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Industrial Packaging for Critical Contents
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UN Fair?

From the Hazardous Cargo Bulletin, November 2001

Modern manufacturers of steel drums and their customers will benefit financially if they can consider their product as more than just one simple financial transaction

As a 'boutique' manufacturer that does not really follow the sales trends of the conventional steel drum industry, a few words with Howard Skolnik of Skolnik Industries gives an insight into how quality need not be compromised at a time when costs must be cut. "While a recession has been looming, our sales and new product developments have been strong and consistent." Skolnik says, not forgetting to add the phrase "touch wood!"

The steel drum industry is shaking its head, caught between offering drums to customers at lower prices and the need to maintain quality. Skolnik Industries, however, has made a conscious decision to promote an idea that can, in the long term, combine the two.

Many drum manufacturers are choosing to produce their steel drums in a lighter gauge and, although this is fulfilling the wants of customers as pressure builds on all parts of industry to cut costs, thinner drum walls could be expensive in the long term.

In a forum where customers are confused over comparable certifications and specifications of drum, Skolnik explains the dilemma. "Manufacturers are trying to impress customers that by diminishing the volume of raw materials in a package (ie reducing steel thickness) they are saving money and not putting their shipments at risk. I do not agree with this philosophy and I stimulate the market by increasing public safety awareness and justifying that an extra dollar of steel is worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential fines, clean-up expense and harm to the public that can occur from non-compliant packaging."

Choosing the correct steel drum can be a bewildering process. The Performance-Oriented Packaging (POP) standard was written to be inconclusive and bring about debate, but causes difficulties for customers when trying to select the proper package. Skolnik says, "UN tests are supposed to reflect in-field incidents and trends and therefore the packagings should be improved in order to promote safer transport." This does not seem to be the case.

"Tests are being introduced that do not reflect field problems, but are just more tests for the sake of tests." In the latest Skolnik newsletter, Skolnik emphasises this point, saying that no amount of drop tests will change the "number one reason for drum failure" which he identifies as fork-lift puncture. "In the US, 90 per cent of steel drum failures is from poor handling: punctures with nails, fork lifts or trailer walls." In order to overcome this sort of failure, the design of the drum must be sound, especially in details such as steel thickness.

A customer's priority is always money. Risk is an element that is often only considered after an accident. Unscrupulous drum manufacturers are often hard for customers to distinguish from those which offer decent products. It is left to the drum buyer to select suppliers that demonstrate good practices in their company. "Too often, though, a 'good price' will cause a drum customer to overlook obvious irregularities," says Skolnik, adding, "Once burned, people tend to look more closely at whom they prefer."

Skolnik says his company is unique in its desire to educate customers and keep them safe and above the regulatory guidelines. His sales staff are "trained never to sell by price, but rather to justify the price that is given."