Q&A with 30-year hazmat packaging veteran Bill Barger: “2017 is our year.”

Bill Barger

Bill Barger

Since joining Labelmaster last June, Senior Packaging Product Manager Bill Barger has connected with customers nationwide to make sure we’re not just meeting their packaging needs, but anticipating them.

A Pittsburgh native who still calls himself a die-hard Steelers, Pirates and Penguins fan, Bill has seen a lot of progress over three decades in the Dangerous Goods business. Here’s what he had to say about his career, the changing DG landscape, and what customers need now from their packaging partner.

Q:   How did you get into Dangerous Goods packaging?

A:    I was an accountant for a packaging company, but I wanted to get into sales. The owner had an idea for a Dangerous Goods division. I didn’t know what DG was. At that time, U.S. hazmat regulations were changing—starting to move in line with international standards.

Q:   What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?

A:    I’d say it was going from predominantly spec packagings to allowing companies the freedom to develop performance-based designs for customers. Designs are much better today because we can use our expertise instead of following spec standards.

For instance, we now have polypropylene absorbents and other cushioning materials instead of just vermiculite. Or to give another example—where regulations may have once specified a DOT 12A or 12B fiberboard box with so much cushioning, we may now use a single wall box with an insert that can pass a drop test. It’s lighter, less expensive and actually stronger, with reinforcing packaging from the inside.

We’re all-around safer with today’s testing standards—they really spell out what’s needed.

Q:   What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?

A:    If packaging is designed properly and assembly instructions are followed correctly, the chances of hazardous material being shipped safely are vastly improved. Most shippers who want to do it right will go the extra mile to reduce risk, increase efficiency and achieve cost savings.

There are still companies who say, “We’ve never had a problem, so we’ll keep doing it the same way.” We treat that as a great opportunity to help customers truly understand the regulations and complexity of DG shipping. If you’re knowingly shipping hazardous materials improperly, is it worth the risk of some type of prosecution?

A problem we see is more companies going to a bidding process for different packaging components, shopping around for the lowest-cost inner and outer kit components. But are they getting the performance they need by putting it together themselves, as opposed to buying complete kits?

Q:   What are the most common questions customers ask about packaging?

A:    We get lots of questions about lithium batteries. They’re a big problem for everyone—including medical equipment and, of course, cell phones. Other industries that have lots of questions about hazmat packaging include paints and coatings and chemical companies.

Or take air bag recalls. They’re classified as an explosive, so you need an outer carton, bubble wrap, and a leak-proof liner or a metal drum with a vented bung. That’s where Labelmaster has the ability to help. Many companies don’t understand the compliance issues they face. This is when you need a reputable company that understands compliance.

Q:   What makes Labelmaster’s offerings unique?

A:    We offer a full line of packaging, but also the ability to custom-design packaging to specific needs.

For example, an insurance company gets back defective lithium batteries that they need to ship for disposal. We offer boxes to ship one or a few at a time, but they have 50 to 300 batteries to move at once. Sometimes they have thousands waiting to be transported. We designed a package to ship bulk damaged or defective products.

Q:   Can you explain the special permit lithium battery packaging?

A:    It’s ideal for consumer returns of recalled cell phones—we introduced it just in time! Consumers don’t have hazmat training, so this packaging allows them to return a phone in a fiberboard box without a Class 9 label.

Q:   Are there any changes we should expect to see with Labelmaster’s packaging over the next few months?

A:    More focus on lithium batteries, more focus on customer-specific custom packaging, and ways we can expand our product line. We’re working with manufacturing to improve our process and assembly. Everything looks so much better. 2017 is our year.

Also, we now offer in-stock inventory of our most popular packaging products for immediate shipment.

We’re redesigning a lot of our packaging and offering different absorbent material options, which will save customers on costs. We have a biodegradable material for interior packaging—molded pulp, a mixture of fiberboard and recyclable newspaper—because more people want to get away from EPS foam, especially companies with a footprint in Europe. The cost is equivalent in most cases.

On the sales side, we’ve helped customers reduce the number of packagings they need, to increase their buying power and save on inventory. One chemical manufacturer had three different packagings to ship the same size bottle. We gave them a new design so they only need one packaging.

Everyone always wants their new custom solution built and shipped the next day. We do our best!

Have a question for Bill Barger? Contact him at bbarger@labelmaster.com.


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