The challenge of protecting food from farm to fork is a two-stage process. In our last blog, we discussed how effective packaging solutions preserve raw materials before they arrive at the processing location, and how those challenges vary from produce to dairy to packaged food.
Once the food is ready for retail distribution, a whole new set of challenges arise. Distribution centers bring food together from a variety of sources, and then create pallets based on the needs of individual grocery and retail customers. This means a pallet of any boxed product—let’s use 16 cases of macaroni and cheese as an example—will arrive at the distribution center.
The pallet will be broken down, because a local grocery may only have ordered five cases, and those five cases will be combined with all the other cases of other boxed products on a new pallet. The next stage is to secure those cases to the pallet and provide the same level of security for the packaging as it had when it arrived at the distribution center.
At least that’s the goal. Of the 400 billion pounds of food produced in the U.S. each year, the USDA estimates one-third of it—or 133 billion pounds—is simply thrown away. Part of that waste is the damage that occurs to products during the shipping stages, making the product unsalable even if it might not have been compromised. In short, no one wants to buy a box of mac and cheese in a dented box.
To address the secure packaging of odd-shaped pallets at the distribution center, a robotic pallet wrapper such as the ones offered by Muller are considered the industry standard today.
Regardless of whether the pallet is assembled by hand or by a robot, the robotic pallet wrapper can adjust automatically to the specific geometry of the products, including dealing with sharp corners, uneven edges and varying heights. No two pallets are identical when they leave the distribution center, but they all can count on the identical attention from a robotic pallet wrapper.
The next time you walk to your grocery store, think about the journey each item available has taken. Without proper load security along the way, most of those products would not have survived. From raw ingredients, to processing to distribution, Muller has a history of proudly protecting pallets throughout the supply chain while simultaneously reducing waste and optimizing load containment practices.
The first consideration in any stretch wrapping operation is a secure load. Right after that comes the consideration of how much wrap material needed to secure the load.
When the Octopus ring technology was developed more than 30 years ago, it addressed both issues in a compact and efficient form. The pallet stayed in place while the stretch wrap revolved around the load, tightly anchoring the pallet and reducing worker strain.
As the technology has evolved, one of the key improvements has been the ‘S-style’ feed on the Octopus machines--from the cost-effective B-Series to the versatile C-Series to the high-speed, highly effective S-Series. The S-style feed on the Octopus accomplishes both of the goals of the original Octopus. First, it creates a more effective pre-stretch of the wrapping materials. This allows for the tightest possible wrap on the first pass, and on every pass that follows.
That’s important because not every load is a perfect cube. In an age of single-product pulls from distribution centers, it’s more likely the shipping pallet will include odd lots and different sizes and shapes of containers. That pre-stretch provided by the S-style feed gives the material handling team the confidence that every load is secured to the pallet, regardless of the size or shape of the load itself.
The other benefit of the S-style is the amount of wrapping material needed compared to the W-style pre-stretch technology. If you think about the differences between the letters, the S-style has just two pivot points; the W-style has three. Multiplied over the daily output of a stretch wrapper and the life of the product, that’s a significant amount of wrap. But because the S-style offered on the Octopus lines provides security in the pre-stretch itself, both goals can be accomplished.
The Octopus system can reduce stretch film usage by up to 25% as compared to rotary arm stretch wrap systems, and the versatility built into every Octopus system provides the greatest flexibility in wrap programs on the market.
The ‘S’ may describe the shape of the wrap form as it prepares fort secure an order, but it also stands for ‘secure’ and ‘savings’. Those are the two important considerations when considering any stretch wrapping solution.
According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average number of items available in a supermarket in 2014 was over 40,000.1 Today that number is even greater. This abundant product availability and diversity poses both advantages and challenges. For the most part, the largest advantage is that it offers consumers more convenience and choice. That’s a great thing. But greater convenience and variety for the consumer creates greater challenges for the food supply chain. To say the food supply chain is extremely complex is an understatement. With safety and quality at the top of any food manufacturer or distributor’s list, multiple solutions to every day challenges must be acquired. At Muller, we have looked at solutions from so many different levels, from raw ingredients to processing and distribution and we believe the possibilities are abundant.
What the Recipe Calls For
To best understand the food supply chain, let’s start from the beginning. From milling grain that will eventually become flour to carrots picked from the farm, every recipe requires raw ingredients. And each ingredient requires special handling before it makes it to the store or food processing plant.
This is where load containment comes in. Let’s take flour as an example. As a general rule, flour is mostly bagged and those bags are heavy and cumbersome. When palletizing them for distribution, one must consider the size, weight and packaging material to ensure safe transport to the store or food processing plant. For instance, poly bags have a tendency to slip on each other when stacked. Though often secured with stretch film, the constant movement and weight of the bags can force the film to stretch, and the load can topple over. To avoid film stretching and excess waste, some manufacturers have opted to use hot melt. The adhesive is placed between layers of product - essentially gluing the bags to each other. While this option can be advantageous over stretch wrap in the case of poly bags, it presents several challenges for other packaging materials. For example, paper based bags risk tearing when the product is pulled apart. And no matter what type of packaging is used one disadvantage of adhesive is that it leaves residue behind on the packaging surface, which not only reduces brand integrity, but creates mess and the potential for food contamination both from the residue left behind as well as the heat source used to apply it.
One solution that has proved ideal in the milling and baking industry where bags are used most often, is water-based cohesive. It is stronger than stretch wrap alone and is cold-applied, making it safer than hot melt. It does not leave a sticky residue or harm packaging surfaces when unstacking/popping product apart. Water-based cohesive further allow for heavy reductions in traditional packaging -- stretch film, slip sheets, dunnage bags, corner boards and more can be virtually eliminated while maintaining proper load security. This allows for a leaner supply chain, reduces the number of employees needed to stabilize a load and reduces costs associated with excess materials.
In contrast, produce takes a different journey and growers are responsible for ensuring this key ingredient makes it through the supply chain. Since produce is typically transported in corrugated boxes, it leaves it vulnerable. For example, rain or any type of moisture on the boxes can lead to mold growth and other bacteria that can spread to the produce. Condensation is a major cause of damaged box loads. In fact, the same can be said for the flour loads above- especially paper bag loads that will get destroyed if wet.
Stretch hood technology is ideal in this situation. Particularly with “10-sided” (5 outside surfaces + 5 inside surfaces) waterproof protection, growers can ensure products remain dry regardless of storage conditions. However it doesn’t need to rain for moisture to form inside the load. Covering the product in plastic film on hot days can produce its own condensation build-up inside. Multi-layer film technology effectively manages sunlight and creates an impermeable barrier to liquids. Aside from eliminating condensation and unwanted elements from entering the bag, the technology also maintains barcode readability and prevents tears or punctures as bags are stretched over the load.
Set to Make
Once the raw ingredient has traveled safely to the food processor, it’s here the majority of food bought is manufactured and packed. However, this is also where things get even more complicated. As an example, there is a big difference between how macaroni and cheese versus ice cream is made. In addition, the pallet security demands for each greatly vary.
With millions of mac and cheese boxes packed each day, tackling high volumes requires the work from more automated load containment systems. Rotary ring technology is a common solution in high throughput environments like this. In addition, the technology can provide over 200 different wrap patterns and can start and stop anywhere on the load. The ability to pre-program wrap patterns also means various pallets can be wrapped without hesitation or operator interface. For lighter loads, like mac and cheese boxes, this advantage also enables users to add film in weak or vulnerable spots such as the middle or the top.
Dairy plants are also unique in their needs. Most plants are packed tightly with product rushing through at high speeds. The sensitivity of the product adds further complications to the supply chain. They must keep up with extremely high demands as millions of gallons of milk are sold daily in the United States alone. Ensuring products are quickly processed, packaged and out the door is essential to its shelf life. ‘Getting things done before the ice cream melts’ is no euphemism in the dairy industry. With the average dairy plant wrapping anywhere from 60-120 loads per hour, the ideal solution is automatic rotary ring stretch wrapping equipment.
This technology has been proven successful in an environment where speed, reliability as well as harsh environments are top concerns. Any machine downtime in the stretch wrapping zone can cause a myriad of problems upstream and greatly affect product shelf life.
Before any of the above items are available at the local grocery store, each typically makes one more stop at a distribution center. Grocery distributors are responsible for providing your local store with the variety demanded by its patrons and ensuring product arrives in immaculate condition.
According to the USDA, the United States throws away one-third of all the food it produces (133 billion pounds of food); and grocery stores are responsible for tossing 10% of that food.2 Grocery stores typically throw food away because it may be expired or damaged. Often, product packaging gets damaged during shipping, leading supermarkets to toss products even though the food hasn't been compromised. The stores assume, perhaps rightly, that no consumer is going to buy a dented box of cornflakes if a pristine one is right next to it.3
Of course, damage may be done once the food product arrives at its destination and it’s virtually impossible to expect all products to make it unscathed. The food distributor however, has the most arduous task of delivering the products without damage and there are many places during the distribution process where products have the opportunity to be damaged.
Let’s illustrate this process; first, the distributor receives pallets filled with items from one manufacturer (ex: mac and cheese boxes). The distributor then breaks down the load so that the boxes can be separated for each store. As mentioned before, the store provides great product diversity and the distributor will create new mixed product loads to meet varying demands. This mixed load, also known as B and C type loads, will have jagged edges / odd shapes because the stacked products are not necessarily from the same manufacturer or have similar packaging dimensions. This fact leaves stretch film vulnerable to tears. In addition, because product is pulled from multiple locations throughout the warehouse, it’s difficult to assign a single wrap zone. Workers must be able to move throughout the plant and adjust for inventory levels. The smaller available footprint and nimble distribution practice calls for an equally flexible solution.
To this end, a robotic pallet wrapper is an excellent solution for this; the speed, convenience and wrap quality of such machines make it an ideal choice to ensure proper product delivery and pallet security. Specifically, its increased product protection and wrapping consistency improves employee safety, lessens waste and significantly saves time and cost over hand-wrapping.
The next time you walk to your grocery store, think about the journey each item available has taken. Without proper load security along the way, most of those products would not have made it so far. From raw ingredients, to processing to distribution, Muller has a history of proudly protecting pallets throughout the supply chain while simultaneously reducing waste and optimizing load containment practices.
1 Source: Food Marketing Institute http://www.fmi.org/research-resources/supermarket-facts#sthash.U2nhbl7q.dpufThe
Ash Grove Packaging manages the distribution of the product array from the parent Ash Grove Materials Corporation. The cement products manufacturer’s 135-year history is a testament to continuous improvement, and when they looked for ways to improve the palletizing and shipping of products to its global customers, they found a new solution from their existing partner, Lachenmeier.
Ash Grove’s use of the Power Flex T1 stretch hood machine to securely wrap and ship pallets of cement bags realized a savings in time and manpower while improving the security of the pallets. One big issue was the process with traditional rotary arm stretch wrappers was a two-man effort. Another concern was slippage of the cement bags during shipping. The Power Flex T1 took care of both issues, and used less film in the process.
“Before when products would shift it would stretch the film and loosen the load,” says Ash Grove Packaging plant manager Engel Islas. “The Lachenmeier system gives us a clean wrap you can see through with the added advantage that it’s a much more stable load.”
The stretch hood system covers not just the four sides of the pallet but also the top of the materials. This eliminated the need to wrap the top of the pallet with a separate pass from the rotary arm wrapper.
Speed also was improved through the introduction of the Power Flex T1. Ash Grove Packaging was able to wrap 30 loads per hour. While the Power Flex T1 can wrap more than 120 loads per hour, applications do vary across the industry, and the solution at Ash Grove was designed to match the palletizing output from its system and eliminating shipping bottlenecks.
“We are now utilizing an area we never have before and doing so with a solution that offers us much more throughput,” says Engel.
Dan Schmidt, Business Development Manager, Muller
Is the amount of load damage going up with the age of your stretch wrap equipment? Having trouble keeping up with production and the increasing number of SKUs and load configurations? Have a need to do more with less people and feel automation might be the answer? Would you save money on film and eliminate film breaks if you could just improve performance?
If any of these questions have crossed your mind, then it’s time to seriously consider how to justify a new stretch wrap machine. In today’s economy, it’s unlikely your company is just handing over money for new capital equipment. Budgets are tight and every department is competing for the reduced dollars available. The good news is that there are many ways to justify the cost of a new pallet wrapper and prove a quick return on your investment.
The Right Fit
It’s important to consider what type of stretch wrapper is best suited for your specific application. Think about the size, weight and variability of the loads you will be wrapping. Highly variable loads would benefit from certain types of machinery, such as orbital, horizontal wrappers (like the Yellow Jacket) that secure the load most securely to the pallet. Stable, light-weight loads of consumer goods would do well with a turntable style wrapper, while unstable or heavy loads would do better with a rotary arm machine. For the best all-around performance, rotary ring machines can handle heavy and variable loads, such as construction supplies, pet food and beverages while still handling the highest volume lines.
Need for Speed
One should consider the production speeds required. If moving from a hand wrap application to simple automation, a semi-automatic stretch wrapper may be all that is required. Although these machines still requires a person to manually attach the film to the load at the beginning of the wrap cycle and cut the film at the end of the cycle, they can achieve rates as high as 35 loads per hour. The labor reduction or improved productivity may justify the relatively low cost of these machines.
If you’ve outgrown your existing stretch wrapper or are adding production, a fully automatic stretch wrapper may meet your needs best. While these machines typically cost more, the savings in labor, improved productivity, and increased versatility may easily justify this type of machine. Whether you choose a highly automated ring wrapper that can achieve speeds as high as 150 loads per hour or you prefer the redundancy of two lower volume machines in parallel can depend on available space, labor costs and maintenance expenses.
Living in a Material World
It is important to understand the material savings that can be achieved with a new stretch wrapper. Payback can be quick for equipment that allows you to reduce film usage. These savings are also, typically, the easiest to quantify. For example, film usage can be reduced by almost 30% when purchasing a new machine that would improve the amount of film pre-stretch from 150% to 250%.
Equipment design can also have a major effect on film usage. Almost all automatic turntable and rotary arm machines have a fixed clamp that requires the machine to start and stop at the bottom of the load. A rotary ring type machine, such as the Muller OctopusTM, has the flexibility to start and stop anywhere on the load. This can result in 25% film savings—often more than enough to justify a new machine. New machines may also offer opportunities to reduce the number of wraps or move to thinner films. Plus, for companies accounting for sustainability improvements as part of their evaluation, they will likely benefit from the thousands of pounds of film that can be saved.
A Load of Savings
Although film reductions can result in thousands of dollars in savings, it may pale in comparison to the money saved by eliminating load damage and reducing interruptions in production. Study results indicate that annual average unsaleables rates, as a percent of gross sales, are .96 percent for manufacturers, with nearly half of this as a result of damage. Improving load containment could quickly pay back the expense of a new machine—while making the customer much happier.
Likewise, by understanding the cost of production downtime, the justification for a new wrapper may be simple. Production stoppages can cost some companies in excess of $50 per minute. At this rate, eliminating even 20 minutes of downtime a week could pay for a new fully automatic wrapper very quickly.
New Technology Offers New Reasons to Buy
New technologies in stretch wrapping provide new ways to justify new equipment. Add-ons like LogoWrapTM from Muller can provide automatic and affordable brand identification. Additional labor savings can be achieved by adding an automatic film roll changer or SideKickTM spare carriage that allows for less frequent film changeovers and improved productivity. Performance monitoring systems such as OctoMAXTM provide assurance that the optimal amount of film will be applied to each and every load. Advances in film tension control can allow for variability throughout the wrap cycle to help reduce load damage and eliminate film breaks. Including an integrated top sheet or automated corner board applicator may eliminate enough labor to easily rationalize the cost of a new stretch wrapper.
Selection in Action
Every situation is different, but trained representatives can identify the best equipment choice for different scenarios. For example, Hensley Beverage Company had different challenges: Oddly shaped loads and loads encompassing several different products and sizes that would benefit greatly from variable film tension. ITW’s Octopus 808 machine solved these concerns because it applies just the right amount of tension at various points on the load. Manufacturers and distributors such as Hensley can rest-assured that they are reducing product damage while simultaneously lowering film costs.
Instead of operating with a single tension setting, variable tension control machines like the Octopus 808 allow for increased tension at locations on the load that require extra hold (the base of a sturdy box) and lighter tension where reduced force is beneficial (sharp corners, the top of an open box). Hensley Beverage Company has estimated that the Octopus 808 machine has saved the company about 1.5 men a day.
Suppliers, distributors, and end-user clients are all partners in the supply chain, and consistency benefits each step along the way. Finding a partner that can provide a world-wide network of support and global solutions goes a long way in creating consistency. Standardizing equipment can translate into reduced downtime due to faster repairs and shorter parts sourcing turnaround time. Dealing with one vendor instead of many is always more efficient, and the consistent delivery of your products will be appreciated by customers, because it will allow their processes to be more consistent as well.
If you are still not sure how to justify that new stretch wrapper, companies like Muller offer free packaging line audits and consultations to help companies understand the options available and tailor solutions to each manufacturer’s needs. By working with a company that offers a full breadth of global solutions and an expertise in quantifying economic justifications, you might be closer to that new stretch wrapper than you ever imagined.
1Source: GMA, FMI and Wipro Technologies 2010 study - The Impact of Sales and Procurement on Reverse Logistics
Even with all the advancement in automated pallet wrapping technology, there are still times when one worker and two good hands are needed to secure a load for shipping. If the only costs involved were the worker and the film roll, the use of hand film still would be competitive.
Issues such as worker injury, damage to product from improper work practices, and film product waste is one reason companies have moved much of their pallet wrapping to automated systems.
There still is a need for hand film, however, and there are several best practices to ensure minimal damage and maximum success.
GaleWrap® film does offer its oriented film as part of its automated Wrap n’ Ship Program. But for the times when hand film is still the best solution, the technology built into the wrap does matter.
Michael Klear, Marketing Manager, Muller
Manufacturers are constantly charged with implementing processes that lead to greater efficiencies. From the outside, that may sound like an easy task. But on the manufacturing floor, changes to any part of the process, from the beginning of the line to the end, must be handled with care. Often that leads to “the fear factor”- the idea that changes lead to trouble. With that in mind, manufacturers need to identify ways to make changes that are easy to incorporate and choose processes that quickly and easily yield benefits.
When looking to create new efficiencies on the line, it is very common to focus upstream of the stretch wrapper. However, it is important to remember any improvements (and investments) that are made will be wasted if the product arrives damaged. Load containment is key, especially where accidents can lead to disaster for the manufacturer and end user.
Why Stretch Wrap?
Stretch wrapping may be the last operation before the product leaves the production facility, but it is the very first thing the customer sees when it enters their facility. Many manufacturers have made the transitions from boxes to trays to pads, while metal fabricators are becoming more reliant on stretch wrapping to ensure their product makes it to customers intact and unharmed. Therefore, increasingly, stretch wrapping has become recognized as a critical component in making sure a product arrives in the condition intended.
Stretch wrapping offers several unique benefits. For one, the wrap is clear, allowing the customer to easily identify the product they are receiving. Another great benefit of stretch wrap is that contents are protected from the elements. In terms of sustainability, several arguments have been made to suggest stretch wrapping uses less material than large box containment, adding strapping or other forms of pallet load packaging.
New stretch wrapping solutions are making changes to the end of the line incredibly attractive. When it comes to automating vs. hand-wrapping, automating is a clear winner in terms of productivity and there are statistics to prove it.
Reach Greater Productivity
Incorporating semi or fully automatic stretch wrap machines can significantly cut down the time it takes to secure pallet loads. When compared to hand wrap, most machines on the market today can wrap the same load at least 50% faster. However, in order to reap those equipment benefits, finding the right machine is paramount. When selecting a stretch wrap machine it’s important to first consider how many pallets you wrap per day and the type of load being wrapped. With so many different machines available, reaching your greatest potential for productivity means matching the machine to your application.
When securing oversized, oddly shaped, palletized loads, an orbital wrapper like Muller’s Yellow Jacket’s 87M orbital stretch wrapper should be considered. The 87M is a horizontally positioned stretch wrap dispenser that moves around and under a load as the Yellow Jacket is manually advanced across the length of the load. With the 87M, loads also remain on the forklift while being wrapped. Typically it takes two workers approximately 10 minutes to wrap a load by hand, while the same load can be wrapped utilizing the Yellow Jacket in 1 minute with only one worker- reducing labor by as much as 95%. These time and labor savings add up- in fact, customers have reported savings up to $50,000 annually. Yellow Jacket also eliminates the need for other strapping materials or expensive cartons to secure loads.
When wrapping anywhere from 10-100 standard loads per day, one might consider a simple turntable stretch wrapping machine. Higher volumes, requiring 30+ loads to be wrapped every hour, are better served by using more advanced wrappers like Muller’s Octopus rotary ring stretch wrapping machines. Available in many sizes and speeds, the Octopus line exceeds most volume and speed requirements, while its pre-stretch design can save manufacturers up to 25% in film usage over other wrapping machines.
While stretch wrapping equipment can significantly reduce time and labor associated with load containment, it also benefits employees’ health. With hand wrapping, employees are continuously lifting 30-50lb rolls of film every day and bending in awkward positions which can lead to back strain or pulled muscles.
In contrast, stretch wrapping equipment significantly reduces employee injury. Employees are at less risk as the equipment does most of the hard labor associated with wrapping. In addition, stretch wrap equipment can apply the right film tension and pressure to a load keeping it secure, and without product damage. The film also reduces the chance for products to shift or slide throughout handling and transportation.
Using straps or metal bands to secure loads also comes with its own risks. Not only is the process very tedious, bands can destroy the pallets and the loads. Too much tension on the strap and the bands can pop back when cut and injure employees. In both cases, the possibilities of loads shifting or sliding during transportation are also increased. With hand wrapping, a common problem is applying too much or too little film- resulting in unnecessary waste or causing load failures and transit damage. Strapping or banding is also challenging as the loads are only accurately secured at the point of contact. As mentioned earlier, too much tension on the bands and they can damage the product or pallet.
Go Ahead - Wrap it up
Stretch wrap machines come in many forms. Before selecting the right machinery, it is important to consider output, load type, labor and the packaging cost. If you are currently using straps or hand wrapping, taking a look at stretch wrap equipment can save you time and money. Speak to your supplier about your primary goals and options. If you are not sure how to improve your operations, companies like Muller LCS offer free packaging line audits/consultations to help companies understand the options available and tailor solutions to each manufacturer’s needs. So go ahead, wrap it up!