Packaging can be friend or foe, and while it never adds value to contained products it can certainly cut logistics costs in so many ways, particularly in handling and transport. But for best results when taking a holistic view of packaging regimes businesses should also include software packages in their review exercise to help cut wasted space in vehicles, and also allow for the need to reduce the environmental impact of their logistics processes.

chazIf some logisticians knew how much “free” air was costing them they would be shocked. Across industry, wasted space due to inefficient packaging and vehicle loading probably exceeds 17.5%. This stems from inappropriate packaging design, poor pallet stacking methods and a wasteful vehicle and container stuffing. But, of course, it is not only about wasted space. It is also about handling times and this is where bespoke-designed packaging, so favoured by car makers, geared for reuse, can make a big difference. In certain industries, like beverages, insufficient or incorrect packaging is costing companies dearly and could even lead to customers rejecting deliveries, which potentially harms supplier/customer relationships.

Sometimes the solution to a packaging problem that involves hideous waste packaging disposal, like dealing with polystyrene chips used as a protective agent inside cartons, can be blindingly simple and highly cost effective. One company, for example, found it was spending a fortune on polystyrene infill chips in its cartons, which led to irritating disposal tasks at their customers’ end. The solution was to replace the chips with an inserted plastic bag in the carton, spot glued to the box base, which was tied off at the neck to prevent movement in the box. It proved just as protective as the chips and saved £50,000 a year on packaging.

Companies handling a wide variety of product shapes and sizes for despatch, especially those involved in e-commerce, should remember that plenty of space can be wasted within boxes/cartons, and given that it is volume and not weight that is so costly in shipping and packaging, then a rethink on boxing sizes could pay handsomely. In air cargo, for instance, it is never a weight problem but a volume problem. Often a box is just too big for its product so Utah-based Packsize came up with On Demand Packaging to create the right-size boxes. It works by placing a small box-making machine and corrugated material on a company’s packaging line. The operator feeds the Z-fold corrugated cardboard into the machine, which will cut and fold the material to make just the right-size box needed. Advantages include less corrugated cardboard and shipping costs, less storage and warehouse costs and an environmentally correct solution.

As ‘green’ legislation becomes more demanding then packaging geared to meet that challenge gathers importance. There are new, eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum-based stretch and shrink film, for example. One is Reusa -Wraps, which secures products to the pallet with heavy-duty vinyl-coated mesh and Velcro-type hook and loop. Being 100% recyclable they are generally used in closed loop distribution and have proved 10 times stronger than stretchwrap film wrap, leading to lower damage. They are more ergonomic and faster to install than manually-applied stretch-film. Able to replace stretch wrap entirely, the Reusa-Wraps cut out the cost of waste disposal. The ROI is usually between six and twelve months.

If using high volumes of stretch and shrink wrap, however, the cost of collection and disposal need not be a problem if balers and compactors are used. This not only avoids the cost of such waste collection it could mean receiving up to £250 a tonne for clean polyethylene, and maybe £45 a tonne for clean cardboard.

In terms of lineside efficiency, packaging can be a help or a hindrance and given the trend towards 24-hr deliveries, spurred by e-commerce, it is critically important to get line speeds right. Loose flapping stretch wrap on conveyors can bring them to a standstill, so the quality of the stretchwrap function must be top line. Many conveyor lines have their bottlenecks, like labelling, leaflet insertion, sizeing, end-of-line processes and packaging material choices. In automated warehouses, in particular, damaged wood pallets with protruding nails can cause havoc. A reassessment of these bottlenecks, followed by investment in some packing line automation, could remove the problems. Doing nothing could prove a risky option in a fast-changing world.

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