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What if you could improve the productivity of your packaging operation, increase available space in your warehouse, and decrease returns -- all without increasing your cost for materials? This may seem like a tall order, yet Sealed Air Corp helped make it a reality for Cooper Hand Tools.

The company''s U.S. distribution center, based in Apex, NC, offers premium quality tools for industrial, commercial, and consumer markets, including adjustable wrenches, soldering products, and cutting tools. Because Cooper Hand Tools distributes tools all over the world, finding ways to improve packaging for shipments is a challenge.

"We were using paper to package our tools, but changing the heavy paper rolls put an unneeded strain on our packaging operators. We needed packaging materials that would alleviate exertion for the operators but we didn''t want to spend more on packaging," said David Looper, operations supervisor for Cooper Hand Tools. "Sealed Air learned about our dilemma and contacted us to discuss alternative packaging options."

Bob Hagmann, sales representative for Sealed Air Corp, met with Karen Falvey, Cooper''s vice president of logistics, to learn about Cooper Hand Tools'' packaging needs. Hagmann suggested the SpeedyPacker® foam-in-bag system with Instapak® UltraLite®, a light-duty, void-fill foam capable of expanding up to 280 times from its liquid state.

The SpeedyPacker® foam-in-bag system dispenses a controlled amount of Instapak® foam into a sealed film bag. When placed in a carton, the foam expands to conform to the shape of the contents, creating a protective cushion. Within seconds, the foam sets and locks the products in place. Cooper Hand Tools representatives liked the way the solid cushions, unlike paper dunnage, prevent items from shifting during shipment, greatly reducing the risk of damage.

Evaluating Price and Productivity

Falvey was interested, but she wanted to see the system in use. So Hagmann arranged for Falvey to visit another Sealed Air customer''s distribution facility, where the employees explained that the SpeedyPacker® system increased production rates, and was simple to use.

Cooper Hand Tools tested the system for one month using cartons that contained 20-25 tools and weighed up to 50 lb each. By comparing cartons packaged with paper dunnage to cartons packaged with Instapak® UltraLite® foam, Falvey discovered that using foam reduced the weight of each carton by half a pound.

While testing, Cooper Hand Tools also determined that the SpeedyPacker® system improved the productivity and efficiency of its packaging operation, enabling the company to process more than 1,200 packages per day with only one operator.

Lightening the Load

"The packaging operators exerted a tremendous amount of energy changing the paper rolls," stated Charlie Schlegelmilch, distribution manager of Cooper Hand Tools. "The SpeedyPacker® system also increased package production, because the film rolls needed to make the SpeedyPacker® bags are replaced less often."

The heavy paper rolls were replaced 15 to 18 times a day compared to the SpeedyPacker® film rolls, which are half the weight and only need to be replaced every other day. In addition, the Instapak® bulk tanks, which contain the foam formulations, only need to be changed every 4-5 weeks.

Saving Space and Time

Converting the packaging facility to the SpeedyPacker® foam-in-bag system was easy because the Instapak® bulk tanks were installed over the weekend when the packaging facility was closed. As a result, there was no downtime in workday productivity. The new Instapak® packaging method also was easy for the packaging operators to learn and training only took about three hours to complete.

The paper dunnage previously used for packaging occupied 12 pallets, while the SpeedyPacker® system''s two bulk tanks and skid of film take up just one-fourth of that space, roughly three pallets. Overall, the new packaging system requires about 75% less space in the warehouse than the paper dunnage. The freed-up space can now be used for additional storage of finished tools.

Cooper Hand Tools uses a computerized fulfillment process. Once a product order is received, a computer screen displays which of the seven corrugated carton sizes needs to be used for packaging based on the amount of items in the order and the estimated weight of the tools in the carton.

The tools are placed in a carton, which is sent by conveyor to the packaging area. Once there, the operator determines which of six available preset bag sizes to use. With the push of a button, the SpeedyPacker® foam-in-bag system dispenses a controlled amount of Instapak® UltraLite® foam into the film bag and seals the bag. The bag of rising foam is then placed on top of the tools in the carton, where the foam begins to conform to the shape of the items inside. The operator folds the sides of the carton down and it travels on the conveyor through the automatic case sealer. The packing list is placed manually on the carton, which is sent to the loading dock for distribution.

"The packages are well received by our customers," Schlegelmilch said. "The Instapak® UltraLite® foam cushions help prevent damage to the tools during shipment and can be reused by our customers, if needed."

Since switching to the SpeedyPacker® system, Cooper Hand Tools has had a reduction in the number of returned items. If a customer decides to send back tools, the Instapak® UltraLite® foam packaging can be reused to package the tools and help ensure that they arrive safely.

"The SpeedyPacker® foam-in-bag system enhanced our productivity and increased our warehouse storage space while maintaining the cost of our packaging," Schlegelmilch stated. "The system is easy to use and alleviated some of the strain our packaging operators were experiencing. With Sealed Air Corp''s help, we continue to improve our packaging operation at Cooper Hand Tools."

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