Three Ways to Boost Packaging Line Efficiency
Online Retailing Tools Spur Growth in E-commerce Operations
By Bradley Dunlap, director of product marketing for Industrial Packaging at Shurtape Technologies LLC
When Amazon and eBay launched in the mid-1990s, they weren’t the first e-commerce platforms in existence. But they were the entities that revolutionized the industry.
The two online shopping behemoths ushered in a complete transformation in the ways brands reach consumers and the means by which consumers make purchases. And their influence set e-commerce on a growth trajectory that exploded throughout the late ’90s, 2000s and beyond, with business of all sizes getting into the game of online retailing.
Today, the beauty of e-commerce is its low barrier to entry. Online retailing tools are so accessible and uncomplicated to implement that smaller retail startups can launch with relative ease and grow to medium- and large-scale operations quickly—and in some cases, faster than they’re prepared for.
The goal of any business is growth, and online retailers do so in a very direct way: by moving more product. But as more product moves, the pressure of up-scaling can become complicated when demand outpaces a retailer’s resources to keep pace with it.
Attracting consumers and making sales is only a fraction of the work. From small businesses that package and ship a few orders a day to large-scale operations that regularly deliver thousands of parcels to doorsteps across the country, order fulfillment, packaging and distribution are often more time-consuming elements of e-commerce. And it can become a tricky maze to navigate it all. The bigger an e-commerce operation becomes, the more challenging the logistics, which means implementing efficiencies into the process without sacrificing customer service is key to maintaining profitability.
There are many areas of logistics in which e-commerce businesses can streamline operations, enhance customer service and increase profitability along the way—and some of them may come in unexpected forms. For the purposes of this article, we will focus specifically on packaging line solutions—everything that takes place between order placement and parcel transit—and how certain practices can benefit growing e-commerce operations.
Here are three ways to bolster productivity, enhance efficiency and create positive brand experiences for customers through packaging operations.
Invest in automated case erecting and case sealing
COVID-19 introduced labor-heavy industries like e-commerce and fulfillment to the notion of “virus proofing” operations. Post-pandemic, the shortage and cost of reliable labor continues to be a perennial challenge, urging a growing number of medium- and large-scale e-commerce businesses to automate packaging processes. Manual labor still accounts for a large portion of erecting secondary packaging cases, filling them and sealing them in fulfillment warehouses. But the balance is beginning to shift to automating those parts of the packaging process.
Dave Franklin is the director of e-commerce & fulfillment solutions at industrial packaging distributor Associated Packaging and a former logistics and supply chain manager at Amazon. With this experience, he has a unique perspective on the e-commerce industry and how it is growing and evolving.
“Now that labor has become scarce and turnover is high, paying for labor and constantly retraining new employees have become significant challenges,” says Franklin. “All industries are looking to automate their packaging processes so they can run sustained productivity or even increase throughput while moving employees into roles that offer more value-add to the business.”
Automatic case erectors are machines that fold and assemble flat corrugated boxes and seal the bottom so that products can be placed within them; they apply packaging tape to the top of boxes to securely seal the package for transit.
There are two types of case sealing machines:
- semi-automatic, which requires an operator to close the carton flaps on top, then the machine conveys the package through a tape applicator
- fully automatic, which folds the top flaps automatically and conveys that package through for sealing
Both options are beneficial to medium- and large-scale e-commerce operations because they significantly cut down on the number of packaging line operators required, and they provide speed and efficiency to increase overall throughput. Case sealers also deliver consistent, secure seals, helping to ensure packages will remain closed through the rigors of transit.
Use high-quality packaging tape
Regardless of whether packaging is performed manually or via automated solutions, the quality of the packaging tape used is an important consideration. The quality of the tape directly impacts the security of shipping cases, and if cases arrive opened or with a damaged seal to consumers or businesses, it’s a sign of tamper. That can result in returns, complaints and negative reviews that damage an e-commerce brand’s reputation.
With automation, the quality of the packaging tape is even more consequential. If an inferior tape breaks or doesn’t have adequate adhesion to fully seal a case in the middle of the packaging line run, the entire line comes to a halt to avoid problems downstream. If the problem is persistent, seemingly small stoppages can add up over time to become a significant productivity and profit killer, particularly for larger-scale operations. It also results in wasted packaging material or, even worse, damage to packaging equipment that could require high-dollar repairs—in addition to lost profits from unplanned downtime.
Additionally, as more 100% post-consumer recycled corrugated cardboard is used in shipping case construction, it can cause adhesion issues for lower quality tapes because highly recycled surfaces are difficult to adhere to. Because the shipping process subjects cases to a high number of touches and lots of movement, unsecure seals can result in cases opening during transit.
When selecting a high-use product like packaging tape, there is a tendency to make decisions on price alone. But not all packaging tapes are created equal. Lower cost tapes often equate to lower quality, which comes with all the risks mentioned above.
Hot melt tapes offer superior strength and high durability, making them the ideal tape type for case sealing. Look for robust, high quality hot melt tapes from respected manufacturers. If in doubt about what brands or ratings to choose, distribution representatives can help assess your operational needs and offer recommendations.
Partner with a full-service packaging partner
Mechanical and product solutions that increase packaging line efficiency will no doubt impact operations positively. Having a vested packaging supply and service partner also offers strategic guidance, problem-solving backup and peace-of-mind for when mishaps occur.
Any packaging supplier or distributor will offer products and supplies that suit specific operational needs. But a true partner will also conduct hands-on training with your packaging staff, schedule regular check-ins to address operational pain points, equip in-house maintenance staff with best-practices for preventative maintenance, and even provide experienced technicians for on-call service if a major complication arises.
At Associated Packaging, Franklin has seen advantages through the company’s partnership with its packaging supplier—a partnership that also pays dividends to Associated Packaging’s e-commerce customers. Beyond packaging supplies alone, Associated Packaging enjoys the benefit of skilled technicians for routine service and upkeep of case sealing equipment, on-call repairs and training for in-house maintenance personnel when needed.
A single malfunction on one piece of packaging machinery can bring operational efficiencies to a halt. So having the backup of a knowledgeable partner with the resources to keep operations running smoothly is a huge benefit.
“We can say our solutions work up front,” Franklin says of interactions with his e-commerce partners, “but we’re also able to back up the products and service out on the packaging line.”
Positioning for growth in e-commerce
The opportunities for online retail in today’s consumer market are endless. As e-commerce companies continue to expand and grow, packaging lines are essential for productivity and profitability. By investing in packaging line solutions, online stores can gain a significant advantage by increasing their bottom line and powering their businesses forward into the future.
From smaller e-commerce brands aiming to sell more products to large-scale retailers expanding into new markets, packaging line efficiency is one key component to help achieve those goals.
About the Author
Bradley Dunlap, director of product marketing, packaging, for Shurtape Technologies LLC, is responsible for leading the product development and marketing support for the packaging tape and equipment category. He is a member of the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council (PSTC) and Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP). He is a graduate of Appalachian State University with a Bachelor’s degree in business management. Learn more online at https://shursealsecure.com/