August 9, 2017

Right-size boxes make cents

Right-size boxes make cents

Custom boxes might sound expensive. But for one electronics distributor, an investment in box-making equipment brought all kinds of savings.

By Diane Rand

As a wholesale distributor of a wide range of consumer electronics, Oklahoma City-based Petra Industries was looking to improve its order fulfillment operations before peak holiday shipping season last year. One area that needed a fix was its "Christmas Wrap" packing line.

Contrary to what its name might suggest, the Christmas Wrap line was not a value-added station where employees added gift-wrapping and bows. Rather, it was an area devoted to packing items like outdoor speakers that did not fit into standard-sized boxes or were too large for envelopes. Workers here individually wrapped each item using a flexible corrugate material, resulting in a covering that resembled a Christmas wrapping. Trouble was, the process was inefficient and added costs due to low throughput. Although this particular packing line represented only 3 to 5 percent of the company's overall output, it offered an obvious opportunity for improvement.

Johnny Arballo, outbound manager, and Mike Williams, outbound supervisor, began exploring options to fix their troubled packing line. They quickly zeroed in on the idea of "right-size boxes"—corrugate boxes made to the exact length, width, and height requirements of the item (or items) being shipped. To provide the necessary equipment, the Petra executives turned to Box on Demand (BOD), a Battle Creek, Mich.-based company that specializes in packaging and box-making technology.

After evaluating Petra's operations, the team from Box on Demand came up with equipment recommendations as well as a plan for improving the floor layout and order fulfillment flow. Petra gave the project the green light, but it soon became clear the recommendations would have to be implemented in stages. The timeline called for Petra's equipment to be delivered and installed in early November 2016, smack in the middle of its peak shipping season. In the interests of minimizing disruption, the partners decided to hold off on the process improvements for the time being and simply "fit" the equipment—a Nextmode 2.5 box-making machine and Matrix dimensioning scan table—into the existing operation.

Even with a less-than-optimal packing line setup, the BOD system quickly proved its worth, according to the companies. The packing time was reduced from a high of two minutes per package to 30 seconds.

Once peak season ended, the partners moved the BOD machine and dimensioning table to their permanent location, positioning the box machine so that its output faced the shipping docks. They also added a roller conveyor to facilitate material flow and created two pack lines, with a packer assigned to each station

Under the new system, a BOD machine operator retrieves items to be shipped in a given order from the pack cart, scans their dimensions, and sends the data to the BOD machine. As the machine makes the box, the operator uses the conveyor to move the products down the line. The operator then glues the box and places it with the order in front of the packing lines. The two packers select orders from the conveyor on a first-in/first-out basis to complete the packing process.

As for the results, Petra reports that it has seen a number of benefits. For one thing, having the right-size box for each order has eliminated the time and costs associated with adding void fill, which has helped in turn to eliminate excessive dimensional-weight shipping charges. The revised layout has freed up 72 square feet of floor space, allowing for a streamlined and safe fork truck lane, and the box-making machine has reduced corrugate costs by 18 percent. On top of that, the process has reduced labor allocated to the non-standard packaging line by one person, freeing up a worker for other tasks, while minimizing physical strain on workers and boosting productivity.

About the Author

Diane Rand
Associate Editor-Digital
Diane Rand has several years of magazine editing and production experience. She previously worked as a production editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She joined the editorial staff in 2015. She is responsible for managing digital, editorial, and production projects for DC Velocity and its sister magazine, Supply Chain Quarterly.

More articles by Diane Rand

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