Many different types of fill and void fill equipment have been introduced over the past 20 years. Let’s take a look at some of the systems that have been around the longest, and proceeding to the most modern systems commonly available.
Hand crumpled paper – Hand crumpled paper has been with us as the original packing material, and it probably began with the invention of newspaper. Today, companies provide flat sheets of craft paper in different thicknesses; this paper can be crumpled and fit to fill a void. It is one of the slowest of all void systems, but it can be used effectively to pack almost any type of material. Like all paper solutions, the longer distance that your packages travel, the more the paper will tend to matt down, and the less protective capacity it will have.
Machine created paper pads – Paper pads were one of the first automated paper solutions. Pads can be created to specific lengths and can be filled to a reservoir or created on demand. If you have only a couple of different shipping container sizes, pre-cut pads can work well. Pads can also be used for variable sized boxes—you can throw in the pads as you would any crumpled paper.
Continuous flow paper – Continuous stream paper is an alternative to paper pads. Several different types of machines are now available ranging from a single workstation system to very high-speed in-line systems. A neat feature of continuous stream systems is that paper can be use to wrap items as it is dispensed, and can also be directed to fill specific voids in containers as it is dispensed.
Peanuts – Peanuts are terrific cushioning material. The problem is that most customers hate the mess that they make, and some consumers don’t like any type of non-biodegradable product. Styrofoam peanuts have superior cushioning capacity and are very light. Peanuts can also be purchased that are made of starch, but the starch peanuts have less cushioning capability and can matt down more than Styrofoam, but they are 100% biodegradable. Also, starch peanuts may get sticky in hot humid weather, so they may not be ideal if they are stored for a long period of time, and they may create pest problems since they are an edible material.
Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based Warehouse Management Consultants.