ProMat 2013: Is packaging now part of materials handling?
The argument for the creation of Modex, a show that will co-locate a logistics show within a materials handling show, is the recognition that what happens outside the four walls is converging with what happens inside the four walls.
After attending ProMat, I think another convergence is underway. That is the convergence of automated packaging systems with automated materials handling systems. A number of solutions were on display in Chicago that were designed to handle the new complexity of packaging orders for e-fulfillment, or what our industry is calling multi-channel distribution. Think of it as ProMat meets PackExpo.
They came in a couple of flavors.
First, there were the box on demand solutions. These are designed to create a shipping container that is the right size for an order of one to a few items with a minimal amount of void fill. They are also designed to integrate with an automated materials handling system. I saw solutions from Packsize, Sealed Air and System Logistics. There were other exhibitors that I didn’t get to visit.
What’s of particular interest is that each is bringing a different business model to the market. Packsize sells its solution similar to the way Gillette sells razors and razor blades. The cost of the machine is minimal; the customer pays for the corrugated that is designed to work with the machine.
Sealed Air charges an installation fee but does not sell the corrugated. Instead, it charges a transaction fee for every box that is formed by the system.
System Logistics operates with a traditional sales and services model: a customer purchases the equipment and works with the vendor of its choice on the packaging materials.
A customer can choose the system that best suits its operational needs and the business model that best meets its capital requirements.
The second area includes automation to add packing slips to shipping cartons, print and apply shipping labels, or both. I visited with the Numina Group, Fox IV Technologies and Logopak and spoke with PSI Engineering after the show.
While solutions like print and apply have been in the marketplace for years, something is changing. They are moving from a packing process to part of an overall materials handling process. “What’s resonating with our customers is that we now look at this as part of a continuous process,” says Dan Hanrahan, president of Numina Group. “We look at pick, pack, validation and flow as one continuous process from picking right into the truck door. What’s flowing out your doors has a great deal to do with how you build efficiency into your operation.”