The challenges with packaging operations in warehouse logistics
In warehouse logistics, many companies are working with several challenges at the moment. Especially in B2C, but the same challenges come in B2B and often with some delay. The first challenge is increased costs due to low order value and liberal order rules. Mainly because of the e-commerce boom. Therefore, there are a lot of investments and development in automation and robotics. Everything to meet the demands of the increased service and at the same time keep the costs down.
The next challenge in the warehouse is the demand for more volume efficient packages with as little environmental impact as possible. The ongoing climate debates have made customers more aware of the environmental impact. They are completely allergic to the air in their e-commerce packages. The transport companies are also becoming aware of transporting fresh air and implementing volumetric charging that can be expensive with oversized boxes.
Packaging operations have always been a real time-thief in warehouses and often almost completely manual. Often it is a real bottleneck in the warehouse flow. A half-hour before the trucks leave the warehouse, there is usually chaos in the packaging area with staff running into each other, looking for the right boxes and packing material to finish in time. This also affects the quality with the mixing of the goods from different orders as a result.
It is tough if not impossible to optimize manual packaging operations enough to meet the new demands. If you are going to handle an e-commerce flow with thousands of small packages per day, you need to automate the processes. In my opinion, it is often more profitable to first automate packaging and then look at the picking operations.
There are WMS solutions with pick and pack features that use master data from the goods you pick and calculates the total volume and weight in order to give the picker suggestions for the optimal package. In this way, you save a lot of expensive time. Many companies work with small suppliers with bad or no master data at all. There are solutions with advanced scanners and scales that can calculate the dimensions in no time at all and send it directly to WMS in the goods receiving area. Having the right data is critical for getting an efficient flow and being able to utilize the systems optimally.
Automating the process
The next step is to completely automate packaging and invest in machines that make boxes at exactly with the right volume or the shrinking materials etc. for the goods. In this way, you also avoid using filling materials. These machines can also be integrated with WMS to receive data about the products. You can automate the whole flow from picking, packing and labelling the box or bag.
I believe this is the way to go if you want to meet the demands of increased efficiency, quality and with a minimal environmental impact. Especially in e-commerce with so many packages with the low order value. You cannot optimize manual processes enough to compete with the new automation technology that creates exact packages on demand. In no time at all.
I think we only saw the beginning regarding automation of packing operations. Many companies try to develop new packing materials and machines to lower costs and minimize environmental impact.