Surviving the Perfect Storm Impacting Packaging and Shipping Operations

By Peter Schwoerer, Vice President at CMES Robotics Inc.

Packaging and shipping operations across all market segments were already being squeezed prior to 2020 by tight labor markets and cost pressures. The pandemic created the perfect storm in 2020 by not only intensifying an already tight labor market, but also by the exponential growth in all forms of eCommerce B2B and B2C.

To meet this exponential growth logistical operations need to be able to scale in complexity quickly to meet a growing demand, while your company ensures you are offering the same level of quality, consistency and safety with each delivery. Of course whole also controlling costs and dealing with a fierce competitive environment.

Automation is seen by many packaging and shipping operations managers as a cost effective means to overcome labor shortage and the ability to handling the exponential growth in package handling. Freeing your workforce from repetitive and tedious tasks is one of the most cost effective moves an operations team can make. The additional benefits of increased safety and reduced material cost only increase the ROI achieved by automating select processes.

Where and how to automate is the question being asked by many operations teams. There are two key areas to take a look at, “void-filling” and “palletization/de-palletization” that can provide significant benefits by the use of automation.

Automating void-filling

Void-filling provides the accurate amount of protective packaging within your boxes ensuring two issues are accomplished, the items arrive at the destination intact and that only the required amount of protective packaging is utilized reducing waste and cost.

In an unautomated world of packaging and shipping an employee must take a box filled with items and estimate the amount of fill material needed often overfilling thus creating waste or worse under filling a box leading to damaged product during shipment. This is a boring, repetitive and tedious job to ask anyone to do for an eight hour shift without errors.

Now if you automate this process, the box containing the items which can be of any shape or size is accurately scanned with a 3D sensor creating a point cloud map of data points. This information is sent to the artificial intelligence (AI) software to calculate the exact void within the box. This information is sent to the dispensing unit of the protective packing material to fill the box accurately as it moves down your packaging line. You have now freed that employee from a boring, repetitive and tedious task enabling them to work on more complex tasks. You have also controlled your cost by using only the exact amount of packing material needed and ensuring customer satisfaction by the products arriving intact.

Automating palletization/de-palletization

The exponential growth in eCommerce has meant more packages coming and going, whether you are a manufacturer of shipping products or a fulfillment center receiving products that will eventually be turned around the sheer number of packages being handled daily has exploded.

Loading and unloading pallets of packages is a strenuous job that often leads to injuries and all the associated costs of an on the job injury. Just as with void-filling, automating this process eliminates the risk of employee injuries while also providing consistent package handling.

The automation process begins with the pallet of packages, which are often of different sizes and shapes being scanned with a 3D sensor. The sensor sends this information to the AI software to calculate the size and location of each package creating the most efficient path for de-palletization to take place and placement of the packages.

It is estimated that by 2040 95 percent of purchases will be made online, so now is the time to take a look at your packing and shipping operations to find those areas that will benefit from automation and free up your employees for more complex tasks. Automation takes away the repetitive, tedious and boring tasks while increasing efficiency and productivity.

Void-filling and the palletization/de-palletization processes are two of the areas that can provide a fast ROI of your investment in automation.

About the Author:

Peter Schwoerer is the vice president of CMES Robotics Inc. America’s operations. CMES Robotics Inc. is an enabling technology that allows industries to overcome a critical labor crunch through robotic automation. CMES Robotics AI gives Robots eyes and a brain to free workers from repetitive, tedious, and boring tasks, allowing them to handle more critical tasks.

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