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Labor shortages and cost increases are negatively impacting many facilities. You can reduce labor costs as well as material waste with automated packaging.  

Automated packaging is the process of packaging products using machinery and robotics with minimal or no human assistance. There are many different types of automated packaging machines and together they can perform nearly every packaging function from building boxes to labeling shipments before they’re loaded on the truck.  

If you want to know how to automate packaging in your facility, you should first understand the automated packing machines that are available.  

There are a variety of different machines that can be used in automated packaging, and understanding their purpose can help you determine which might be of benefit to your operation. The basic machines are: 

  1. Case Erectors 
  2. Case Sealers 
  3. Void Fillers 
  4. Stretch Wrappers & Strappers 
  5. Shipment Labelers 

These machines perform different functions in the packaging process. Some of these automated packaging machines may be more impactful on your facility than others, depending on your unique needs.  

    Case erectors, sometimes called carton erectors, are automated packaging machines that build boxes. They can be semi-automatic, meaning an operator needs to provide some input, or fully automatic, meaning no operator involvement is required.  

    Typically, case erectors start with flat cardboard sheets which are then formed and folded into boxes. Once the boxes are formed, the boxes are then sealed with tape or hot melt adhesive.  

    Machines can erect typically between 6-30 cases per minute, depending on the speed of the machine. The average person can assemble a box in 20 seconds, meaning 3 boxes per minute. This means that a case erector can double your output, with faster machines seeing even more significant increases, reducing your labor costs. 

    Fully automated machines can make nearly perfect boxes every time, which can make sealing and palletizing faster as well.  

    By reducing the labor costs needed for operation and increasing the production of boxes, case erectors can provide significant labor cost reduction. 

      Case sealers do exactly that – they seal cases, typically with tape. Separate from a case erector, case sealers will seal a box after it has been made and packed. While they can work with nearly any box, case sealers will perform better with better constructed boxes, which is why they are often used in facilities with case erectors.  

      Some case sealers require manual adjustment of package size, which can be beneficial if your operation uses only a few standard sizes. However, if your operation has varying sizes, some case sealers can automatically adjust to accommodate multiple package sizes.  

      These automated packaging machines can reduce labor costs by eliminating the need for a staff member to seal the box. Some can even fold flaps on boxes, reducing the need for an operator.  

      Depending on the size of your operation, you can also see significant material savings as well. When people are sealing the box, the seal can sometimes be crooked and require a second strip of tape. People are also not consistent with the amount of tape overlap on the sides.  

      While the occasional double tape job or excessive overlap may not seem like a significant waste, this adds up quickly for large operations. Case sealers seal the box properly on the first attempt and have a consistent overlap on the sides of the boxes, typically 2 to 3 inches. 

      Case sealers can diminish labor and material costs in your facility by reducing the amount of labor needed and preventing material waste.  

        Often, a package will be larger than the items inside of it. Sometimes, this is to accommodate multiple items of varying size. It may simply be because an item is not a perfect cube or rectangular prism.  

        To ensure that the item or items in the package are prevented from moving around, you need to use void fill. Void fill is material, such as paper, added to packages to minimize the risk of the contents becoming broken or damaged during transit by securing items in place.  

        A void filler automated packaging machine can add these items to a package for you. These systems are typically specific to a single type. For example, a paper void filler machine cannot fill air cushions to fill a box.  

        The most common void fill machines are paper machines, air cushion (sometimes called air pillow) and bubble wrap machines, and foam packaging machines.  

        When packages are under-filled, you run the risk of product damage during shipping as it moves around, which can lead to an increase in returns as well as prevent customers from purchasing from you in the future.  

        Void fill machines can help you save money by reducing the risk of damage during shipment.  

          Depending on what you are shipping, you may need to hold parts of your shipment together. There are two main ways to hold shipments together: stretch wrapping and strapping.  Both of these are available in automated packaging machines. 

          Stretch Wrapper Machines 

          Stretch wrap is highly stretchable plastic film that is used to combine loads into stable units. This secures the packages together to stabilize loads. Because it keeps everything in place, items are much less likely to fall off a pallet and be lost during shipment.  

          Semi-automatic and fully automatic stretch wrapper machines are available. Semi-automatic machines still require an operator and can handle about 20 loads an hour. Fully automatic stretch wrappers do not require an operator and can handle up to 120 loads an hour.  

          Strapping Machines 

          Similar to stretch wrapper machines, strapping machines secure shipments together to prevent shifting during transit.  

          There are two main types of strapping material: poly banding and steel strapping.  

          Poly banding, sometimes called plastic strapping, is typically used for loads that may settle, expand, or contract during shipment. Because poly banding is somewhat flexible, it may be the better option if your load is sensitive to damage.   

          If you are shipping loads with sharp edges or corners, steel strapping may be better as it won’t be cut. Steel strapping is also better for long distance shipping as it is more durable.  

          Strapping machines can bundle small packages as well as large shipments together, depending on your needs. Some machines can perform up to 65 straps per minute.  

          Both stretch wrapping machines and strapping machines increase the efficiency of wrapping or binding shipments together. These automated packaging machines help to reduce labor costs by decreasing both the amount of time as well as the number of people required to properly secure the shipment. 

            Labels are a necessary part of shipping. Whether you need a simple label for the addressee, or a more complicated label that indicates contents, weight, size, or even hazardous materials, an automatic labeler can help you.  

            Automatic labelers can vary in size significantly. Smaller machines can be used for single packages, while larger machines can label pallets. Some machines are designed to label barrels as well.  

            When labeling by hand, it can be difficult to ensure that every label is in the same position every time. Sometimes, labels can accidentally get scrunched up and require reprints. With an automatic labeler, every label can be placed in the same position and with a single attempt to ensure consistency and reduce material waste.   

            These machines can reduce the amount of labor required for labeling shipments. They can also reduce material waste by not having to relabel.   

            If you need to address more unique packaging needs in your automated packaging, there are more specialized and customized automated packaging machines available. Our team is able to help you find the right products for your industrial packaging needs. 

            Once you understand what automated packaging machines are available, you can begin planning how to automate packaging in your facility. You’ll need to evaluate, plan, implement, and monitor to ensure your program works appropriately. 

            When evaluating the needs of your facility, you’ll want to look for ways to improve processes and efficiency as well as create time and cost savings.  

            For example, if your facility needs 25 boxes assembled per minute, a high-speed case erector may be a great investment to help improve the assembly process and save on labor costs. On the other hand, if you only need to stretch wrap 10 loads an hour, an automatic stretch wrapper that can handle 120 loads may prove too costly of an investment.  

            You’ll also need to consider what space you have available. Automated packaging machines vary in size depending on their purpose, the capacity they can handle, and their manufacturer. Ensuring that a machine is not too large for the space you have is important to ensuring safe usage of the machine.  

            Once you’ve evaluated the machines that are available, it’s time to plan how you are going to put them into operation. Because your facility is unique in both needs and size, how you place and use the systems will be unique.  

            You’ll want to plan the layout, installation, and training needed for the system to be implemented. Generally, this is not an overnight process. It can take days or even weeks to transition, and you’ll need to plan accordingly.   

            Ideally, you want to avoid interruption to your facility’s work, but it may not be possible. You may need to plan for shutdown time to install the automated packaging machines and for your staff to train.  

            Implementing an automated packaging system takes time. If you are only implementing the use of a small air cushion void filler, this may be relatively quick. However, if you are implementing a larger machine or even a full system, it can take several weeks to prepare the facility, install and test the machines, and train your staff.  

            Once your automated packaging machines are part of your facility, it’s important to monitor their output to ensure you are getting the desired outcomes. You may need to tweak something here or there to achieve the best results.  

            Continuous monitoring also allows you to evaluate performance to keep improving business opportunities and finding cost savings. It can also help you to make the best adjustments as your business grows.  

            Final Thoughts  

            Determining how to automate packaging for your facility can be a challenge. Every packager has different needs and different space available, so there is no “one size fits all” option. You may even need custom automated packaging machines for your facility.

            Our experienced packaging experts can help. We can evaluate your needs and your space to develop a plan tailored to your facility. Our team can then implement the plan, including training your staff on how to use the automated packaging machines. We help you monitor the progress of implementation to ensure that you are achieving the  

            Connect with one of the packaging experts at Imperial Dade for a free evaluation of your facility and your needs as you begin your automated packaging journey.  

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