of electronic products have played a big part in determining the mode of transport. But the method of moisture damage prevention has also affected decision making. For electronics, these decisions are critical, as they’re so sensitive to moisture. Just a little excess moisture could result in irreparable damage or ruined packaging to huge costs. There can also be invisible damages that come to light only when the products are put to use.

These are the typical damages in the industry:

In addition to this, the transport of electronic goods keeps increasing. During the last couple of decades the import and export of electronic goods stands at an 8% annual growth, while computers and consumer electronics grow by 9% yearly. This represents 829 billion¹ USD and 189 billion USD respectively in global imports.

¹Trade in electronic components drives growth in technology goods, UNCTAD, published 11 March 2019. Available here: https://unctad.org/news/trade-electronic-componentsdrives-growth-technology-goods

Figure 1. Global imports of ICT goods, billion USD, by product category

We’ve found that the product characteristics and some general beliefs have been allowed to dictate the choice of moisture damage prevention solution of electronic goods transport. This has led to solutions that are environmentally questionable or inefficient, such as air freight or to use silica gel pouches during sea freight. Let’s take a closer look at these alternatives:

Shipping by air: the unsustainable method

Products with a high value to weight or volume ratio are usually shipped by air. These are goods with a high capacity to bear the costs of air transport, such as semiconductors and other lightweight high-value electronics such as mobile phones. Shipping by air is also the most common solution when just-in-time material management and inventory minimization is prioritized.

According to the EESI, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, aviation² produced 2,4 percent of total CO₂ emissions in 2018. If aviation were a country, it would rank number six in the world between Japan and Germany in terms of CO₂ emissions. The percentage is expected to triple by 2050, given the projected growth of air travel and freight.

Air freight generates 47 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as ocean freight. Therefore, shipping by air is an unsustainable way to transport goods. An electronic manufacturing company should replace air shipments with ocean freight to reduce carbon emissions and improve sustainability levels.


Shipping by sea with the use of silica gel pouches: the inefficient method

Consumer electronics such as computers and printers that have a relatively low value compared to the product volume, together with longer product obsolescence cycles, are most likely shipped by sea.

For ocean freight, those electronics are often protected from corrosion with silica gel pouches. Silica gel, as we explain in our Insight “Benefits of exchanging silica gel for AbsorGel®”, has less absorption capacity than other desiccant solutions. This fact makes it necessary to place larger quantities of silica gel desiccants in the container to obtain the right level of protection, which means more plastics and resources are needed.

The environmental impact of your decisions matter

To maintain activities and solutions with a high environmental impact, while the world is urging to produce, transport and live in a more sustainable way, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And some supply chain, export and sustainability experts from electronic companies are on the hunt for alternative moisture damage prevention methods. They’re looking for solutions that can help their companies reduce the environmental impact of their supply chain activities, in addition to avoiding moisture damages and saving on logistic costs.

Those companies share a couple of common concerns in their search for sustainable alternatives:

  • The alternative solutions are ineffective and excess moisture can damage expensive products.
  • Alternative products such as calcium chloride desiccants could risk damaging the products as liquids containing salt would cause corrosion.

The second concern is a general belief unfortunately widespread in the sector. Absortech has proven that AbsorGel® is an efficient and trusted solution to prevent moisture damages during sea transport of electronic and telecom products and appliances. It’s not a matter of belief but a matter of fact.

Read our two case studies to get a full picture of what your company can achieve with AbsorGel®.

Case Study 1

From silica gel in-box desiccants to AbsorGel® container desiccants

Big corporations’ decisions often follow guidelines set on a corporate basis when it comes to supply chain or logistics. Due to the characteristics of these companies, the guidelines are difficult to change and/or improve.

Regularly, we find well-known companies with transport guidelines 20-year-old, that recommend moisture damage prevention solutions that are outdated. These handbooks don’t incorporate the latest solutions, that are more efficient and offer a reduced environmental impact. It’s also common that no one is even responsible for researching better solutions.

To change an outdated solution such as a silica gel in-box desiccant to an AbsorGel® Blanket desiccant can help your company achieve:

  • 93% less carbon footprint
  • 40% less plastics used
  • 54% cost savings

Why silica gel in-box protection is not the best protection for electronics shipments.

Silica gel pouches are a common moisture damage prevention solution for companies that ship products via ocean freight. Silica gel might have been a good choice 30 years ago, when there were no alternatives in the market. Luckily, that is no longer the case.

Using silica gel (or clay pouches) to protect products from moisture damages requires installing small pouches of desiccants inside every single packaging. In some cases, this solution is the only possible and effective one. But in most cases, companies can exchange those individual pouches with a container solution. Of course, you could exchange silica gel pouches for calcium chloride pouches, but it’s good to look at the following picture to
understand why container protection helps keep a safer environment for your goods:

To exchange silica gel with a container solution is more efficient. But it’s also a more sustainable solution that can help reduce the environmental impact of the shipping process. Let’s see the impact in a real example.

One of the most important electronic companies in the world used to install silica pouches in every box of electronic products they shipped from Asia to America. Following their supply chain guidelines, they installed a 25 grams silica gel pouch in every box. That helped them absorb around 4 liters of water per container per shipment.

The silica pouches had to protect their goods for the 40 to 50 days that the journey took. However, they often found damaged packaging when the containers arrived at their destination. The silica gel did not provide sufficient protection for their shipments, endangering the proper functioning of their products

In-box protection vs. container protection.

The green area represents the environment where relative humidity is under safe levels.

Pouches help keep the humidity low inside the box. In-box protection does not avoid that the moisture level inside
a container increases, causing condensation and eventually damaging the packaging.

On the other hand, container desiccants absorb the excess moisture inside the container and create a safe environment for the cargo, making it unnecessary to use any in-box protection at all in most cases.


Easier installation and efficient moisture damage prevention

Absortech experts proposed that they replace their traditional silica gel pouches with a container desiccant solution, AbsorGel® Blanket-X 2,0. Two such desiccant blankets can absorb 10 liters of water. Together with the company’s logistics experts, Absortech performed an AbsorTest™ with the goal to check the desiccant performance and propose desiccant dimensioning tailored to their conditions. Several 20ft containers were loaded with electronic products and two units of AbsorGel® Blanket-X 2,0 were installed in each container.

The installation of the AbsorGel® Blanket-X 2,0 was fast and easy and allowed the company to continue to load their containers without interruption, since the blankets lie on top of the cargo.

The solution helps them prevent condensation and reduces moisture that can enter the packaging from the outside air. They kept the relative humidity at harmless levels for their products, and after a 40-day journey, the desiccants still had absorption capacity left to meet the challenge of unexpected delays, longer journeys or more challenging moisture conditions.

In addition, the container desiccants helped them prevent moisture and damage to cartons and other packaging materials.

But is it a more cost-efficient or more sustainable solution?

Yes, it is. Based on market prices for silica gel pouches and the cost of AbsorGel® Blanket-X 2,0, the costs savings for the protection of a 20 ft container is approximately 54%.

SILICA GEL 650 25 16,25 25% 4,06
ABSORGEL 650 4 250% 10 54%

But more important than the costs savings are the environmental savings. They’re measured by the amount of plastics saved together with the amount of CO₂ footprint generated by desiccants.

The amount of plastics and packaging materials used to protect one single container was reduced by 40%. Silica gel protection for a 20 ft container can amount to 480 grams of plastics, while an AbsorGel® Blanket X- 2,0 contains 288 grams of plastics.

A yearly shipment of 2 000 containers means saving 384 kg of plastic per year.

Two facts have an impact on the quantity of CO₂ emitted by each desiccant solution. The first fact is that silica gel desiccant has a CO₂ footprint 2 to 3 times higher than calcium chloride as a result of the way it is produced and sourced. The second fact is that you need less amount of calcium chloride than silica gel desiccant to get efficient protection for the cargo.

Considering that the CO₂ footprint of silica gel pouches is approximately 44 kg per single container protection, and the CO₂ footprint of two units of AbsorGel® Blanket-X 2,0 is 3,07 kg per single container protection, the environmental savings, measured as the carbon footprint – the CO₂ emitted to the atmosphere are up to 93%.

This means changing from silica gel in-box protection to AbsorGel® container desiccants lead to:

  • 93% less carbon footprint
  • 40% less plastics used
  • 54% cost savings

To sum up, why choose silica gel in-box protection when you can save 93% of the emissions of your moisture damage prevention solution per year?

Case Study 2

From shipping by air to shipping by ocean freight

As we stated in our introduction, air freight generates 47 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as ocean freight. It’s still the choice of many companies when shipping extremely sensitive electronic products, because it avoids all types of moisture damage.

But is there an alternative?

Of course there is. Ocean freight transport with the right protection from moisture damages. We have proved this alternative is safe through cooperation with companies that trust us with their sensitive and expensive products. The key in these cases is to find the right dimensioning and the right choice of desiccant for each product, packaging and shipment. This ensures that the relative humidity levels remain at safe levels for the products during the entire journey.

Shipping by ocean freight is not only cheaper – airfreight can be 6 to 12 times more expensive than ocean freight – but also more sustainable than shipping by air.

Imagine a company shipping 10 tons of goods from Shanghai to Rotterdam. Switching from air to ocean freight, the company could save up to USD 9 500 in direct costs – from 17 500 USD to 8 000 USD with only a small investment of 75 to 125 USD per container in AbsorGel® desiccants, to keep their cargo safe from moisture damages.

Even larger than the costs savings are the savings in the environmental footprint. The transport of 10 tonnes of goods by air generates 106 662 kg of CO₂ emissions that are released into the atmosphere. Sea freight only emits 2 912 kg of CO₂ for the same weight of goods and the same journey.

AbsorGel® is a win-win solution for companies and for the environment. AbsorGel® can help reach approximately:

  • 97% less carbon footprint
  • 54% cost savings

To sum up

For many years, companies that ship electronics, appliances or telecom goods have chosen transport modes like air freight and moisture damage prevention solutions such as silica gel in-box desiccants to prevent moisture damages. These solutions have shown to be inefficient and have a high environmental impact. Eventually, companies have begun to look for new solutions.

Absortech Group has helped companies switch from air freight to ocean freight without risking moisture damage to their products thanks to AbsorGel® container desiccants. We’ve also helped companies switch from traditional in-box desiccants to AbsorGel® container desiccants. The benefits of that switch has been better protection, costs savings, logistics and the reduction of CO₂ emissions and plastics use.

Changing from a traditional solution or airfreight to AbsorGel® container desiccants is good for your company and also a relief for the environment.

Would you like to take the step?

Contact us for Peace of Moisture Mind®.

Absortech helps you prevent moisture damage during transport. Our promise is to protect your brand, increase your savings and lower the environmental footprint of your logistics processes. We are a pioneer in moisture damage prevention with headquarters in Sweden. Since 1996, we have been offering a wide range of inhouse developed and produced desiccants made from calcium chloride. Peace of Moisture Mind® is our moisture damage prevention
concept, which includes steps like audits, tests and global supply chain solutions. We are committed to base our operations on sustainable principles and help businesses like yours implement sustainable solutions to prevent moisture damage.


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