Shipping woodworking products safely requires packaging solutions
August 14, 2011 | 6:09 pm CDT

Options abound for woodworkers looking for new options in packaging systems and materials.

Purchasing boxes by the square-foot makes comparing costs of packaging like and unlike materials easier. Photo courtesy of P-Pack

The best practices in manufacturing can help in producing the highest quality product possible, but all the investment in equipment, processes and training will go to naught if the product does not ship safely to its end destination.

The importance of protecting manufactured products can not be underestimated: An otherwise perfect product that arrives scratched and dented is not a result that anyone wants, possibly harming a relationship with a customer and affecting the bottom line of the manufacturer who must now replace the product at his own cost. There are plenty of options available on the market for companies looking for packaging and wrapping systems and materials.

Consider the Options
“When purchasing a packaging/wrapping system for the first time, the customer should first consider the performance criteria,” says Tosh Lahy, marketing director and new business development manager for Packsize Corp., which offers custom cardboard packaging machinery. “The system should meet the ‘takt’ time of the process (the maximum time allowed to produce a product in order to meet demand) with one to three resources, depending on the takt, or cycle time. The slower the production time, the fewer resources you should need. The packaging method should meet the customer’s expectations for protecting the product from handling damage. Finally, the system should be reliable; how often can you expect the system to fail?

“Often when choosing among systems that all meet the performance criteria, the lowest cost option is the best choice,” he adds. “Take a total cost approach and consider labor, yield and inventory carrying cost, as well as the material and machine cost. From the customer’s viewpoint, packaging is non-value added and they won’t usually accept products that have evidence of being dropped hard, regardless of the packaging. So, package for a normal handling environment, not for mishandling.”

Joe Keilen, packaging product manager for Stiles Machinery, which offers film processing machinery, says factors in choosing packaging systems and materials include: the level of protection required for safe transportation (maintaining a balance between making sure the product isn’t damaged and overspending on excessive packaging); the customer’s packaging requirements (some customers, such as large retails chains require specific packaging); product volume to be packaged (important for determining ROI); and type of product packaged. Also, factor in total packaging cost, taking into account packaging material cost, labor content, energy consumption, rework/scrap cost and capital equipment expenses (either direct machinery cost factored into ROI or using a zero-capital model with the material company subsidizing or taking on the initial machinery cost in exchange for a long-term contract to supply the material), Keilen says.

“Another major factor to consider is how flexibility is built into the packaging system’s design,” adds Greg Magnell, general manager and owner of P-Pack, which sells custom cardboard processing machines. “A packaging system should be inherently flexible, able to adapt to changes and short lead times with ease. Materials, as well, should be viewed with an ever changing product environment in mind. Materials should be priced so that it is easy to track and compare cost across unlike items easily. For example, corrugated boxes are typically priced per thousand boxes. With this unit, you do not have the ability to easily compare your box costs between items with different specifications. Your box vendors price your box on a dollar-per-square- foot basis. With this pricing unit, like and unlike items can be compared easier.“

Another option to consider are engineered products, which are ready to use out of the box and offer the advantage of not requiring a capital investment in equipment, says Jim Lee, marketing and sales manager for Western Pulp Products Co., which offers industrial packaging materials.

When choosing a packaging system, performance, flexibility, reliability and cost are factors which should be considered. Photo courtesy of Packsize.

Cutting Out Waste
Clearly, one important aspect of the woodworking industry today, is reducing waste. Most manufacturers of packaging systems agree that technological advances have enabled the systems to be more flexible, in turn reducing waste by eliminating the need to maintain excessive inventory.
“Historically, packaging machinery was all very product dedicated,” says Keilen, “and every product required a different raw material, be it a different box size, packaging material, etc. There are now ‘flexible packaging’ materials that significantly increase the efficiency of the packaging area through using the same material for a broad variety of costs.

“One example is Coolpack machines, which combine layers of bubble wrap and/or foam with a stretch wrap cover, allowing the user to effectively and efficiently wrap many products from one roll of material, thus removing a tremendous amount of waste from the process,” he says.

Boxes too have changed with the times, as Magnell points out. “Since many supply chains for packaging materials are fundamentally designed to run in a fast, large batch, low margin manner that forces a customer to inventory a large amount of boxes that sit unused over a long period of time. In many cases these boxes become obsolete. With the advent of the highly flexible box-on-demand machines, a new supply chain structure has become available that eliminates obsolescence. This technology is designed for box-users, not box producers, and enables an organization to buy a stock of raw material purchased by the square foot that never becomes obsolete and allows for minimal inventories to be maintained. “

Custom Systems
“The risk associated with packaging systems is that the technology becomes vital to throughput, “ said Lahy, “so the reliability of the system is critical. Conventional corrugated supply chains necessitate consolidating box sizes, which necessitates filler material be added to ensure fit. Best-in-class conventional supply chains produce, at best, 70 percent of the yield that an on-demand system can provide when you consider obsolescence, shrinkage and the waste of using oversized boxes. And perfect-fit systems reduce handling damage for protection.”

Some packaging solutions require no equipment investment and can be made from recycled materials. Photo courtesy of Western Pulp Products

Magnell says packaging can sometimes be overlooked. “In the wood products market, packaging typically comes at the end of a production cycle, and is viewed as a necessary, but non-core operation. In most cases, packaging does not add sales, product or marketing value; it is simply a cost. Therefore, almost all packaging solutions are primarily cost-reduction mechanisms. If implemented wisely, with good forethought, the system can improve the overall performance of any production environment.

“However, one of the biggest challenges faced by managers and engineers is overcoming the packaging technology/process learning curve. Because they usually come in with a good level of expertise on the core production processes, managers are more dependent on vendors and outside sources for knowledge during a packaging project. This can make the decision-making process more conservative, longer or even flawed, making the chance that unforeseen negatives occur during and after implementation higher,” Magnell adds.

“Custom packaging machines are designed for a very specific product, and they work very well for that product,” Keilen says. However, he adds that unless they can be programmed on the fly, they can lack the flexibility that is required by much of the marketplace today. “In the end, this may mean expensive operational or machine changes when a product changes.”

“With a custom packaging system you have capital outlay, a need for dedicated floor space and installation time,” and this too can result in a lack of flexibility, he adds.

Green Packaging Material
The economic and societal changes that demand less waste in packaging have also influenced the composition of some packing materials. For example, Lee says there are products available that are made from 98 percent recycled fiber, which can earn the product environmental certification credits.

“This allows your company to promote an environmentally sensitive image,” says Lee.

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