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Automated packaging system is a gem for overstock.com

Lauren R. Hartman

March 11, 2015

8 Min Read
Automated packaging system is a gem for overstock.com

146766-pdx0906overstock2.jpgIt's hard to believe, but this year, overstock.com celebrates 10 years in business as an online retailer/liquidation outlet offering discount, brand-name merchandise—everything from bedding to musical instruments. Patrick Byrne founded the company in 1999 to sell huge quantities of excess items left over from the dot-com bust. Since then, overstock.com has grown to become a bargain hunter's online dream outlet, offering more than 700,000 products.

Quality assurance for overstock.com's products is of the utmost importance to the company and fulfillment manager, Dyke Simmons, who is a gemologist responsible for ensuring the jewelry overstock sells. At the company's 360,000-sq-ft facility in Salt Lake City, UT, Simmons began hunting for a new, automated packaging machine to package jewelry, as well as DVDs and CDs. Prior to finding Sealed Air's (www.sealedair.com) PriorityPak® automated packaging system, overstock.com was using specialty boxes and paper mailers and a manual packing process that required up to six people a day. Speed and versatility were overstock.com's top priorities, along with security and durable packages. The retailer evaluated several other systems before choosing PriorityPak but it couldn't find equipment that delivered less movement of the products inside the packages, a high degree of protection and an overall attractive appearance to the containers.

Previously, packaging personnel had to load the products brought in from carts into thin paper mailer envelopes. The paper mailers occasionally got caught on the conveyor and didn't easily convey downstream, so they had to be placed into totes that traveled to a station where the filled envelopes were weighed, scanned and sorted into bins before being loaded onto trucks for shipment.

Ahead of the pack

The PriorityPak system allows an operator to accurately place the right label on each package. The previous packing process took eight operators up to eight hours by hand versus what just one operator can do today using the PriorityPak equipment. Now, the company has had two Priority Pak systems installed within about a year of each other. The equipment allows the other seven operators to work on alternate packaging lines that experience backup and may need extra help.


At overstock.com, jewelry, CD's, DVD's and more are packed on two systems that compress material around the items.

Simmons packaged and shipped numerous items to the company's corporate office to determine if the packaging could hold up. “We have several different packaging methods, depending on the type of item being shipped,” he states. “It's [especially] important for our jewelry to be packed quickly and shipped in a tight-fitting package so there is minimal shifting and little damage.”

With automated equipment, overstock.com wanted to boost its throughput and justify the equipment purchase in less than a year, if possible.

Simmons noticed that other packaging methods left excess space inside the shipping cases, which could cause products to shift, and possibly cause damage. The PriorityPak system utilizes technology that compresses the packing material around the product, which put Sealed Air's system ahead of other systems in Simmons' evaluation.

The new packaging process is simple and allows operators to package and label products in a single-step. Once a jewelry item is brought to the packaging area, an operator removes a label from the product's corresponding packing slip and applies it to a top layer of PriorityWrap® bubble film laminate. The operator then places an item with the packaging slip on a web of Cold Seal® cohesive-coated protective bubble laminate.


It used to take eight operators eight hours to pack what just one can do today with the automated packing units.

The PriorityWrap laminate is made up of Sealed Air's TuffGuard® film, laminated on the outside with a 3/16-in. barrier Bubble Wrap® layer in the center and a cold-seal film laminate on the inside.

“It's a one-in; one-out concept,” explains Jeff Zahansky, Sealed Air's business manager for automated packaging. “The shipping label is applied to the substrate before the package is made, and the PriorityPak system scans the dimensions of the product or products being packed as they move into it. The system can line up the package with the right shipping label for one-hundred-percent pack-sequence verification.”

After applying a shipping label to the top web of Cold-Seal packing material, the operator places the item with a packing slip on the bottom web of packing material. The item then moves through the system on the bottom web of material from the roll. The PriorityPak cushioning machine senses the item and begins the packaging process, creating a finished package with minimal product shifting.

Polished process


An operator checks an item moving through the packing machine on the bottom web of cushioning / material from a roll. 

Today, orders come to the two PriorityPak machines with the picking/packing slip and a pressure-sensitive shipping label. An operator places the order with the picking/packing slip on the bottom web against a product-detection gate and presses a button to advance the product forward into the machine.

Each PLC-driven PriorityPak system's smart-sensing scanner checks the product's dimensions to deliver the right amount of cohesive-coated bubble cushioning/wrapping material from two rolls feeding into the system.

The specially formulated Cold Seal coating sticks to itself, not to the product, and creates a seal on all four sides of the item, suspending it in the middle of the packaging to add extra corner protection.

The two webs of material come together and are rolled as they go through the machine, which applies pressure all around the product being packed. The package exits the machine and the product is ready to ship. The package then drops onto a conveyor belt before it's automatically sorted on an Accu-Sort (www.accusort.com) sorter and delivered to a bin for shipping.

Other equipment added

“We added two Fill-Air® inflatable void-fill systems with overhead delivery to speed up our packaging for small, bulk and multiple item shipments,” Simmons points out.

overstock.com has come to depend on the void-fill systems from Sealed Air, which make inflatable cushioning for extra protective applications. One of the systems is used on two different downstream lines.

“And the overhead dispenser allows several operators to pull cushions from different angles,” he says. The product-containment and protective packaging system with advanced sensor technology are suitable for fluctuating volumes and variable packaging requirements, allowing operators to generate up to 20 packages/min, depending on the product size, versus one to three packages/min manually. PriorityPak generates a compact, custom package that can lower postage costs.

Cuts costs in the longrun


One of the two PLC-driven automated packing machines, above. Equipped withproduct-sensing scanners, the packing machine cut labor and packing time.

“We are pleased with the PriorityPak system,” Simmons says. “There's very little training involved, and it helps us in sorting. All of our items are packaged, weighed and sorted quickly and automatically.”

During peak season, overstock.com typically packages up to 2,500 shipments a day. One operator per machine can easily handle the packages in about eight hours, which previously would have required about 64 hours of collective labor.

Along with saving time, the new packing systems help eliminate waste and excess packaging material.

“We were overpackaging our products—not anymore,” Simmons points out. “The operators don't need to think about which box to choose for different products.”

“The system delivers the perfect amount of material every time, he says. “Although the packing material is slightly more expensive than mailers, we're actually saving money.”

Can't keep them down

“We tried shutting down the system for one day to see the effects, but the lack of proficiency without it was too great,” Simmons says.

overstock.com also uses Jiffylite® cushioned mailers for some of its manually packaged shipments and a 53-ft-long trailer supplies rolls of Bubble Wrap bubble cushioning that protects various items such as dinner ware, digital cameras, MP3 players, iPods and many other popular products.

More information is available:

Sealed Air Corp., Protective Packaging, 800/648-9093. www.prioritypaksystem.com.

Accu-Sort Systems, 800/227-2633. www.accusort.com.

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