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Case or Tray Packaging of Stand Up Pouches

Robotic Industries Association

Due to the unique dynamics of stand up pouches, case and/or tray packing of stand up pouches is dependent on engineering, marketing, shipping, financing and more. [Exhibit - Corporate Structure] Engineering is concerned with providing a means to efficiently, quickly and flexibly pack stand up pouches into shipping containers using minimal labor and floor space.  Marketing is driven by providing a shipping container to satisfy their customers' demands.  Shipping is judged by providing a pallet of product with the greatest number of pouches in order to reduce the price of delivering the product to the retailers.  Financing is concerned with all of the above and more due to a need to maximize sales while minimizing packaging and shipping costs.  The following is a case study describing how the unique dynamics of stand up pouches led to a cooperative effort between engineering, marketing, shipping and financing to provide the most efficient and attractive case and tray packaging of stand up pouches.  In order to protect the anonymity of the corporation involved in this case study, I will refer to them as Corporation X.


I. The Problem  - Monday, Day 1

A new food product has passed the consumer taste test in several test markets.  Upper management at Corporation X sends four E-Mail notes to the managers of engineering, marketing, shipping and finance.  The E-Mail states the following:

Our test marketing on the cucumber and rice chips was a great success in regional test markets.  Our new Jupiter plant will begin production of the chips in eight months with a full roll out to the public in twelve months.  We have chosen to pack the chips in stand up bags because they are less expensive than bag-in-box packaging, resealable and able to be run our existing vertical form/fill/seal machines.  It is your task to provide secondary packaging that meets all of our needs.  Please work together to provide a solution.  We will meet in the main conference room one week from today.  At that meeting, I expect a final presentation of your successful solution.

Where do each of these groups begin?  How do they satisfy their own needs while not harming the demands of the other departments?  Is a satisfactory solution attainable?  We will explore the demands of each department, paying special attention to the engineering department and the demands placed on engineering by the other departmental decisions, in a chronological review of our case study of Corporation X.


II. The Initial Design - Monday through Friday, Days 2 - 5

The initial presentation of the stand up bags is determined by marketing.  After deciding on the graphics on the outside of the bag, resealability of the bag and more, marketing must decide how the bags will be presented to the retailer.  In this case, as in many others, marketing makes an initial decision prior to consulting engineering, shipping and financing.

The initial design is to pack the bags standing up in a hooded carton. [Exhibit - Bags in Hooded Carton].   The bags will be placed in two rows of six bags facing the minor end panel of the tray.   According to marketing, the hooded carton is the perfect display for the retailer.  The hood is easy to remove.  The tray provides excellent graphics.  The graphics on the individual bags are upright and facing the customer.  The bags themselves stand up naturally within the tray.  Even when bags are removed, the remaining bags stay standing. 

Marketing produces a sample carton and sends the carton to each of the other departments for their review.  Each department provides a response stating their acceptances and rejections.  Unfortunately, the objections win in a landslide.

Financing looked into the expense of hooded cartons.  The amount of corrugate used is excessive, making the case very costly.  The shiny graphics on a sturdy E-Flute is also expensive.  Therefore, in comparison to the cost of other shipping containers available on the market, the hooded carton is not the choice of financing. [Exhibit - Corrugate Usage]

Expense and waste is also a primary concern of shipping.  Because the bags are all tapered, there is a great amount of wasted space between the bags standing in the hooded carton. [Exhibit - Air within the Carton]  Shipping air is not going to boost profits.  In addition, the E-Flute carton does not stack very well.  Double walls within the hooded carton or a secondary shipping container will be necessary to support the individual cartons on a pallet.  Shipping's summary indicates that due to the amount of empty space within the carton, almost fifty percent more product could be shipped in a more tightly packed case. 

Finally, the Corporation X salespeople report that only ten to fifteen percent of retailers are actually displaying the pouches within the shipping container.  The vast majority of retailers hang the pouches on a peg board or place the pouches directly on the store shelf.  Therefore, the salespeople question the need to standardize on a hooded carton.

Engineering chimes in with the expense of machinery to produce the clam shell carton, pack the carton and seal the carton.  Not only is the equipment costly, but is takes up considerable floor space and is not flexible.  Changing pack patterns is next to impossible in a short time period on most available machinery that packs hooded cartons.  In addition, multiple variations of pack patterns is impossible on a typical dedicated machine.  Therefore, if the pack pattern were to change, a new case or carton style to be produced or the product failed, there would be little use for standard carton packing machinery in the future.
Marketing reviewed the concerns and realities presented by each department.  The entire group meets as a whole for the first time to determine how to proceed.  The decision comes down to which group can provide the best resources, most objectivity and best results?  The consensus among the departments is to allow engineering to take over the design and packaging of the stand up pouches.  A follow-up meeting is scheduled in one week.


III. Engineering a Case or Carton Design - Friday Day 5

With the outcome of the project firmly within their grasp, engineering set out to seek a successful compromise solution.  The first step for engineering is to summarize the objectives of the automation project from all perspectives.  They must be creative in design, efficient in cost and space and flexible in machinery. 

Fulfilling all of these objectives appears to be an ominous task, especially with the limited labor, time and money facing the engineering department.  Like many large corporations, when corporate downsizing was in fashion, the middle management, including many corporate engineers, were let go.  Therefore, these same corporations have to rely more on outside engineering companies and their vendors.  Corporation X's corporate engineering was slashed from eighteen engineers to four.  They agree to look within and also turn to their vendors.

The field of case and tray packing is fairly limited in the United States.  Individually, there are many companies who can form or erect cases or trays, many companies who can pack cases or trays and many companies who can seal cases or trays.  However, the companies who manufacture machinery to perform all three necessary tasks with stand up pouches is limited. 

The Corporation X engineering group decides to write a detailed project specification sheet. [Exhibit - Specification Sheet]  This specification sheet is faxed to ten vendors throughout the United States.  Four of these vendors specialize in tray and case forming and sealing, three of these vendors specialize in tray and case packing and three of these vendors specialize in all necessary functions.  The specification outlines the product characteristics, bag dimensions, alternate pack patterns and probable case or carton sizes.  In addition, the specification highlights the necessity for the vendor to be creative and to present alternative ideas if able.  Finally, the specification concludes that time is of the essence.  Each vendor must present their packaging ideas, using written, video or other materials along with budgetary estimates within ten percent (10%) of guaranteed cost.  The fax is sent to all vendors on Friday, Day 5, with a response time of no later than the following Thursday, Day 9.

In addition to sending the fax to the packaging machinery vendors on Day 5, the engineering manager places five phone calls to the five primary packaging vendors of Corporation X.  The phone calls are meant to provide an opportunity for each of these vendors to ask questions about the project and to gain additional understanding of the undertaking.  These phone calls are viewed by Corporation X as an award to their vendors for past services.

Prior to leaving the office for the weekend, the engineering department meets briefly to outline the plan for the upcoming week.  They divide the responsibilities within the department as follows: [Exhibit - Engineering Tasks]

  • the engineering manager to monitor and compile all information as well   as partake in all presentations;
  • the senior project manager to work with the five primary vendors;
  • one project manager to work with the other five selected vendors    as well as seeking out any additional vendors; and
  • the other project manager to design and create an internal solution.


IV.  Vendor and Internal Solutions - Monday through Thursday, Days 6 - 9

To everyone's pleasant surprise, four of the five primary vendors respond to the initial fax before noon on Day 6.  By 5:00 pm, all five primary vendors have set appointments and four additional vendors are lined up before Thursday.  Only one vendor declines quote on the project.  Appointments are set up at Corporation X for vendor presentations with three per day, Tuesday to Thursday.

In the meantime, the project engineer working with other solutions contacts the two main corrugate suppliers for Corporation X.  Within each of the major corrugate manufacturing companies, there are both experienced case or carton design teams as well as packaging equipment experts.  The two corrugate suppliers are told of the problem and the need for an expedient solution.  They agreed to participate fully in the search for solutions.  A sampling of case and carton samples is promised for tomorrow.  With the samples will come a cost breakdown of the corrugate cases and cartons.  In addition, pallet configurations will be produced for each of the examples.  Finally, the corrugate manufacturers pledge to help in any way to supply case or carton blanks during the process.

Through Thursday, multiple solutions are presented.  Some solutions are more complex and rigid than the original idea.  Other solutions have great flexibility but with great cost and floor space requirements.  Overall, there are some intriguing ideas presented to the engineering group.  While the project mangers meet with the nine vendors, the engineering manager and the other project manager script what they are ultimately striving for as follows in descending order: [Exhibit Criteria]

  • flexibility - ability to pack multiple pack patterns, bag sizes and case     sizes on one system;
  • footprint - minimal footprint between centerline of baggers and aisle - way constraints;
  • cost - capital cost must meet three year return on investment or better based on five day per week, two shifts per day operation;
  • corrugate - minimize usage due to increasing costs and floor space for storage;
  • user-friendly - ease of operation and maintenance for plant with minimal changeover for different patterns and sizes; and
  • service and support - strong technical service team to provide programming and technical assistance.

Thursday afternoon comes quickly for the engineering team.  The project engineers review their findings and recommendations with the engineering manager.  The most intriguing ideas come in the form of the coupled systems with flexibility.  Coupled systems provide a smaller footprint, less cost and are user friendly.  However, they also do not allow accumulation of cases between case forming and case packing and after case packing into case sealing.  [Exhibit - Coupled and Decoupled Layouts]  Therefore, an analysis must be completed regarding coupling or decoupling the modules.

The pack pattern within the case provide a variety of solutions.  A drop packer provides the least expensive solution with the least amount of flexibility and the greatest amount of necessary case footprint.  Whereas, horizontal pick and place case packer provides a great amount of flexibility, least amount of corrugate usage but a greater machinery cost.  Finally, a vertical case packer provides great displayability at a greater cost.  The ability of one manufacturer to provide both horizontal and vertical case packing on one machine provides the most flexible solution at the greatest cost.

In addition, the case format presents numerous ideas.  Machinery that has the ability to form trays or tray style cases has appeal in terms of flexibility for the future.  In addition, bliss cases, providing great stacking strength with minimal board usage raises the level of interest.  However, the footprint of both the tray former and bliss case former will mandate a small case packer and sealer footprint.  Another intriguing idea comes in the form of an R.S.C. case that can be packed horizontally and displayed and/or palletized vertically.  This idea captures the greatest amount of attention because it can be formed on a standard case erector, packed on a standard horizontal pick and place case packer and displayed on a retailers shelf vertically. 

With all the information in hand, the engineering manager thanks his staff for their hard work and sends them home for the evening to prepare for a full Friday of decision making. 


V. The Engineered Solution - Day 10

The ideal world provides a solution for packing the stand up pouches in a hooded carton either horizontally or vertically utilizing machinery in minimal footprint at a low cost.  The real world does not provide this solution.  Therefore, the engineering team must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.

The layout allows at most two pieces of small equipment within the confines of a ten foot centerline between baggers and twenty-five feet from the bagger to the palletizing conveyors.  [Exhibit alternative layouts]   If two pieces of equipment are selected, two criteria must be met.  First, there must be ample empty case accumulation.  The greatest chance of a jam in the system occurs at the case erecting and bottom sealing station.  Due to corrugate being too tightly banded or glued together, case forming may cause the greatest potential of downtime.  However, if corrugate supplies meet the PMMI chartered requirements, case jamming should be minimal.  [Exhibit - PMMI Corrugate Standards]  Second, the case former must have flexibility to form multiple sizes and styles of cases.  Stacking strength and displayability are project requirements.

The second and most integral piece of machinery, the case packer, requires greater demands than any other piece of equipment.  First, it must pack at speeds up to 90 bags per minute.  Second, the layer count may be as few as 2 bags and as many as 4 bags.  Third, the pack pattern may necessitate horizontal columnar stack (A Pattern), bag shingling, 180 interlocking bags per layer, vertical pack and ninety degree rotation (B Pattern) (Exhibit pack patterns).  Fourth, the changeover between pack patterns must be 10 minutes or less.  Fifth, the case packer must handle a variety of case sizes.  Finally, there may be many other requirements in the future. 

The case sealer is the last piece of the equation.  Hot melt adhesive versus tape is the only choice here.  Over the past few years, hot melt systems have advanced in reliability, user friendliness and lower cost.  In addition, on many coupled systems, a hot melt closing system saves valuable floor space.  Furthermore, a hot melt adhesive is hidden, and, therefore, more attractive on a store shelf or end of aisle display than a taped case.  Finally, many retailers complain that they have to cut tape off the cases and often puncture the bags within the case.  The sealing method of choice in this case is hot melt adhesive.

Finally, vendor selection is critical in terms of reliability, quality machinery, timely deliveries and technical support.  A vendor site visit is the most important criteria in the selection process along with past performance and references.  Immediately, two vendors are eliminated due to past performance with Corporation X.  Three vendors jump to the top of the list due to past performance with Corporation X.  The remaining four vendors have all received positive references.  However, only three of the vendors can provide either a complete solution or an integrated solution that they can support.  Two of the vendors offer a flexible decoupled solution while the third vendor provides an even more flexible coupled and a creative solution.

Based on the low return on investment as figured by financial, the minimal available footprint and a flexible low cost solution, the choice of equipment is quickly selected.   A coupled system is given the nod over a decoupled system.  The reasoning behind this selection is due to the reduction in floor space and lower price.  Furthermore, the strong history of performance of the corrugate supplier quality helps the cause for a coupled solution.  Even though providing both horizontal and vertical packing on the same frame is preferred, the ability to pack horizontally and display vertically is sufficient.  R.S.C. cases are also selected due to the ability to form, pack and seal on a single frame.  The R.S.C. case will have an interlocked pack pattern to minimize corrugate usage and maximize pallet usage.  A second case will be designed to pack columnar, non-interlocked, in a perforated case that can be set up for end of aisle displays.  A hot melt adhesive sealing method is also selected for both case top and bottom. [Exhibit - The Final Solution]

VII. The Summary Document

The engineering department's summary paper to the departmental committee includes the chosen case designs and packaging machinery.  With the help of all departments, the summary document highlights the savings of almost 2 billion square inches of warehousing and shipping space per year.  In addition, corrugate savings total almost fifty percent over the hooded tray originally selected.   The total savings is estimated at almost $2,000,000.00 per year.  In addition, the capital cost savings totals another $1,000,000.00.

The flexibility of the system, user-friendliness, layout and especially the monetary savings provide an automated system that satisfies all departments at Corporation X.  In addition, the solution is expected to please the customer. 

With the teachings of this case study, we all hope that your next adventure into automating where there are numerous departments and people to please, will be that much easier. 

 

 

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