As any e-tailer will attest, the challenges of e-commerce fulfillment don't end with order picking. There's also the matter of packaging. In order to avoid damage in transit, the contents of each carton must be cushioned and the packaging cavities filled—particularly if the order contains bottles and other breakable items. Preparing a high volume of these cartons takes considerable staff resources, so anything that can be done to streamline the process can shorten cycle times and boost the company's bottom line.
That was the challenge facing iHerb, a Moreno Valley, Calif.-based online retailer of vitamins and dietary supplements. The company was using a void-fill system at its Hebron, Ky., distribution center that required workers to crumple paper pads and insert them into cartons manually. But it was becoming increasingly disenchanted with that method. Not only was the process inefficient, but customers were growing increasingly disgruntled, according to Kurt Cheek, director of operations. "We received some customer feedback that we had too much paper in the carton. To some customers, it appeared that we had used $10 worth of paper to protect their $8 order."
After weighing its options, the company switched to AIRplus Air pillows from Storopack at the Hebron DC. Among other benefits, converting to the air cushions promised to greatly simplify the packing process. Plus, it would put an end to consumer complaints about the use of excess paper.
Today, the DC has five pack stations set up with the air-filled pillow dispensers, plus a sixth dispenser located in the facility's quality control area. The air pillows are stored in an overhead bin above the pack stations, so it's easy for the packer to reach up, pull down on the pillow sheets, and tear off the number needed for the package.
How has it all worked out? Since moving to the new dunnage material and the simplified process, iHerb has recorded an increase in packing productivity of approximately 30 percent. "We saw a throughput gain, as it is so much easier now for the operator. The product is right at face level for them. We have also seen a small reduction in material cost," says Cheek.