Parcel automation delivers on two fronts for 3PL

Third-party logistics company iForce deployed an automated packaging solution to provide the speed and labor efficiencies needed to keep up with new picking automation, while the solution’s carton right-sizing also improves the customer experience.

When you implement mobile robots to speed up picking for e-commerce fulfillment, your packaging has to keep up. A synchronized, automated approach across picking and packing is something that iForce, a third-party logistics (3PL) company, wanted to achieve at its fulfillment center in Rugby, United Kingdom. The facility fulfills orders for one of iForce’s clients, The Works, a leading retailer of toys and stationery.

By selecting and deploying an automated packaging solution (Sparck Technologies), iForce found it had the packaging speed and reliability to keep up with its revamped pick processes upstream, and also was able to apply autoboxing technology. That technology allows iForce to produce right-sized cartons that appeal to e-commerce customers who want a tidy, pleasant unboxing experience.

Customer service is central to iForce’s approach: Efficient fulfillment of online orders along with prompt delivery of well-packaged items is essential for winning repeat sales. However, with the industry-wide scarcity of warehouse labor and rising labor costs, meeting fulfillment goals during peak volumes was a challenge. To address these issues, iForce embarked on a business-wide initiative to develop a strategy for investment in advanced warehouse automation, and The Works was fully involved and supportive of the move.

The strategy had three elements: robotic goods-to-person order picking; robot-assisted picking; and automated packaging systems. However, it was absolutely critical that all three worked in perfect synchronization. There was also the recognition that an automated packaging solution with autoboxing technology built into the automation could help the unboxing experience for end customers, while reducing the labor requirement and meeting throughput goals.

“When it came to evaluating the different packing solutions on the market, we quickly determined that the principle of auto fit-to-size packaging had big advantages over the traditional box-closer systems, and the supplier that really stood out was Sparck Technologies with their CVP Impack machine,” says Neil Lavercombe, business planning manager at iForce.

With the decision made, installation of a dual infeed CVP Impack machine took place at iForce’s Rugby warehouse in June 2022, in time for The Work’s busy autumn peak season. The dual operator infeed for the machine facilitates a continuous flow of orders, from order-totes arriving at the machine for induction to complete perfectly sized packages, weighed and labeled, ready for dispatch.

Speed, throughput and reliability are core attributes of the fit-to-size autoboxing technology, an important capability given that at peak The Works will see around 70% of its e-commerce parcels created automatically. That requires the packaging automation to accommodate changing order profiles while right-sizing around a range of different line items.

“Order profiles, in terms of items per order together with the physical size of orders, can vary throughout the year, ranging from a typical e-commerce profile of one or two items per order to 10+ items per order,” Lavercombe says. “The CVP Impack simply produces the right sized packaging for whatever orders we have.”

By creating custom-sized packaging for each order, the customer receives a compact, right-sized box, which is more convenient to carry, eliminates consumer distress over wasteful packaging and delivers a positive environmental message. A further advantage of the fit-to-size corrugate packaging is a snug fit to the product, which prevents items moving around, providing better protection without the need for bubble wrap or void-fill.

“We wanted to keep things very simple,” says Lavercombe. “The packaging machine had to integrate with both our existing manual processes and our new robotic systems—once again the simple approach of the Sparck machine worked for us. Installation too went exceptionally smoothly. The machine arrived on Monday morning and there were boxes coming off the line the following Friday. It was fully operational within two weeks.”

Article Topics

Productivity Solution
Magazine Archive
Sparck Technologies
   All topics

Sparck Technologies News & Resources

Parcel automation delivers on two fronts for 3PL
Sparck Technologies displays automated packaging solutions
ECS Tuning puts packaging into high gear
Supply chain sustainability is here to stay
Leaders Q&A: Solve your labor problems with automated packaging
Packaging by Quadient rebrands to become Sparck Technologies

Latest in Materials Handling

Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association releases semi-annual statistics
Zebra study: nearly six in 10 warehouse leaders plan to deploy RFID by 2028
Conveying Strategies for Robotic Applications: How to Maximize Throughput
Combilift enters offshore wind sector with handling solution, collaborating with Siemens Gamesa
Kion Group partners with Li-Cycle to recycle lithium lift truck batteries in Europe
Record-breaking Pack Expo Las Vegas exceeds expectations
Dexterity AI and FedEx unveil robotics trailer loading technology
More Materials Handling

About the Author

Roberto Michel's avatar
Roberto Michel
Roberto Michel, senior editor for Modern, has covered manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1996, mainly as a former staff editor and former contributor at Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous show dailies, including at ProMat, the North American Material Handling Logistics show, and National Manufacturing Week. You can reach him at: [email protected].
Follow Modern Materials Handling on FaceBook

Subscribe to Materials Handling Magazine

Subscribe today!
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
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.

September 2023 Modern Materials Handling

Providers of automated packaging and carton right-sizing solutions have thrived by offering systems that deliver on labor and parcel shipment savings— now they’re looking to further evolve by looking to use lighter materials and support flexible “box-first” workflows.

Latest Resources

Conveying Strategies for Robotic Applications: How to Maximize Throughput
This webinar will discuss the recent development of embedding motion-control technology into conveyors to enable packages to be correctly presented to a robot so that throughput of the manual task that the robot has been assigned to perform is maximized.
Improve safety and ergonomics with code-compliant stairs
Outside the Box: Why parcel shippers are suddenly focusing on packing
More resources

Latest Resources

2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
This research was conducted by Peerless Research Group on behalf of Modern Materials Handling to assess usage and purchase intentions forautomation systems...
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
Discover how your storage practices could be affecting your pest control program and how to prevent pest infestations in your business. Join...

Warehousing Outlook 2023
Warehousing Outlook 2023
2023 is here, and so are new warehousing trends.
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Today’s robotic and data-driven automation systems can minimize disruptions and improve the life and productivity of warehouse operations.
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Download this white paper to learn more about how both systems compare.