If you talk to any business owner about Covid-19 you will hear one common theme: we never could have seen this coming. The swift shut down of our world blindsided most people. The packaging conversation had been focused on sustainability initiatives, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other powerful innovations. We’ve been hyper focused on keeping our Earth sustainable so we can have a green, safe planet for generations to come. Little did we know, within a few short weeks the conversation would be eclipsed by Covid-19.
With all of that being said, as our world is re-emerging, people are coming out stronger. We’re embracing the silver linings and adapting. This is especially true in warehouses and distribution centers. Everyone involved in the distribution of consumer goods, from truck drivers to line workers, are being acknowledged as heroes. People in all facets of the packaging industry have been deemed essential.
In these same warehouses one thing has become evident: operations need to be re-evaluated to accommodate for new regulations and to keep people safe and healthy.
What Does a Post Covid-19 Warehouse Look Like?
One thing that is clear is that companies are leaning out. The same (if not more) output is expected, but less people are able to work in confined areas. Safety is first and foremost for many reasons. If one person is sick on the job, an entire warehouse can be affected. This can be detrimental, especially in industries like food, beverage, and pharmaceuticals. Learn more about how to keep your warehouse disinfected.
Companies are being required to spread people out – at least 6 feet apart as we all now know. Which creates a challenge for operations: how do you accomplish the same objectives with your people spread apart?
Our recommendation is to be as efficient as possible with your people and your space. There are simple time savers, such as table-top machinery, that can make any packaging operation more efficient.
Another option is to spread out where you can. Conveyor systems help to keep people spread apart but still move product around a warehouse. We may also see warehouses repurposing space. Companies that have become accustomed to having office staff working from home part- or full-time may decide to stick with this so they can utilize what was formerly office space for order fulfillment.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is not a new concept. What is new is that it is being used much more prevalently. When you put gloves, a mask, vision protection, and sometimes a full face shield on a person their abilities change. Mixing PPE together with manual tasks on a packaging line presents some possible challenges:
- Vision can be obstructed
- Gloves can slow down manual tasks and compromise quality
- Many tasks in the packaging process become cumbersome
Fortunately automation can help to improve operations by using equipment to aid in these cumbersome, sometimes dangerous, manual tasks.
Introducing Packaging Automation
Many companies were already thinking about automation, and now it’s a non-negotiable for survival. As we mentioned, less hands in the warehouse yet the same product output. Start by looking at where you rely on labor, and then you can identify opportunities where you can help your operators to become efficient.
One of the most common applications in a warehouse is box erecting and sealing. This can often be a 2 or 3 person job, with people interacting within just feet of each other.
Before Automation: How do Operators erect boxes manually?
- Operators pull layflat boxes from a pallet
- Operators pop the box open and tuck the majors/minors of box
- Keeping the bottom of the box together an operator utilizes a tape gun to manually seal the bottom… ONE BOX at a time.
- By the end of the day, operators are not as efficient as when they started and this fatigue can impact the quality of the product
How We Automate: We Implement a machine that will…..
- Automatically pick layflat boxes from a magazine
- Automatically tuck minors/majors of box
- Automatically seal the bottom of the box and send out onto a conveyor
- All the operator has to do is load boxes in a magazine and push a button
- The end result is consistent and the operator doesn’t experience fatigue
Case erectors and sealers can help to make this process safer; we provide equipment that will pull boxes from a magazine, erect them, seal the bottom with tape or glue, and dispense them out onto a conveyor. This way, instead of manually erecting a box (which requires a lot of manipulation with hands and is labor intensive) your people can focus on value-added activities in the packaging process.
Case packing equipment is another application that is going to be more common in a post Covid-19 warehouse. Where you previously saw people packaging product into boxes, you will now see machines doing this. The machines will be operated by people at a safe distance from other people. This way the product is never touched by people and your workers stay healthy.
Across the board, when you automate aspects of your packaging process, your labor is protected and you achieve a more consistent output. Our goal is to help operators go faster, be more efficient, and create high-quality outcomes. We also strive to help your operators take over roles that we can’t teach a machine to do, such as making decisions and setting up better packaging lines. Automation solutions help minimize repetitive tasks so operators no longer feel the physical toll that can impact their productivity during the day. Overall, profitability is achieved with automation.
Contributed by Greyson Taylor
About Greyson: I am a mechanical engineer by schooling and have been in the packaging world for about 10 years now. My experience with equipment has included several “hats”. These functions have included equipment validation, writing specifications for how equipment should function, layout design, and contractor management for equipment installation/startup. My title at Morrisette is packaging equipment engineer and I align myself well with Morrisettes core values. Morrisette strives to make their customers more profitable. I help in this goal by making customers more efficient by means of reducing labor costs and increasing production.