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Turning packaging challenges into possibilities

Automated package right-sizing allows to save labor, meet customer needs, reduce materials waste, and build up associate skill sets in its e-commerce fulfillment operations.

The biggest e-commerce fulfillment centers often use high-end automated packaging lines that save labor while reducing materials and freight costs. But smaller operations, even those with growing e-commerce fulfillment volume, may think packaging automation is too costly or not adaptable to their unique requirements.

But even relatively smaller operations can benefit from automated package right-sizing that can fit into tight spaces and help them achieve end goals like less use of corrugated and void fill, and less labor versus a more manual approach that relies on standard carton sizes. An example of these gains is, the first e-commerce auction platform created, owned and operated by a non-profit organization.

Run by Goodwill of Orange County, Calif., doesn’t have the volumes of a huge e-commerce fulfillment center, but automated package right-sizing has sped up its outbound packaging process, reduced materials and void fill use, and allows fewer people to pack out the same volume of orders.

On top of that, the carton right-sizing functionality can adapt to the SKU variety inherent to, whose donated items come in nearly every possible shape and size, says Ted Mollenkramer, senior e-commerce business operations manager at The package right-sizing solution (Packsize) is able to generate a right-fit carton for this ever-changing assortment, using data from a dimensioning system.

“Packsize was the right solution for us because it enabled us to create a custom box for every single item we ship—from a G.I. Joe to an Espresso Machine and beyond.”

Before implementing Packsize’s iQ Fusion system at its Orange County warehouse in 2017, the operation used standard carton sizes, attempting to match the nearest size carton to estimated cubic volume of the item that needed to be shipped. This requires space for the cartons, time to select the carton, erect it and pack the order, including placing in enough void fill to protect the item. With hundreds of orders shipped out per day, the organization needed a solution that could help make its pack out process more efficient and sustainable.

According to Mollenkramer, he had met with Packsize at an industry event a few years ago to get ideas for further efficiencies, and when the iQ Fusion system became available, a Packsize representative followed up with him about the system.

With the machine, has the ability to create a variety of box sizes as needed, and they no longer need to store a large box inventory. The system is compact, holding corrugated material to cut and crease a right-sized carton for each item.

A tape sealer is part of the solution. The operator can quickly erect and seal the custom-cut carton around each item and seal it securely, with consistent, tidy appearance to enhance the customer unboxing experience.

The system is faster than searching and selecting from an assortment of standard cartons, and dealing with excessive void fill placement. The system has reduced’s labor costs by an estimated 24% to 35%, and it helped the warehouse keep pace with orders during the pandemic when it needed to operate with a small staff.

The right-sizing equipment also presented an opportunity for specialized employee training. For example, Guillermo Olguin, Packsize machine operator at the warehouse, came on as a temporary worker. During the early stages of the pandemic, it was uncertain whether the operation would be able to keep him on, but because he had learned how to use the system, he was hired permanently to keep shipments running.

“He was a shy, low-key guy in the background,” said Mollenkramer. “And now he’s in the forefront, he’s a leader, he’s training people—he’s a whole different Guillermo.”

Being the one in charge of the packaging process is important to Olguin. “The department can’t run without Packsize,” said Olguin. “And since I’m the one working with the machine, I feel like I’m really the one making this all go.”

Helping employees master new skills not only helps the warehouse operation, it also fits with Goodwill’s belief in enhancing employee skills and careers, adds Mollenkramer. “This gave us a new avenue to truly live out the Goodwill mission of helping people find meaningful jobs and career advancement opportunities in our warehouse,” said Mollenkramer.

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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].
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