Molded Foam Material and Application Q&A

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Q&A with a Schaefer Packaging Expert: Molded Foam Material and Application

In this edition of Q&A with a Schaefer Packaging Expert, we speak with Darcy Nettleton, National Canadian Sales Manager of Packaging Systems, about Molded Foam material and how it is used in packaging systems.

Darcy is a veteran of the packaging industry and has vast experience specifically in molded foam applications. Previous experience in packaging includes sales management at The Woodbridge Group, where Nettleton managed all particle foam packaging programs, primarily for the automotive and pharmaceutical markets.

Table of Contents

  • Expanded polypropylene (EPP)
    • Mold ability, light weight, good heat, oil, and insulating properties, excellent shape memory, ability to take multiple impacts
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesExpanded polyethylene (EPE)
    • Similar characteristics to EPP but with a very soft and smooth surface which lends itself well to packaging parts with sensitive finishes that require non-abrasive contact
  • Expanded polystyrene / polyethylene (EPS/EPE Hybrid branded as ARCEL® from NOVA Chemicals)
    • Cost effective, higher compression strength foam, ideal for tote inserts, dunnage bars, and cold chain coolers
  • Automotive, Energy management – bumper cores, sun visors, tool kits, floor spacers, headrests, consoles, seat systems – various returnable packaging (totes/tote and bulk bin inserts/ dunnage bars/ rack dunnage)
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesElectronics – PS/PE – flat screen TVs, (EPS primarily)
  • Consumer Goods – sporting helmet liners, (bicycle, football) (EPP)
  • Pharma – EPP & PS/PE – returnable cold chain cooler shipments
  • Military – missile launcher components and end caps, helmet liners (EPE/EPP)
  • Marine – watercraft components (EPE/EPP), dock cushions, buoys (EPP)
  • HVAC – water tank covers, boiler surrounds, dryer muffler, valve covers (EPP)
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesEPS/EPE Hybrid foam materials were developed as a more robust option to traditional foam packaging. It allows for a reduction of overall package size and weight. Printers traditionally use EPS end caps, using EPS/EPE Hybrid foam materials can reduce the cap size because of the improved protective properties. This reduces the corrugated box size, increasing more parts per pallet resulting in cost savings through the supply chain.
  • Ability to capture and support complex part geometry’s
  • Recycling ability
  • Integrated dunnage & tote – 1 substrate
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesErgonomic and light weight
  • Ability to withstand multiple impacts
  • Custom footprints
  • Thermal properties
  • ESD & FR options
  • “A” surface friendly
  • Color options
  • Good chemical resistance
  • Increased QPC
  • Water resistant
  • No sharp edges
  • Part geometry, sensitivity, project volume, budget
  • When the design requires a large amount of fabricated substrates and labor, higher volumes, ergonomic constraints
  • Volume usually drives the molded foam decision – there are design limitations as well that have to be considered- part size, weight, material, temperature etc
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesImmediate applications include dunnage packaging for battery casings and other electronic components.
  • Long term possibilities increase as vehicles get more sensitive electrical components. There will be more demand for sophisticated packaging designs and ESD materials.
  • Yes, we have supplied molded trays that are robotically loaded with various parts coming out of an injection molding machines as well as various other assemblies.
  • For basic loading and unloading scenarios, we design to very specific tolerances of foam thickness, density, and surface profiles (see chart).


DimensionsTolerance / Density   
Linear / Thickness
Foam Dimensions
16 to 24 g/l25 to 30 g/l31 to 50 g/l51 to 80 g/l81 g/l +
0 to 5mm± 0.75± 0.5± 0.5± 0.5± 0.5
6 to 15± 1.25± 1.0± 1.0± 1.0± 1.0
16 to 25± 1.75± 1.5± 1.5± 1.0± 1.0
26 to 50± 2.25± 2.0± 1.5± 1.5± 1.5
51 to 100± 2.5± 2.0± 2.0± 1.5± 1.5
101 to 250± 3.0± 2.5± 2.5± 2.0± 2.0
251 to 500± 4.0± 3.5± 0.75± 3.0± 2.5
501 to 1000± 6.0± 5.0± 0.75± 4.0± 3.5
> 1000± 1.25%± 1.1%± 1.0%± 0.75%± 0.5%
Surface Profiles
Hole / Slot
Dimensions (MMC)
16 to 24 g/l25 to 30 g/l31 to 50 g/l51 to 80 g/l81 g/l +
5 to 10± 1.25± 1.0± 0.5± 0.5± 0.5
11 to 25± 1.25± 1.0± 1.0± 1.0± 1.0
26 to 50± 2.0± 1.5± 1.0± 1.0± 1.0
  • Molded Foam Dunnage ExamplesTemperature allowance is approximately -30°C to +80°C (-22°F to +176°F)
  • A design consideration is what temperature is the foam is exposed to for prolonged periods. With lower temperatures it becomes stiff as with higher temps the material becomes softer and more pliable, this can effect compression creep.
  • This can be the main criteria for selecting molded foam, you consider the foam thickness, bead grade and density, these all contribute to the optimal packaging performance.
  • When deciding what direction you look at product fragility (G’s), the material handling environment, determine the cushion curve that will absorb shock/load, design limitations, and then prototype to test.
  • In short if the packaging will be taking multiple impacts you will design with EPP and EPE due to their resiliency.

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