Understanding your packing challenges and the fundamental role this area plays as part of warehouse operations is paramount for eCommerce retailers. If done incorrectly, will easily hinder the ability to fulfil orders. Whilst there have been massive levels of innovation in underlying technology in this area, be it digital or physical, to push the despatch throughput rates to next level, customer demand is driving further pressures on warehouses to perform.

Packaging is the first physical touchpoint for a customer and can act as a differentiating strategy, which can be a game changer in driving customer perceptions of a brand. Take the issue of sustainability for instance; this topic is high on consumers’ agendas and companies that opt for much greener packaging materials will undoubtedly encourage loyalty.

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As businesses strive to achieve the ‘perfect order’, we will explore in this blog the common pain points with which most are still struggling to find solutions to:

  • Ability to scale packing operations with peaks: eCommerce can generate massive seasonal peaks with events such as Black Friday, where sales volumes easily double or triple from normal levels. Packing operations have always been the real time-thief in warehouses, with many still implementing manual processes. If warehouses are to keep up with demand they must look at the scalability of their operations.
  • Quality assurance: Incorrect orders are a significant source of frustration for customers, be it items missing from their order / wrong items being delivered. While this generates additional returns costs to ecommerce retailers, the additional hassle for their end customers, could make them less forgiving when they next come to make a purchase. Getting it right, first time is critical.
  • Guidance for warehouse operators: Training timelines involved in bringing new warehouse operatives up to speed can prove challenging. Automation solutions are key here; the ability to guide the warehouse operators step by step, taking redundant decision-making processes away will streamline operations and help increase throughput.
  • Choosing the right size packaging: Depending on the product you are shipping and how big it is should determine decisions around the right size of box to use. Retailers should always look to minimise void fills as this will avoid excessive carrier volume charges and create a better lasting impression with the customer.
  • Value added services – Items that are costly, fragile or dangerous often invite additional packaging needs. Retailers should be exploring software solutions, which guide the operators on the specific product needs, to help generate a consistent consumer experience.
  • Packaging materials – though there is an increased drift towards usage of environmentally friendly packaging such as paper-based materials, managing the increased cost in terms of both Capex (cost of machines) and OPEX (materials) is a challenge for retailers. The cost can easily be 3 – 4 times higher than that of plastic alternatives and the throughput rates are often lower than on conventional machines. However, retailers must weigh up whether the environmental benefits, alongside their customer expectations provide a greater business case for making the switch.

Each solution that you choose should always fit well and integrate to your existing workflows. A degree of flexibility provides space to grow. If you are handling an increasing eCommerce flow of packages each day, automation will be essential to meet demand and remain profitable.

It is important to create a holistic business case justifying cost of automating manual processes vs. benefits received. For e.g., a paper bagging machine in some cases might generate bigger carbon footprint than utilising a recyclable plastic-based packing film. Also, it helps to understand the bigger picture in terms of what products need to be packed, how products are fed, what data inputs are needed and how carriers are managed. Working alongside experienced integrators can help understand this holistic view to select wise options, which drive the maximum out of the chosen solutions.

There are a range of machines available in the market to facilitate packing automation and price of the machines obviously goes up as you add more features.

Broadly these can be classified into two categories:

Bagging Machines:

Machine Type Features Packing Rates Strong Fit
Manual Bagger
  • Simplified and defined packing process.
Process Dependent

Typically, 70 – 130 orders per hour

  • Items not fit for automation.
  • Complex pack processes.
Semi Auto Bagger
  • Simple automation
  • Front or back already sealed
  • Improved packing speed, accuracy
250 – 300 Bags per hour
  • Large volumes of similar sized items
Auto Bagger
  • Uses 3D scanning arrays to choose the bag size
  • 1D – Fixed width bags lengths trimmed.
  • 2D – Both length, width trimmed to match size
1200 Bags per hour
  • SKU Batch, wave picking.
  • Good for returns.

Bagging Solutions

Boxing Machines

  • Case Erectors – solutions to erect a box automatically with varied size
  • Case Sealers – solutions to seal the erected boxes automatically

The speed of the boxing machines vary with the size of the boxes, with smaller box size generating high throughput rates.

Machine Type Features Packing Rates Strong Fit
Manual
  • Simplified and defined packing process
70 – 130 Boxes per hour (with Crash Lock Boxes)
  • Items not fit for automation
  • Complex pack processes
Semi Auto
  • Simple automation.
  • Improved packing speeds, accuracy & tracking
500 – 600 boxes per hour (can vary with Size)
  • Pick to Case operation
  • Volumising is not necessary
1 D Volumising
  • Height of the box is trimmed to product size
420 – 820 Boxes per hour (can vary with Size)
  • Volumising is important or critical
3D Volumising
  • Box size generated on demand
400 – 1000 Boxes per hour (can vary with Size)
  • Volumising is important or critical

Boxing Solutions

Lastly, there is also a new concept of Vendor Carton Labelling where labels are applied directly onto the vendor supplied cartons. However, this solution is not effective if you do a significant amount of multiple items orders, as this is going to consume larger volumes with carriers.

Smart Packing Software

The benefits of smart software to deliver better performance and control or order fulfilment processes should not be overlooked here as well. Scalable software solutions that integrate alongside your physical automation will reduce your overall cost per order if implemented correctly. Simple yet effective customisations such as, multilingual support can help with on boarding operators quickly and can also give them additional confidence to do their work. Automated label creation functionality will make packing operations more efficient, ensuring the right orders reach the right people.

In conclusion, implementing the right software solution for your operation and machine requirements, will ensure optimum utilisation of your systems. Again, working with an integrator will help you to understand when to scale your packing operations to support your throughput.

Learn more about the benefits of smart software
Breathe-Easier

Breathe was commissioned to improve the efficiency of online order picking and packing, particularly for prescription products such as pet medication. The large scale automation project for Pets at Home was implemented in a phased approach, to help alleviate pressures on the warehouse and allow benefit to be realised earlier for the customer.

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