Flush with success
Problems with product damage led plumbing wholesaler Ferguson to seek a new way to package its porcelain toilets. An innovative custom solution solved the problem—and cut labor and materials costs to boot.
By Ben Ames
As a large plumbing supplies wholesaler with nationwide distribution, Newport News, Va.-based Ferguson Enterprises Inc. is an expert not only at providing top-quality parts, but also at delivering them to customers in mint condition.
Some inventory items are tougher to ship than others, however, and in recent months, the $15 billion company found it was experiencing high damage rates for the heavy porcelain toilets it was shipping via a ground carrier.
In an effort to cut down on the expense of replacing and reshipping those goods, Ferguson turned to its packaging supplier, Salt Lake City-based Packsize LLC, for help. The two firms have partnered since 2012 on packaging solutions and often collaborate on ways to improve shipping techniques.
After analyzing the problem of packaging fragile toilets for safe transit, Packsize recommended a complete overhaul of Ferguson's existing packaging method—a process that involved inserting quick-setting foam into cardboard boxes and which was messy, expensive, and not particularly environmentally friendly. In its place, the company proposed a streamlined solution that would provide better product protection and be much easier to execute: Ferguson would simply create a custom-sized box for every item shipped—using Packsize's On Demand Packaging software and Packsize box-making machine—and then add foam corners made of low-density polyethylene foam.
"Of the many different protective packaging options in the market, we chose to go with polyethylene foam corners because of how well they work with our 'right-size' packaging machinery," said Brandon Henderson, director of systems engineering at Packsize. "We designed a custom corner that can work with Ferguson's spectrum of products and at the same time, reduce material and labor costs while increasing sustainability."
Before launching the new system, Packsize and Ferguson tested the proposed design by doing drop tests and also shipping actual toilets. The results were solid enough to convince the plumbing supplier to put the
TIME AND COST SAVINGS
As for how it's all working out, the new system has done exactly what it was intended to do: reduce shipping damage. Since Ferguson switched to the new packaging, breakage rates have dropped from 5.33 percent to 4.0 percent. That alone would justify the change, but according to Packsize, the benefits don't end there. Along with reducing damage, the new method has slashed packaging material costs by 61 percent, cut the time it takes workers to pack each toilet by 78 percent, and streamlined Ferguson's carton configuration options from four to one. In addition, the foam corners use 85 percent less plastic foam and are suitable for curbside recycling programs.
"Our customers are looking for the most cost-effective means of getting their product to their end users. If fragility happens to be a factor in the shipment, we have found that our Packsize corners are the best option out there to reduce damage to product being shipped," Henderson said. "This solution also helps [shippers respond to] the Amazon effect—it allows you to focus on fulfilling the customer's order as quickly and accurately as possible, rather than having to worry about issues that [are of little concern to] the customer, such as protective packaging."
About the Author
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
More articles by Ben Ames
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