Filling the Void, Part Two

This is the second in a series on how to pack and fill parcels before shipping them. Last month we took a look at paper and peanut void fill options. To view the story, go toFilling the Void .

Many types of fill and void-fill equipment have been introduced during the past 20 years. Let’s look at some of the more-modern solutions this month:

Air pillows — These offer excellent protection and are very strong. They won’t mat down no matter how long the trip. They can fill a void rapidly and effectively, but they are very slippery. As a result, heavy items may shift around when protected with bags. This could be a problem if a fragile item works its way to the edge of a shipping container.

Foam bags and foam on demand — Foam can be used to create customized cushioning for higher-value items. For instance, you can create molds that can inexpensively generate form-fitting foam pads to protect delicate equipment or fragile items. Foam can also be fit into a random void and will expand to fill it perfectly after a box is sealed. Foam is superior to other void fill in one aspect: It can fix materials securely in place in the shipping container.

Inflatable bags — Like foam in place, an inflatable bag can be inflated to fill a void perfectly. Unlike foam in place, the inflatable bag will not conform perfectly to the item it is protecting, and it may allow the item to shift around in transit.

Overhead dispensing systems — All void fill systems can be set up to work with an overhead dispensing system. The advantage of an overhead dispensing system is that materials can be brought into the void under the force of gravity. Slower systems can be used at a single pack station. High-speed systems can be used “in line” when a train of open boxes is fed under the dispenser. Depending on the type of system used, overhead systems can dramatically speed up the time to fill a single order.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based Warehouse Management Consultants.