Packing It In

It’s not always easy to find innovation in packing materials. After all, how many times can you reinvent the packing peanut or improve upon plastic air-pillow wrap? But perhaps motivated by rising postal rates and the new dimensional weight charges from the major parcel carriers, manufacturers of packaging systems and materials have been launching products and programs that improve operational efficiencies and free up warehouse and delivery-truck space. Let’s take a look at some recent packaging offerings.


Cincinnati-based Storopack in March introduced the Airplus machine for on-demand production of lightweight, air-bubble cushioning. It creates two types of cushioning: a quilt-patterned option with 3/4-in. cells that is best suited for void-fill applications and a tubelike, wave-patterned cushioning with 1/2-in. cells suitable for wrapping items for protection during shipping. The machine can generate either choice at a speed of 30 ft. per minute using ambient air. A 30-lb. roll of 1,550-ft. × 13-in. film produces a 12-in. web, which is perforated every 6 in. yielding 95 cubic ft. of quilt cushioning or 75 cubic ft. of wave cushioning.

Storopack’s AIRplus Bag Separator, also launched this year, combines the best attributes of air pillows with the free-flowing, easy-loading aspects of loose fill, says spokesperson Jim Wahl. This machine simplifies the dispensing of air pillows by separating strands of cushions into single units. The machine separates 8-in. × 4-in. or 8-in. × 8-in. bags at a rate of 40 bags per minute for straight feed or 140 bags per minute when feeding a reservoir. Storopack reports throughput increases of 18%-30% over manual bag separation at initial installations. The machine measures a compact 26-in. × 26-in. × 41-in.


Automated Packaging Systems introduced the AirPouch Express 3 tabletop system last year. The void-fill system produces air pillows on demand at a rate of more than 50 ft. per minute. The Cleveland-based manufacturer contends that the AirPouch Express 3 is fast enough for high-volume applications yet cost-effective even for operations that use as little as 200 cubic ft. of packing material a week.

AirPouch Express 3 produces air pillows in continuous strips. The pillows are quickly and easily separated by virtue of an EZ-Tear perforation (a partial cut through the regular perforation). The system weighs just 35 lbs. and has a footprint of 20.5-in. × 12-in. × 14-in., requiring minimal space on the shipping floor. Air pillows are offered in sizes ranging from 8 in. × 8 in. to 8 in. × 12 in. The amount of air per pillow can be adjusted to create rigid pillows for tight packing or floppier pillows that can be molded around a product.

The air-pillow material feeds from a box. When the AirPouch Express 3 runs in automatic mode, an optional sensor controls the system to maintain an ongoing supply of pillows as the packer needs them. In semi-automatic mode, the system can be set to produce any quantity of material required. In manual mode, the operator uses a hand and foot switch to start and stop production.


Also introduced last year, by Streetsboro, OH-based Automated Packaging Systems, was a line of flexible, automated bagging systems for catalog fulfillment and short-run packaging applications. The Autobag AB 180 OneStep and Autobag AB 255 OneStep systems automate the process of staging and sealing bags. Both systems print high-resolution text, graphics, and barcodes on the bags as the bags are being staged.

The systems integrate with barcode scanners and shipping and customer databases for simplified data management and enhanced accuracy in packing and shipping. When an operator scans an order form or invoice, shipping information is pulled from the database. The imprinter prints the shipping data and barcode on the bag; the bag is then pulled and staged for the operator. Each barcoded item going into the bag is scanned, ensuring that the right products are going into the right bag.

The AB 180 OneStep accommodates small and midsize products in bags up to 11 in. × 25 in. The AB 255 OneStep system is available in vertical or horizontal configurations and accommodates larger products, with bag sizes up to 16 in. × 27 in. Both systems operate at speeds up to 30 bags per minute.

Depending on the operator, the automated process can be completed in about one-third the time of a manual process, says Automated Packaging director of marketing Tim Groff: “We’ve been able to give many of these operations a return on their investment in six months or less.”


The FillTeck inflatable packaging system from Elmwood Park, NJ-based Sealed Air Corp. creates custom-size air-filled cushions on demand. Announced in 2006 and available in two models, the FillTeck system allows operators to select the length and height of the material and to change the cushion size midproduction.

The system can also be programmed to produce different styles of cushions for different applications. To wrap a fragile vase, for example, the operator can select a quilted option that allows the material to fit around irregularly shaped products. To provide cushioning for the bottom, top, and sides of a carton and to accommodate larger items such as furniture, operators can create a protective pad by choosing an option with long, tubelike cushions.

The FillTeck 400 system uses 16-in.-wide film and produces cushioning material at 16 ft. per minute; FillTeck 600 uses 24-in.-wide film and produces cushioning material at 12 ft. per minute. Four film structures are available, including light-duty cushioning; enhanced strength for fragile items; and antistatic protection.


A biodegradable loose fill introduced by Storopack in 2006, Pelaspan-Pac Natural is made mostly of cornstarch and disintegrates in water. In terms of performance and cost, says spokesperson Wahl, “production advances coupled with increases in costs for petroleum-based products have brought this product into parity with traditional loose fill.” The light, free-flowing, nonstatic material can be used to protect a wide range of products. The S-shape peanuts interlock within the container to provide stronger cushioning, reduced migration, and increased stability.


Toronto-based Polyair late last year debuted Vision, a foam-in-place packaging system that provides blocking, bracing, cushioning, and protective void-fill applications. According to the manufacturer, VisionFoam has the capacity to expand to about 300 times its liquid volume, delivers the perfect blend of chemicals with each use, and is eco-sensitive.

How can a chemical foam packaging be earth-friendly? Traditional foam-in-place packaging systems require drums of chemicals that when empty often sit on the warehouse floor for weeks and are difficult to dispose of. Vision’s containers collapse to a fraction of their original size and integrate with a company’s existing cardboard-recycling system. Among other benefits of the product: Vacuum-lined poly-liners ensure maximum use of chemicals, a patented EZ-Flow valve eliminates spills, and a self-cleaning technology reduces clogs.

And through its new Ship Shape mailer program, Polyair offers reduced case counts of its mailers so that customers can avoid paying oversize shipping charges. The program includes two new SKUs for the company’s Ecolite paper envelopes and one new SKU in the XPak poly envelope line.

“Beginning in 2007, UPS changed its qualification on how to size cases for freight rates in their oversize shipping charges,” says Polyair product manager Alistair Benson. Before, he says, a case measuring less than 84 in. in length plus girth did not incur oversize charges. Now higher dimensional weight rates kick in for cases that exceed 3 cubic ft. An industry-standard case containing 100 Ecolite #4 envelopes, 100 XPak #5 envelopes, or 250 Ecolite #0 envelopes, for example, exceeds 3 cubic ft. and would incur UPS’s dimensional weight rates. Through Ship Shape, launched January 2007, Polyair customers can buy the Ecolite #4 and XPak #5 envelopes in cases of 75 and the Ecolite #0 envelope in cases of 175, each of which measures less than 3 cubic ft.

Escondido, CA-based Dana Dubbs has written for Commercial Property News and Today’s Facility Manager, among other publications.

Superstrong shipping bag in the works

PolyPAK America is developing a plastic bag with double the impact strength of the company’s regular polyethylene bags. The new bag is expected to hit the market this fall, offering companies that ship soft goods, small office products, and similar items a solution for keeping shipping costs down while offering greater protection.

According to Richard Gurewitz, president/CEO of Los Angeles-based PolyPAK, customers have found that a simple plastic bag tends to be more protective of their contents than a carton, which can break during shipping. This coincides with customers’ wanting to eliminate the box and reduce the amount of weight they are shipping.

An empty shoebox, for example, can weigh close to 1 lb., notes Gurewitz. Add shoes and the package weight can easily exceed 1 lb., kicking up the postage cost into the next bracket. By contrast, an empty plastic bag weighs next to nothing.

PolyPAK’s upcoming bag has many of the same properties as its other bags, says Gurewitz. “The tensile strength, the elongation, the tear strength all stay about the same. What improves substantially is the impact strength. The materials that we put together are so much stronger that they’ll take a much greater beating until they’re going to fail.”

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