The Problem: When it's your job to repair television sets, the last thing you want is for items to sustain further damage while being shipped to your repair centers. But that was the problem Lifetime Service Center faced.
Lifetime Service Center provides repair services for electronics companies and manufacturers as well as for extended warranty providers, such as big-box retailers. One of the main items its technicians service is flat-screen TVs. When a consumer has a TV that needs fixing, he or she calls Lifetime, which ships him or her a box and packaging material. The consumer then puts the damaged product into the box and sends it to one of the company's repair facilities.
"It's critical that the materials we provide are easy for consumers to use and, most importantly, perform during shipping," says Kam Bleuer, distribution manager for Lifetime.
But about five years ago, Lifetime was finding that its packaging materials for large (up to 42-inch) flat-screen TVs were not performing up to standard. The TVs were arriving at the repair centers with cracked screens.
What was particularly perplexing was that Lifetime was not scrimping on packaging. The company was using a well-established foam-in-bag packaging solution, where chemical foam is placed inside a bag and the bag expands around the product to cushion it. But something about it was not working. "We had to find another solution or risk long-term damage to our customer service reputation," says Bleuer.
Customer: Lifetime Service Center
Primary business: Providing repair services for major electronics and appliance manufacturers as well as retailers that offer extended warranty services
Locations: Williamsville, N.Y., and Ontario, Calif.
Supplier: Sealed Air Corp.
Solution: On-demand foam-in-bag packaging equipment (SpeedyPacker Insight Foam-in-Bag Packaging System and Instapak Molding Wheel, Instapak iMold System)
The solution: A chance meeting at a networking event led to the eventual solution. At the event, two Lifetime employees were introduced to Fred Witkowski, a sales representative at packaging specialist Sealed Air. The Lifetime people mentioned the problem they were having with their current foam-in-bag system (which was provided by one of Sealed Air's competitors), and Witkowski offered to help.
To figure out what was going on, Sealed Air tested Lifetime's packaging at its Packaging Design Center in Danbury, Conn. There, the professionals subjected the company's current packaging to vibration and drop tests. "During testing, we figured out that Lifetime's biggest problem was they were using too much foam material on the corner cushions, and this was causing the television screens to crack," says Witkowski.
Sealed Air experimented with different foam formulations and found one that created cushions that were not too dense yet were still durable enough to be used for shipping a TV both to and from Lifetime's service center. "Ultimately, we determined that Instapak GFlex foam would be the best formulation for Lifetime's needs," says Witkowski. "The density of this formulation meant they would be using less foam to create cushions that performed appropriately."
Sealed Air also found there was room for improvement in Lifetime's cushion-making process. At the time, Lifetime personnel were forming the cushions by hand—after a machine inserted foam into a plastic bag, workers placed the packaging material on top of the television so it would expand and conform to the shape of the product. This wasn't working well, however, because Lifetime could not make a consistent cushion every single time.
Sealed Air suggested replacing the old equipment with its SpeedyPacker Insight and Instapak Molding Wheel systems. The SpeedyPacker creates the foam-in-bag material, which is then placed inside the molding wheel, which uses a mold to form a cushion that fits around a flat-screen television.
It quickly became clear that the new system was a step up from its predecessor. "We reduced damage rates by about 8 percentage points after switching to the Sealed Air molded foam cushions for the televisions," says Bleuer. "At the same time, we cut our packaging material costs by about 25 percent. I'd estimate we saw a return on our investment in the new packaging systems within the first year."
While Lifetime was pleased with the savings, it wondered if the packaging process could be automated even further. With the SpeedyPacker and Instapak Molding Wheel systems, Lifetime had to devote an employee just to making the cushions—placing the bag into the SpeedyPacker to be filled, then removing it and putting it into the molding wheel. Automating the process would free up that employee for other tasks.
In late 2011 and early 2012, Lifetime installed two of Sealed Air's new iMold systems, fully automated machines that create premolded foam cushions. The installation was successful, and now the iMold machines create 400 to 500 cushions daily for Lifetime with minimal oversight.
"We set the two iMold systems up on a mezzanine and have them pump out cushions all day for batching," says Bleuer. "It wasn't too much work to incorporate them into our operations once we set up the mezzanine; we just had to run a few additional power lines to the systems. Now, they're always running—we just have the last guy in the warehouse program the systems to create a certain number of cushions before he leaves."