Foam packaging is a great way to protect anything you're shipping, but if you need to ship sensitive medical or industrial equipment, or something that needs to be kept hot or cold, you need to be sure the packaging will be strong enough to support fragile components. Foam packaging comes in several forms that use different materials as the base, but the big three that you'll find are polyurethane foam, polystyrene foam, and polyethylene foam.
When to Use Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethane is flexible enough to better absorb shocks from packages being dropped or hit. Anti-static versions work well for transporting and storing items that need to be shielded from static electricity. It can also be made in rigid forms that won't cave in if they're hit but still will provide a cushion for fragile items. If you're transporting fragile materials or equipment, polyurethane foam packaging is the core material of several options. It has excellent insulating qualities, too.
Here's When Polystyrene (Styrofoam) Is Best
The squeak of a Styrofoam food container—Styrofoam is the trademarked name for one type of polystyrene—is known to anyone who's ordered food to go, whether that food was a fast-food burger in the 1970s or a buffet takeout container last week. Polystyrene is the packaging foam you want to use if you need something thin, inexpensive, and fairly simple to bend and mold. Thicker Styrofoam, specifically, is very good at keeping food and drinks warm while protecting your hands from excessive heat; remember this every time you hold a Styrofoam cup full of hot coffee while not needing a paper sleeve for the cup. If you need the packaging for food, polystyrene is the better choice.
Don't Forget Polyethylene
Polyethylene foam is rigid and lightweight, offering great protection for very fragile items. Its other benefits include vibration dampening, meaning that if vibrations (such as the vibrations in a truck as the wheels go along a bumpy road) would damage the item inside, the foam packaging will lessen the amount of vibration that makes it into the package and affects the item being shipped. It is very good at keeping out moisture, too, and it's not as easy to damage as, say, Styrofoam.
What you need to ship will often dictate what you use, but if you have a choice, go with the material that offers the most benefits that could potentially affect what you're shipping. For example, if you need to ship computer parts, polyurethane might be best because of its anti-static qualities.
Contact a company like Sterling Manufacturing for more information.