60 seconds with Laszlo Horvath, Virginia Tech

Modern spends 60 seconds talking to Lazlo Horvath about the future of packaging.

By ·

Laszlo Horvath
Virginia Tech University
Title: Assistant professor and director of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
Experience: A professor at Virginia Tech since 2010, Horvath and his colleagues are in the process of developing new curriculum and state-of-the-art research programs that bring together education, research and solutions for industry.
Primary Focus: The program’s objective is to help industry save resources by focusing on the role of transport packaging and the unit load in the supply chain.

Modern: Laszlo, you’re the director of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. Not that long ago, the focus of the center was unit load design. Talk about that evolution.
When the program was founded, we focused on the component parts of a unit load. We began with pallets. Later, we added unit load design. Today, our program encompasses the whole system, starting with the design of the unit load and packaging materials to the way that load moves through the supply chain. It’s the whole system and not just the component parts. We are working with primary and secondary packaging. Similarly, our students are learning everything from marketing to supply chain management. We don’t just train packaging engineers. Our goal is to train packaging managers who can tell the designer what the design should look like, work with materials handling engineers, and talk to logistics people about how the load will work in the trailer. We’re the link between these multiple disciplines.

Modern: Has packaging become a higher priority among end users, especially with the increasing number of packages shipped because of e-commerce?
Yes it has and not just because of e-commerce. I recently talked to an engineer from a large electronics company at a transport conference. He talked about how packaging was always an afterthought. They designed great products, then they just threw them in a giant box with a lot of protective packaging and shipped it to the customer. Two years ago, they hired a packaging engineer who has found ways to shrink their packaging to a fourth of its previous size and still ship it safely to the customer. E-commerce is having an impact because you have to ship so many products. Companies are realizing that shipping a trailer load is relatively easy. LTL and parcel shipments are a whole different ball game. It’s forcing them to think about packaging.

Modern: What are the kinds of issues you’re researching at Virginia Tech? 
One area is how the orientation of a box interacts with a pallet. If you look at the literature, there are about three studies. One looked at one box size on one pallet and was considered the gold standard. But, what happens if the pallet is less stiff or if the box is oriented differently or if you use a different size box? We have been using standards for years that were developed when thick, stick deckboards were common on pallets. Today, we’re using thinner, flexible deckboards because companies have optimized their packaging. We want to know how boxes interact with those more flexible pallets. For instance, we did a study that found if you put an airbag on a load, you get a huge increase in load carrying capacity. We have found that stretch film allows you to carry 20% to 30% more load on a pallet without increasing the cost of the pallet. These are the types of topics we’re trying to dig into at the center and with our students.

Modern: Is the interest in packaging reaching out beyond the packaging engineers?
Well, we’re trying to reach out to other company titles, and not just packaging or pallet designers. We want purchasing agents who make buy decisions around packaging or system engineers who design and operate materials handling and manufacturing lines to understand the role of packaging. System engineers do a great job of optimizing the process until an odd size package comes into the picture. Then, everything falls apart. We want to understand how pallets are interacting with the conveyor. I go into a lot of large warehouses and see how people pack boxes. The lines are great, but there’s a lot of room for improvement if they take the pallet and packaging into consideration. We try to involve everyone working with different elements of the supply chain.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Latest Whitepaper
Hydrogen, the Future of Materials Handling
Large, successful organizations are integrating hydrogen fuel cell technology into their lift truck fleets and benefiting from lower operational costs, reduced emissions and improved reliability.
Download Today!
From the October 2016 Issue
Brownells’ new Iowa distribution center has taken touches—and miles—out of the order fulfillment process and increased throughput with near 100% accuracy.
System Report: Brownells new DC is flexible and responsive
Pallet Usage Report: Pallets Remain Critical in the Modern-Day Warehouse
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
Pallets: Supporting Product, Processes and the Enterprise
The smallest leak in performance or cost can bring a lean, nimble and speedy supply chain to a halt. During this 30-minute webcast we'll examine how Modern's readers use pallets to keep the wheels turning as they maneuver a road filled with sharp edges and potholes.
Register Today!
Modern Materials Handling’s 2017 Casebook Collection
The 2017 Casebook features more than 35 case studies that put the spotlight on successful innovation...
Brownells: Designing for Efficiency and Growth
Brownells’ new Iowa distribution center has taken touches—and miles—out of the order...

Industry celebrates National Manufacturing Day
Fourth annual Manufacturing Day is a grassroots effort by U.S. manufacturers to improve the public...
American Eagle Outfitters’ omni-channel journey
The fashion retailer has used warehouse execution software and automation to create a true...