Packaging Corner: Filling the void
Since it’s not practical for most DCs to stock multiple container sizes to accommodate shipping different product weights and sizes, most items get shipped in boxes that are too big. So, how do you fill the voids and protect the product from shipping damage?
The answer is void fill: crumpled paper, flowable peanuts (Styrofoam or biodegradable), or inflatable air pillows. Consider several areas when picking the best method for your process and products to ensure the goods arrive in one piece, advises Dave Weiss, business manager for Fill-Air inflatable packaging at Sealed Air.
First, Weiss says, look at the products. “How much do the contents weigh, and how fragile are they?” he asks. Then, consider the void size. Small voids are easily filled with less material, but larger voids need more filler, and possibly more time to fill depending on your process.
Look at the total cost of each option.
“Some packers really jam a lot of paper into a void, others just drop it in until the space looks full,” says Weiss. “And do some ship tests to make sure the void fill enables your product to survive shipping.”
Consider storage and cleanup, too. Some materials, such as peanuts, must be shipped to and stored in your facility, and some will always be on the floor, says Weiss. “With equipment, determine how easy it is to maintain and how many replacement parts you need on-site,” he adds.
Also, examine carton throughput and packer speed. “Daily throughput—on a line or through workstations—will guide your material and equipment choice. A solution for daily packing of 100 boxes is completely different than one for 4,000 boxes,” he says.
A workstation-based packing operation with 20 stations might use hand-operated air pillow inflaters to achieve 4,000-boxes-a-day throughput. But the same system would be less than ideal for a centralized packaging line.
“Re-evaluate your packaging process, too,” says Weiss. “It might be more efficient and affordable for a workstation-based process to be centralized with a random case sealer and on-line void fill system.”
To maximize your investment, pick a void fill system that can grow with your operation, or is not at 100% capacity upon installation, he adds.