Marketing Automation Platform
If you were transporting any kind of load, you’d want the pallet and its contents to be as solid as cement. When the load you’re moving is cement bags, it makes the security of the process of the utmost importance—not to mention creating an ironic metaphor.
When Ash Grove Materials Corporation was looking for a solution for its slow and inefficient pallet wrapping process, it turned to Lachenmeier’s Power Flex T1 stretch hood machine to provide both load stability and product visibility for the company’s cement bag distribution process.
The bags are stacked on pallets, and the procedure had been to use rotary arm stretch wrappers and add a sheet of stretch film to the top to protect the load from moisture, which is the natural enemy of cement distribution. It was a two-man job and limited both throughput and productivity.
The Lachenmeier stretch hood process provided instant 5-sided protection for the load, since the hood stretched snugly over the load. It saved film, and company officials said the stable load also provided greater product visibility.
While customer liked being able to see the delivered product clearly and the stretch hood machine reduced the amount of wrapping material used, it was the increased process speed that was the biggest change. The Ash Grove Packaging division was able to wrap just 22 load per hour with the previous technology; the Lachenmeier Power Flex T1 stretch hood machine increased productivity to 30 loads per hour—an increase of more than 36%.
When materials handling supervisors try to justify a capital expenditure, they need to convince the management team of a quick return on the investment. At Ash Grove Materials Corporation, the reduction in manpower and film usage, the improved visibility for the product and the dramatic increase in production throughput meant the product got out of the plant and to their customers faster. Those are concrete results.
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.
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.
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
Dan Schmidt, Business Development Manager, Muller
Since Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Initiatives were first introduced in 2007, sustainability is a subject manufacturers find hard to avoid. For packaging manufacturers and suppliers, the added pressure to “go green” has only escalated over the years with customers unwilling to lower their expectations for them to meet varying sustainability goals. However, more companies are also realizing that implementing more sustainable practices isn’t just improving the environment, but also their bottom-line. For example, companies using petroleum based products are being greatly affected by rising oil barrel costs and have had to reduce usage to minimize costs. For stretch wrappers, these factors are all too familiar.
While packaging sustainability is predominately focused on reducing primary packaging material and increasing cube utilization, the end-of-line stretch wrapping process is critical to achieving optimum product delivery and reducing waste. As another step in the supply chain, it can’t be ignored if companies are looking to meet industry demands and achieve greater overall production efficiency. Advancements in equipment and technology are making it easier to reach sustainability goals while minimizing costs.
Reduction of materials is practiced in the name of sustainability. The reduction in primary packaging has put greater demands on stretch wrapping operations. Manufacturers are no longer just wrapping cardboard boxes of can goods. For most manufacturers, stretch wrapping has become essential for products that create unstable loads such as water bottles and open top display boxes.
As we have gone from boxes to trays to pads to nothing but shrink wrap, manufacturers have become more reliant on the end-of-the-line stretch wrap to make sure their product makes it to their customer intact and unharmed. 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. Therefore, increasingly, stretch wrapping has become recognized as a critical component in making sure a product arrives in the condition intended. Most companies have already made significant investments upstream of the stretch wrapper, but any improvements (and the costs) will be wasted if the product arrives damaged.
It’s easy to understand how reducing film consumption is good for the environment. Less waste in landfills, reduced oil demands of producing plastic resins, and decreased energy costs associated with manufacturing the film are all green benefits to help meet growing sustainability initiatives. However, how to reduce film usage when stretch wrapping and avoid load damage can be challenging.
This article will provide a variety of solutions to minimize film usage, optimize load containment and improve efficiencies while at the same time, improving sustainability impact.
Thin is in
The most obvious way to reduce film consumption is to use a thinner film. However, moving to a thinner film without properly analyzing if it will work for the particular application will often result in an increase in film usage overall. In addition to the likelihood that a manufacturer has to compensate by using additional film to maintain the integrity and security of the package, a thinner film that is inappropriate for the application also creates the possibility for film breaks which will almost certainly increase overall film consumption, as well as slow productivity.
The good news is that recently several high quality, thinner films have come to market that can effectively reduce film usage without compromising the integrity of the load. Muller recently introduced the ReducerTM line of stretch films. This high strength, thin gauge film is produced using a new, proprietary formulation and compliments the proven, high quality Eliminator cast and ST blown films. When evaluating any new film, thorough testing with the new film and intended application and performing, at a minimum, an ASTM standardized force to load test is essential. Similar testing can also be performed to ensure the proper number of wraps is being applied.
Add Tension to Your Load, Not Your Work Day
An overlooked opportunity to limit waste is by applying proper tension to the load. To put it simply, most stretch wrapping machines have a tension adjustment that affects how tightly the load will be wrapped . It is important because if you don’t apply enough tension than you run the risk that the loads will topple over in transit. If you apply too much tension it can “squeeze” the film too tight around the load and damage the product or increase the probability that the film will break. When film breaks occur it is common for operators to “fix” any stretch wrapper issue by lowering the tension. In a study by Muller, a customer could see as much as a 10% increase in film usage when wrapping a load under low tension settings versus high tension settings using the Octopus wrapper. When applied to an average manufacturing scenario where 200 loads are wrapped per day, the result is nearly 1,000 lbs of film wasted annually. In a similar test using a used turntable wrapper, film usage increased 60% when wrapping under low tension compared to high. This is because under low tension you allow the film to recover and spring back, as opposed to when it is kept stretched under high tension. Spitting out film at low tension may be good for wrapping empty PET bottles that are prone to crushing under the lightest of force, but the majority of loads would be better served by allowing for optimal tension throughout the wrap cycle. By applying just the right amount of tension at various points on the load, manufacturers can rest-assured that they are reducing product damage while simultaneously lowering film costs. Instead of operating with a singular tension setting, variable tension control allows 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). With the continuing changes in primary packaging design, it is crucial to have a system that offers flexibility and variability in order to optimize the stretch wrapping function.
For example, Muller not only offers variable tension control on their Octopus machines but, integrated with their OctoMAX™ system (highlighted below), they can also loads were wrapped and quickly identify where changes need to be made. The variable setting control eliminates film breaks and reduces usage by optimizing the settings based on the load configuration and containment needs. As film type, load dimensions or pre-stretch requirements change, the wireless function and monitoring system further make it easy to adjust to new settings. The wireless control also minimizes components and maintenance adding additional cost-saving benefits.
Measure, Monitor and Act
To really understand and quantify the benefits of any change made, having a way to record the performance of the film and equipment is essential. With retailers increasingly looking for proof that a manufacturer is making strides in its sustainability promise, stretch wrap equipment manufacturers are beginning to add monitoring systems to their machines that will measure and display at the HMI the precise amount of film that was applied to each and every load. Systems such as OctoMAXTM by Muller, will not only display the information at the HMI, but it will send an e-mail notification when too much film is applied and includes a secure web portal that the user can utilize to track historical trends, produce a variety of valuable reports, and help diagnose the root cause of issues.
Monitoring tools enable the user to keep a close eye on film usage and machine settings to help drive down the cost of stretch wrapping operations and simplify maintenance. It can even be utilized to compare the performance of two different types of films. As the old adage says, “What gets measured, gets done” and is a great way to ensure that the pre-stretch performance promised, is actually delivered. In addition, providing this data to customers and retailers is a great way to show that requirements are being met.
Optimize the System
True optimization and savings comes from looking at the stretch warp operation in its entirety – film, equipment and service. The return on investing in a simple service audit of your existing equipment can be tremendous. Speaking to your suppliers and finding out what upgrades are available is an essential component to improving sustainable practices.
As customer demands for greater packaging sustainability increase and rising material costs effect everyone’s bottom-line, taking a look at the entire supply chain is increasingly important. Overall, recent advancements in how the film is paid out, tension control, variable frequency drives, and wireless communication have created new opportunities to reduce film usage and improve overall efficincies, as well as reach your sustainability goals.
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!