Ever had to wrap a gift in a box? It's a challenge finding a corrugated box that fits (or almost fits), cramming wadded paper or other extra material to keep the present safe, and making sure the item is secure before you send it to the recipient. Now, multiple that one item by hundreds-or thousands-and you'll get an idea of why large-format printing and packaging firm Meisel, made the switch to on-demand packaging.
The idea behind the Packsize technology is enabling packaging operations to make boxes that are tailor-made to hold the product at hand, when and where they're needed. The concept cuts inventory costs, frees up warehouse space and (because less supplementary packing is needed to keep the product from rattling around a too-big carton) cuts down materials expenses.
Meisel, based in Carrolton, TX, is a full-service company that specializes in large-format printing and packaging for retail products for a diverse roster of high-profile clients. Its customers range from outdoors outfitter REI, to shoe giants like Nike and Puma, to multinational fast-food companies such as KFC and McDonald's. The items that the company is called on to produce packaging for is as varied as the list of its clients.
According to Meisel evp Hoddy Peck, keeping stock-size boxes to fulfill clients' needs was problematic. The inventory took up valuable floor space that could have been used to bring in other work, ordering boxes for a job required lead time, gobbled up shipping costs and (because boxes usually didn't fit exactly right) also required investment in filling material. Peck was, like many other packaging professionals, frustrated by the waste in time and material caused by box-making business as usual.
"For many years, people have been packaging products the same way," says Brandon Brooks, vp of marketing for Packsize. "They'll make a widget, then they buy preset sizes of boxes, which they'll store. Then, once the widget is made, they'll shove it into the box. The system is inefficient-it's hard to predict how many boxes you'll need, when you'll need them, etc. It's a supply chain nightmare."
Sascha Tietje, cost reduction and packaging executive at Packsize, approached Peck at a packaging association event. Peck saw an opportunity to make a diff erence at his operation, and to meet goals relating to process improvement and sustainability.
"A lot of the attributes of the equipment and how the workflow is tied to the technology fit in with what we were trying to do," Peck says. "The concept of custom-made boxes that are right-sized appealed to us." He adds that because the company is certified as a Sustainable Green Printing operation, the idea of avoiding the material waste associated with using added material to pad items in boxes, or to discard unused boxes when they become obsolete, investing in the Packsize system made sense. His interest increased when a colleague at a Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn. meeting raved about the Packsize product. He traveled to a facility to see the machinery in action, and decided to give it a try in his own operation.
The Packsize system consists of an automated packaging machine using Windows-based operating software to create boxes according to custom dimensions. Corrugated board (supplied by Corrugated Supplies Co.) feeds into the machine to construct boxes in widths ranging from 10.63 to 94.49 in., in a range of thicknesses, with no limit on box length. The system is able to perform a range of complex functions, including longitudinal/transverse cutting, creasing, perforation, and creation of handles and holes. Meisel uses the multi-faceted EM-725 model, with the Auto Gluer II automated gluing module attached; the EM-6, geared toward large-box production, also is available.
While the block of fanfolded corrugated takes up some square footage, the tradeoff is noteworthy compared to when Meisel relied on an inventory of stock boxes.
"It opened up a lot of rack space," he says, adding that the warehouse space previously taken up by inventoried corrugated boxes now is used to store replacement parts for equipment around the plant.
Further, the Packsize system eliminates problems associated with ordering a large number of stock boxes in a particular size for a client, only to find them gathering dust and eventually tossed on the recycling pile when the client no longer needs them.
"Obsolescence is no longer a problem," says Tietje. "Waste is brought down to nearly zero, because you don't make a box unless you need it."
Making a difference
Another benefit of the system is that Meisel can provide its clients with tailored product. One of the earlier jobs Meisel handled with its new Packsize system is a project for shoe retailer Johnston & Murphy. Set to deliver to 200 different stores, the job normally would have called for Meisel staff to order boxes with dimensions close to their needs, then wait for them to arrive. The Packsize system enabled them to enter the precise dimensions, produce a single box to determine if the size was appropriate, make necessary adjustments, then produce containers that fit the project perfectly.
While the machine has only been in place since the second week of November 2011, Peck says the company's accounting staff already has seen an impact.
"Return on investment analysis says we're saving approximately 25 percent of our costs," Peck says. "In December, when we looked at packaging costs as a bulk item on our profit-and-loss statement, the numbers seem to be significantly improved. The Packsize system gives us tangible savings in our packaging costs. It's so much more than just a better box."