At its European Regional Service Center in Venlo, Netherlands, the Access Business Group picks, packs and distributes approximately 7,000 packages per day containing a variety of consumer goods—from cosmetics and personal care products to pet food and household items-from Amway and other contract customers.
A new automated loose-fill protective packaging solution, installed in mid-2012, has increased packaging line throughput 133 percent to 14 shipments per minute. That, along with improved labor efficiencies, has saved the company about €40,000 annually.
The Access Business Group provides efficient logistics services for storage, picking and distribution of goods. At its "European Regional Service Center" (ERSC) in Venlo, the company offers roughly 20,000 square meters of floor space to store goods for 15 distribution centers supplying consumers across Europe. In total, the central warehouse has about 21,000 pallet storage spaces available on seven-stories of shelving.
Assessing the operation
Access started operating three semi-automatic loose-fill protective packaging lines in 2008. An air blower transported chips from a central silo, with a volume of 240 cubic meters, through ducts to the individual packing stations where operators used foot pedals to release the chips into cases via funnels.
In 2012, a periodic analysis of the protective packaging solution conducted by Storopack showed that this process was no longer satisfying Access Business Group's needs. The company was now aiming for the next level of performance, using fully automated processes to achieve greater productivity.
In response, Storopack developed a solution that improved equipment integration. A test assembly was used to evaluate all the key parameters. Based on this analysis, the team of technicians replaced the conveyor belt and increased the mouth of the funnel from 180mm to 250mm to speed up the filling process. This new solution was put into operation in the summer of 2012.
The company uses loose-fill Pelaspan BIO packing chips, made from vegetable starch, to fill cases already loaded with packaged goods for each customer's order. The chips automatically fall into voids, completely enveloping the products and filling out the package in just seconds, without the need for subsequent manual filling. The individual chips hook into each other to form snug protective packaging.
In the automated operation, packages travel by conveyor belt to the packing station, where the two side flaps on the cases are folded down automatically. A photoelectric sensor detects the position of the package and triggers the filling process, which is always set to the same volume. An air blower reduces overfilling to the desired level. Any packing chips that do not fall into the case are caught and fed back into the supply of packaging materials. The conveyor belt transports the case to the sealing machine at the end of the packaging line, which closes the flaps and applies adhesive tape.
The entire protective packaging process is now carried out without requiring any personnel. The fully automated process handles about 75 percent of yearly shipments. And the Access Business Group still has two of the previous semi-automated packing stations available for use during peak periods.
Chris Werner, operations manager of Access Business Group, commends Storopack for the consulting services it provided. "We were able to take this step in a timely manner because Storopack was constantly at our side ready to provide support," Werner says. "We are now faster, more efficient and have lowered our running costs."