Reusable Packaging has Stampers Thinking Green
These three factoids, lifted from the website of reusable-packaging-equipment provider Orbis Corp., Oconomowoc, WI, represent what’s becoming a manufacturing mantra: “Green” manufacturing is good for the environment, and it surely can be good for both ends of the supply chain, supplier and customer alike.
Reusable packaging, as an alternative to wooden pallets or corrugated-cardboard boxes, reduces waste and the non-value-added labor for setup and breakdown of the boxes; improves warehouse-space utilization as well as worker safety since ergonomically designed containers can ease handling; and can improve product flow in terms of safe and efficient transfer of parts and subassemblies to the customer. All of these benefits point to reusable packaging as a catalyst for implementing a lean-manufacturing system. “Frequent parts deliveries, standardized package sizes and efficient packaging processes improve the flow of product and reduce the need for extra storage of warehouse space,” is how Orbis puts it. And Jody Fledderman, president of Batesville Tool & Die, Batesville, IN, concurs, noting that nearly all of his customers (primarily automotive OEMs and Tier One companies) now require returnable packaging.
“Lean manufacturing, particularly as related to assembly lines, has our customers requiring returnable packaging, usually in very small quantities and often with the parts we stamp packed and presented in a specific way,” says Fledderman, “designed to optimize and in some cases assist in the automation of assembly lines. Typically this means we’re packaging parts in quantities of 30 or so. But our presses run at 80 to 100 strokes/min. That means we’re changing containers every 20 sec., quite a challenge if we strive to keep the presses running uninterrupted for container changes.”
Satisfying customer requirements for more and smaller packages while still maintaining an efficient pressroom takes coordination and forethought, surmises Ralph Hardt, president of metalformer Feintool North America, and PMA’s 2008 chairman. “How we may want the packaging established on our end may not perfectly fit with how customers want it arranged at their plants,” says Hardt. “While we may prefer to package parts in 80-lb. totes, the customer may have a 40-lb. ergonomic limit. Therefore, either the customer has to repack what we ship or we have to coordinate that repackaging upfront as a value-added service. Either way, we now identify and account for packaging early in the quote process.”
“The key,” adds Hardt, “is getting value from the packaging solution for the customer and for the stamper. The stamper must be able to effectively load parts at the press, without, of course, damaging the parts, either during loading or shipping. And, the packaging solution must allow easy and cost-effective unloading at the customer’s assembly lines or wherever it removes the parts from the packaging.”
Packaging Technology Shines
Manufacturers of packaging products and systems have developed a slew of new offerings in recent years, and Hardt offers that perhaps the biggest challenge a metalformer faces in moving to returnable packaging is simply keeping up with what’s new, evaluating the options and selecting the best products for the task at hand. Suppliers, for example, have developed bulk containers that collapse when empty to save money on return freight and storage. There also are reusable plastic containers designed to expand in any of three dimensions—height, width and length, to adjust to changing packaging requirements. Automatic tote-changing machines not only dispense totes of various sizes and speeds, but also include automatic part counters, level sensors and weight scales.
Hardt has several press lines at his facilities that employ automated packaging systems. Parts come off of the press and onto a conveyor that deposits them into returnable totes or containers. The packages are automatically weight-counted and, when full, move down the line and a new empty container is placed on the line. This minimizes labor and improves the accuracy of part counts to the customer.
“We’ve installed several new automated packaging lines in the last year alone,” Hardt says, “and also redesigned five manually operated packaging lines with automation. And, our goal is to redesign another four or five packaging lines this year. These projects primarily are for high-volume parts with high quality requirements, where improved packaging will improve PPM levels due to reduced damage from shipping and handling.”
Feintool engineers design the automated packaging systems themselves, and then work with suppliers to adapt their equipment to fit Feintool’s processes, including matching packaging equipment to conveyor sizes.
|Use oflow-part-count, reusable, custom packaging along automotive assembly lines, as shown here, supports lean manufacturing initiatives and optimizes use of floor space—on the line as well as in the warehouse.|
At Batesville Tool & Die, six of its 40 press lines include automated packaging systems, and several other lines employ operators to manually custom-load smaller reusable containers. Also, says Fledderman, there are instances where he cannot avoid repacking for customers—running into larger containers (maybe cardboard boxes) at the press and then repacking into smaller containers for shipping, an expensive process that also creates opportunities for mistakes.
Batesville’s automated packaging lines are designed and built inhouse. Conveyors loaded with plastic totes automatically index after so many press strokes. The firm designed the automated tote-changing lines to be easily moved from one press to another as needed, and they are adjustable to work with a variety of tote sizes. For those stampings where the customer requires parts stacked or oriented in a specific way in the package (perhaps to prevent damage to the part or fit more parts into the package and minimize air space), the firm relies on operators stationed at the end of presses to carefully load containers.
Give Packaging Your Full Attention
“Since returnable packaging is the way to go due to energy, freight and other cost factors,” says Hardt “we must get maximum value out of the packaging investment, because whatever you buy for a particular program, you’re stuck with it for the life of the program. For high-volume jobs, you’re looking at a six-figure investment. Therefore, designing the packaging process upfront take a lot of thought—more thought given to packaging than ever before.” MF
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