Packaging regimes are very much like horses for courses but all should take account of the need to meet legislative requirements through waste reduction and recyclability and also the time spent on handling tasks. Moreover, packaging users should think of the impact their packaging methods/materials have outside of their own premises, both on the distribution chain and their customers who must deal with the packaging.

chazThere is no doubt that environmental law and European Directives on packaging have put significant pressure on industry to cut disposable packaging  used in distribution and so the re-usable container has become a prime player in controlling costs and these costs may reach into areas often overlooked when considering a new packaging regime. A good example that saved on legwork and paperwork was one company’s switch from packaged fasteners’ deliveries to use of Interbins trolleys with colour-coded bins for direct lineside deliveries. Previously, deliveries involved goods inwards checking, then to stores and finally to assembly lines. The fasteners’ packaging also had to be disposed of. The payback from this switch was in weeks.

This concern to cut packaging of all kinds has led to more demand for lineside deliveries in re-usable, one-touch packaging. Sometimes the approach to this is simple, like roll containers fitted with slots to carry plastic food trays, much favoured by food retailers because they allow much faster vehicle loading/discharge without forklifts for movement directly to shop shelves. This eliminates all timber pallets and cardboard containers, leaving only food contact wrapping for disposal.

Inappropriate carton sizes can cause serious, wasted space inside boxes/cartons and therefore push up transport costs, particularly serious where air freight is concerned, because it is not a weight problem but a volume problem. If production throughputs are high enough involving many different product sizes and shapes it could pay to install a small box-making machine which produces on-demand packaging to create the right size boxes. Advantages include less corrugated cardboard and shipping costs and lower storage and warehouse costs.

The techniques companies use for optimising packaging efficiencies will largely depend on the nature of their business, product throughput volumes, product types, shapes sizes and fragility. Homogenous loads favour stretchwrap over shrinkwrap for end-of-line transit packaging, so the latter is often used for heavier loads in the brick, block, glass and paper industries, with better load-holding as the key determinant. Shrinkwrap can also be useful with sacked and boxed materials in that it does not require palletised loads, as with Moellers palletless shrink-wrapping system. By dispensing with pallets, savings can also be made in shipping costs.

At times such is the importance of packaging that it can influence the design process for automated handling, which requires much tighter specification for palletised loads, like ensuring loads are assembled on pallets squarely and uniformly. A layer palletiser if often preferable to pick-and-place palletisers for this type of operation.  Good stretchwrappers should not leave any trailing tail wraps of stretch film that could give false signals to sensors and the pallets themselves should be top line without any signs of damage, like protruding nails that could compromise roller conveyors.

Stretchwrapping is still the most common for of end-of-line palletised wrapping, which can be broken down into manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic types. Film wrapping is usually quicker and cheaper to apply than strapping, which often requires card or collars for protection. As with stretchwrapping, shrink wrapping can also be manual, semi and fully automatic, with the fully automatics costing up to £500,000. Justifying such high costs would be easier with three-shift operations, running seven days a week. The consensus is that 50 pallet loads/hr per eight-hour day would justify a switch from manual to automatic.