Too much packaging is a waste and too little can mean the product is not properly protected in transit. Getting the balance right is a challenge, says Alex Whiteman.
There is a tendency among firms to over-guess when it comes to packaging. Too much packaging won’t shut production down, but too little could bring operations instantly to a halt – whether through film wrap splitting or boxes breaking.
This largesse means that per head of population globally, 2.5kg of wrap is being used annually. Film has long been the key source of wrapping, and has offered firms the greatest opportunity to cut back on waste.
Historically, pallets were wrapped by hand, presenting additional inefficiencies – people cannot wrap as tightly or as quickly as machines. The industry standard film was 23 microns thick. In Europe and Asia, there is a tendency towards monopolymer films that, according to Stratos product manager at Abco Kovex, Cormac Herrity, offer “x amount of protection at x amount of cost – not enough for what is paid”.
“The main thing we’ve come to realise is that there is a need to question,” says Herrity. “To ask whether the amount of wrapping being used is necessary, because a lot of the systems and standards we have come across are historic.”
As a result, Abco Kovex actively went out and sourced new products – sourcing a new film from Berry Plastics in the US. “They supply everyone from Pepsi to Doritos,” says Herrity.
Abco Kovex recently introduced a new film to the market – measuring just nine microns.
Herrity, says that the film will cater for high volume cube pallets in sectors including snack, digital, food and pharma.
“The film can be stretched up to 300 per cent, offering superior load containment and puncture resistance,” says Herrity. “This puncture resistance remains up to the point of being stretched by more than 300 per cent.”
And if it were to puncture? Herrity says that the film fish eyes, rather than cracks, containing the problem rather than allowing it to spread.
This isn’t the first time Stratos wrap has sought to out do the market. Through Abco Kovex it introduced to a European market 11.4-micron thick film.
“Since the introduction of that first film,” says Herrity, “The industry standard has reduced from 23 to 15.7 microns. At the time we were unaware that we were educating our competitors.
“Packaging is constantly evolving, and unless you keep on top of trends you could find yourself out of business swiftly.”
Herrity believes innovation is crucial, adding that many people spend too much time looking at competitors. This approach has landed the firm a number of big contracts. Britvic, Kerry foods, and Diageo are among its client base and Herrity believes this has developed confidence for Abco Kovex within the industry.
“We do things the hard way, which work out better in the long term,” he says. “Also have to know what customer requirements are. Technical knowledge is imperative. We are very strong.”
At this time of increased environmental awareness, impact on the planet comes into play.
Alongside film, paper and board play their part in the packaging sphere – being two of the main materials use in packaging. They account for 35 per cent of materials used in the global packaging market, says Jason Poxon, packaging technologist at Antalis Packaging.
“Forests are not simply a resource; they’re also a valuable part of our ecosystem, offering a habitat for many species and a valuable leisure destination for millions” he says. “Antalis has a responsibility to make sure that all raw material sourcing is coming from legal, sustainable natural resources. Antalis prioritises products made out of recycled fibre, and we ensure all virgin material used in our paper and board are 100 per cent traceable.”
This is monitored through its sourcing policy, in which it commits to not source wood based products from unsustainable resources; FSC and PEFC certification to ensure full traceability and transparency through the supply chain; and by monitoring its suppliers via an online supplier database containing documentation on compliance certification and laws affecting the products it sources from suppliers.
These commitments led Jerome Frignet of Greenpeace to state: “Natural forests are still disappearing over the world causing devastating effects. Greenpeace appreciates Antalis’ policy not to trade with any company participating in deforestation and welcomes its decision to apply it to specific non-complying companies.”
Poxon says that the firm is currently in the process of developing a “Green Star System” based on universally recognised standards.
“It converts often technical information about sourcing, materials and manufacturing into a simple rating system,” says Poxon. “Any company involved with packaging products will produce a certain amount of unavoidable waste.”
Antalis has turned its focus not only to its customers but also internally to reduce its own packaging waste. This comes with its own set of challenges; it must reduce the amount of materials without reducing the quality, that can result in damages thereby using more packaging by returning and re-delivering the original item.
“It’s a fine balancing act, but one that we have had a great success with recently by reducing packaging waste through implementing a brand new, bespoke packaging design with one of our customers,” says Poxon. “Taking their two largest used packaging lines, we were able to re-design the current die cut boxes, offering equivalent pack performance while speeding up the time it takes to pack the product. The unit materials were reduced by 22 per cent and 17 per cent respectively, giving a material saving of 43,480 sq m.”
But, as Stephanie Carr of Schoeller Allibert says: “If changes don’t save money, it’s unlikely to go ahead”. Carr is not alone with this trail of thought – it is an unavoidable reality, that cost is a primary motivator when it comes to changing business strategy.
Herrity says: “It is key to get the procurement team on side – as has been said, if it won’t save money it won’t receive backing. There are three parties all in that we must satiate. One, production: if it affects performance it won’t get through. Two,environmental: a lot of firms have zero to landfill policies in place, so we need to show that not only will the product be innovative, it will not add more to the landfill. Three, procurement: cost, cost, cost.”
Poxon notes that all too often “price” can take primary focus when searching for the right packaging solution. But, he says, packaging is a growing market, with new products arriving month in month out.
When focusing on reducing price, emphasis on the supply chain, innovation and cost management can sometimes be lost. Antalis’ approach is to take a step back and look into the life cycle of the product we are packaging, not only looking at price, but focusing on overall supply chain cost.
Return on investment
Simon Moulson, UK & Ireland head of key accounts and business development at Schoeller Allibert, says that being open and realistic, there has to be a return on investment otherwise there is no point pitching.
However, Moulson points out that there are a lot of considerations in developing a packaging strategy.
“Take fashion for instance,” he says. “A lot of clothing comes in from the Far East – recycle times make us question whether it is a worthwhile exercise sending packaging back to be reused.”
Of course, Moulson is not one to shy away from suggesting a proposition that may work: “Perhaps use of plastic crates that can be folded would make it worthwhile, for instance, if they could be packed away into a single crate.”
Poxon says packaging has an ‘iceberg effect’, with many buried considerations such as weight, pallet quantity, identification, packaging speed, storage and transport frequently costing more than the packaging unit itself. “It can come as a surprise to some that often the unit pack cost can be as little as 20 per cent of the actual packaging process cost,” says Poxon. “Identifying this cost can be very difficult, however Antalis’ PackConsult team, made up of packaging technologists, designers and account managers work with our customer to break down and identify these costs.”
Herrity says that Abco Kovex provides its film without the cardboard core in the middle. According to Herrity, these cardboard cores on average weigh 1.8kg.
“By removing these we are cutting down on secondary packaging by 60 per cent,” he says. “Overall yield consumption savings average between 45 per cent and 60 per cent.”
Standards: Hygienically challenged
Packaging in the food sector has always required high standards. An industry, which has been recently plagued by a variety of scandals, has little room for further negative headlines. Hygiene is paramount, and packaging has its role to play.
For Schoeller Allibert, food customers are the “bread and butter” of the business, according to Stephanie Carr, national sales manager.
“We have worked with a number of food customers,” says Carr. “Greggs and Hovis, both of them operate supply chains and systems based on our products.”
Carr’s colleague, Schoeller Allibert UK & Ireland head of key accounts and business development Simon Moulson notes that the firm has also done a lot with the supermarkets, namely Asda Walmart and Sainsbury’s.
“We provide packaging for a lot of imports from Spain, France, Italy etc,” he says. “Predominantly fresh fruit in high gauge cardboard boxes.”
Moulson notes that this use of cardboard can provide a hurdle in itself: “You have cardboard coming in from Europe and plastic boxes domestically but they’re all going to the same DC, to be picked in the same place.
“A plastic crate on top of a cardboard one is a recipe for disaster, which can lead to damage and a dip in productivity.”
Goplasticpallets recently introduced to its range a new, version of its Hygienic pallet, which has been optimised for automated conveyor systems.
Jim Hardisty, managing director of Goplasticpallets.com, said: “Our Hygienic plastic pallet has been a popular favourite with the food and pharmaceutical industries since its UK launch in 2001.”
The new Hygienic pallet comes with a number of enhanced features, including rounded corners to minimise the risk of pallets getting trapped and damaged, as is often the case with wooden pallets, and curved sloping ramps on both sides of the perimeter base allow pallet trucks to easily access and leave the pallet, even when it is empty. According to Goplasticpallets, this provides an additional safety benefit as it means that hand pallet trucks can more easily secure and move the pallet without dragging it across the floor.
In addition, special angles on each of the four corners make stretch wrapping palleted goods much simpler.
Goplasticpallets says that the design, free from joints, slots and other cavities, prevents accumulation of dirt and dust.
Schoeller Allibert has also introduced something of a first, having received food grade approval to supply crates made from recyclable material, according to Carr and Moulson.
This approval followed a request from Sainsbury’s to replace its existing two million crates with a uniform set. Rather than waste the existing crates, Schoeller Allibert sought to recycle the raw material. However, it came up against a major hurdle. “The letter of the law states that you cannot recycle crates and use them for direct food contact,” says Moulson. “Because we knew where the crates had come from, we were able to show a closed loop system and receive approval, becoming the first firm to achieve this.”
Fewer variants improve efficiency, according to Moulson, “and being able to recycle existing crates reduces the environmental aspect,” he adds. Schoeller returned with two million crates remoulded from the recycled one.”
Moulson added that this has increased the life of the crates by 15 years.
Awards: Packaging technology highlighted
Innovations in packaging technology were one of the highlights of the UK IntraLogistics Awards this year.
The Gold Award in the Packaging category was won by Ranpak for a one-of-a kind packaging material used for wrapping products that combines the elements of product protection and in-the-box presentation of the wrapped items. As a 100 per cent paper solution, it is a sustainable alternative for plastic bubble wrap. The judges liked the fact that it combines the elements of product protection and in-the-box presentation of the wrapped items.
The Silver Award went to Box Sizer, from Linkx Packaging Systems, a British designed and patented system, which automatically adjusts to an incoming box size – detecting the volume and sizing the box to the contents.
This enables savings of up to 80 per cent of the finished box sizes and eliminates the need for void fill in certain applications. End users that have box sizing machines in full production have improved line efficiency, due to elimination of void fill and labour saving at the filling and closing section.
And the Bronze Award went to Packsize’s On Demand packaging system lets companies produce the right-sized box for every product when they need it. By optimising order size, material requirements, warehouse space, and packaging throughput, Packsize On Demand Packaging results in less waste, lower shipping costs, decreased damage rates, and increased customer satisfaction.
Case study: Dovecote Park picks Schoeller Allibert
Containers from Schoeller Allibert have been selected by Dovecote Park, which supplies beef to Waitrose, for use in its cold store in Stapleton, North Yorkshire.
As part of the development of its new cold store, Dovecote Park was seeking a durable container to work with an automated handling system designed by Vanderlande which could also be easily stacked and stored when not in use.
Schoeller Allibert supplied an initial 32,000 180 degrees Stack Nest containers to Dovecote Park, all in red PP and featuring the customer logo to suit the design of the new facility which also incorporated blue mood lighting on the racking.
Peter Boyes, technical manager of Dovecote Park, says: “Compatibility with our new automated handling and racking systems were key when selecting containers for the cold store. As our usual retail returnable transit packaging (RTP) supplier, we approached Schoeller Allibert to run trials and their recommendation for 180° degrees Stack Nest trays in PP has proved very successful.”