My tryst with packaging began four years ago – much to the chagrin of my family and colleagues who felt I should be planning my retirement in God’s Own Country at the age of fifty; rather than embark on a new inning. Twenty-five years of my career was dedicated to providing solutions for book production. First, it was desktop publishing and then how to trim a book, perfectly. To look back with nostalgia; Welbound plays an active part in seven out of ten books made in the world’s largest producer and consumer of books. This should be a good enough reason to seek greener pastures – the golfing ones.
Guftagu for the Old Monk
The idea would have got planted in 2011 when I met the head of the most respected global company in book manufacturing world – in Germany. As chance would have it, the “guftagu” transpired in the Messe Dusseldorf meeting room, and a show called Interpack was running. I along with my partner and close friend-cum-mentor took the opportunity to visit the exhibition. It was buzzing with a lot of hardware. Machines for filling bottles with coloured water, filling tubes with tooth paste, filling tablets into bottles, strips into boxes, boxes into cases, cases on to pallets and so on. I tiptoed cautiously. In the universe of print, with mammoth machines and hi-tech gizmos borrowed from every engineering field, electronics to chemical, these machines seemed friendly and down-to-earth. A lot of robotics doing mundane tasks like picking and placing a product inside a case, removing a faulty product from the line and so on. The strong belief and trust of human capital made me scoff at the idea of needing to mimic a human being – for a job as simple as putting a product into a box. The nature lover in me was frightened by the scale of plastic usage – even for wrapping something as close to nature as a vegetable. I said to myself: “Even if I see the printed books depleting year on year, I better stick to an industry where I can mix my passion like an Old Monk”. Let me not package my lively and lovely world.
Then I got, shall I say “duped” by an old, savvy, suave salesman. I am prone to falling prey to a good old-fashioned sales pitch! He caught me by my arm and showed me some images which shook my imagination. He showed me food rotting, products damaged, brands tampering: all leading to humongous losses, all because the supply chain logistics could not have the right solutions to prevent these losses.
I am sure all of you would have heard of those lines like “if we can save the food wastage from farm to home, we can feed all the hungry mouths in the world for free”. This phrase sounded like an overstatement to me. But I realized that there is a tremendous amount of wastage and we can play a role in preventing it, and if you have the resolve you can do it in a green way than how it is done today.
Sow the seed
The seed of an idea was planted, but it took off during the next avatar of Interpack in 2014. Thanks to support from our global partners and encouragement from my colleagues, we decided to embark on a new journey. Our aim was to provide solutions for product security during transit. Thus was born a movement which we decided to use as our brand: Security, tamper evidence, low damages in transit. Or “Stelda” for short.
We decided to make case packaging solutions that are environmental friendly, at the same time provide protection against damages and pilferage. We built machines and approached the big brands. As always, we were welcomed with the same set of questions we encountered a couple of decades ago when we tried to change the way books are produced.
Change is a dangerous beast, it can make you lose sleep in the short-term and is generally avoidable. The only thing that has not changed is the way we perceive change. So, we kept at it, begged, cajoled, argued and finally convinced a few respected brands to try a change and embrace it.
Some learnings, some yearnings
Now this space is not to gloat about our persistence-levels or bemoan about the world that detests change. We know, everyone goes through this phase before turning successful.
I want to share some of my learnings from this field, with the experienced members of this fraternity of people who are in - and check if they feel:
(A) these are true, or mostly true
(B) there is an iota of truth in these findings
(C) I should stop my bakk-bakk.
Please nb: These findings are related to tertiary packaging, with a focus on case/shipper carton packaging and the impact of the same in product protection. I have segregated these into sub-topics where the considerations for selecting a box to method of sealing and their overall impacts are discussed.
Factors that influence decisions for case packaging
• Cost of packaging (corrugated box and other consumables) is a major consideration
• The box is designed with a certain BCT value, to protect the boxes from damages in stacking
• There are other considerations like distance covered, climatic conditions and challenges in supply chain – logistics
• The stacking method (columnar / interlocked / random) also plays a critical role
• Sealing methods – Tapes, straps
• Method of sealing is chosen on the cost platform: not on value
Why is this important?
Well, one big reason is 60-65% of the demand for corrugated boxes is emerging from FMCG companies. This is growing at 8-10% per year. One of the trends in India, which is expected to unfold is: Most FMCG companies are shifting from five-ply construction to a three-ply. The catch word is corrugate-reduction. They are looking at components that go into box manufacturing, the process of manufacturing boxes and the method of sealing with more focus than ever before.
Today the humble box is expected to protect the content against damage and against pilferage. Also, it must aggressively promote the brand and permit productive packing.
I met Salim at about 17,500 feet above sea level in Changla pass on my way to the Pangong Lake. He delivers provisions to a chai shop in the third highest motorable road in the world. He says he knew about the arrows on the boxes but since he cannot drive this route everyday he puts all the boxes in his van as it fits (regardless of the direction) so as to make maximum utilisation of the space
The beautiful box
The definition of a good box is changing. Every time we have a sales pitch or a meet, the product development manager of brand says, “A good box must enable productive packaging. This means a box should permit the following: case dispensing, case forming, auto case filling, case closure, batch identification (inkjet or dot matrix printing).” This is in addition to sustaining the grueling challenges in transit – from shipper to shelf
The other concerns are: Lack of scientific data, considerations, and process often result in either over-engineering or under-designing the boxes. Plus the BCT value talks only of the strength of the walls of the boxes. In the case of undistributed loads, they will need to be relooked. Furthermore, the type of sealing is not given weightage during product protection.
Tapes have become the de facto sealing method. But tapes come off the boxes – so the boxes are strapped. But then, the straps destroy the boxes.
The tale of the tape
Today, in India, the common method of sealing is by BOPP tapes. Though other methods like (a) Hot-glue (b) Combination of tape and hot glue (c) Water activated tapes have grown in popularity elsewhere, these are used only in highly sophisticated case packaging facilities with some Indian brands.
Tapes are the most commonly used medium for case sealing. As automation mimics manual process, all upgrades moved from manual to automatic taping.
This is a habit.
I spoke to a shopfloor manager at the end of the line, and he said, tapes are also cost effective in most cases. Plus he or his team could easily remove and re-tape the said item. I asked him to show it to me. On that day, it was a case of post-packing inspection which he repacked.
There are two other reasons, the boxes can be reused. And finally, the machine investment costs can be kept low.
I asked the shopfloor manager, what about the disadvantage?
He asked me, like what?
I pointed out, all the boxes are pilferage prone and there is no tamper evidence. In addition, I showed him some pix on my smartphone of the bulge created in the case of flexible packaged products which are inside.
Also, the tapes do not stick well to recycled liners/ corrugates; poor temperature resistance (hot and cold); stack ability – as the minor flaps are lost inside, will cave in under pressure from the top.
The shopfloor manager said, it makes sense, but this would be a management decision.
And ultimately, the customer needs to “pay”.
A box is essential and how it is sealed must be re-thought.
For this, we must know which sealing systems are available.
There are the water activated tapes (WAT). It’s a new technology where the removal of tape is difficult and leaves a strong fiber tear indicating tamper. It’s good for tamper evidence but requires a different type of machine. The downside is WAT tapes are more expensive than BOPP tapes plus it has the disadvantages of taping which include poor stackability.
Then there is hotmelt glue which improves overall package security and boosts load bearing capacity of the carton. Also, there is corrugate reduction and the usual issues related to taping – can use recycled board/liners. It enhances recyclability (tapes generate three times the land fill waste as compared to hot glue). The disadvantage is the cost of sealing per box can rise. Plus one has to invest in the machines. And finally, for high cold crack and temperature resistance, the solutions can be more expensive.
Finally, there are hybrid sealing methods wherein adhesives and tapes are deployed together to have the best of both worlds. The disadvantage is the increased cost – in using both sealing methods together.
Case packaging needs an enlightened approach – a scientific way of looking at the box and how well it is expected to perform. The case packaging infrastructure has to be upgraded.
What does this mean? It does not start and end with the kraft paper specifications and a number of plies, when you design a box – but goes much beyond that. What is missing is the careful evaluation of processes, equipment, and systems at the end of the line and in the warehouse, handling of cases, a method of sealing, stacking, loading and unloading procedures, preparing for the transportation and logistics challenges and so on. It is obvious that case packaging has more to do with supply chain logistics than production. So, there’s a need for collaboration oriented approach between the stake holders. It is prudent for all of us to understand that the wastage due to damages, spoilage, and pilferage in transit cannot be written off as a cost.
It is high time that brands look at packaging not just as a differentiator on the shelves but also consider packaging’s larger role of protecting the product and integrity of the box from shipping to the point of sale. Who is paying the price when a consumer rejects a sticky edible oil pouch or a chili powder packet or a deflated bag of chips? What does your trade think when they consistently receive a short quantity of bearings or locks?
GST will lead to more quantum of merchandise travelling longer distances in transit, passing through many weather zones. The packaging will need to face much larger challenges.
Are we ready?
Five things to consider while designing a corrugated box
1. Unitisation of load wherever possible helps reduce the damages in transit.
2. Adopting performance-based parameters – RCT of kraft paper, ECT of corrugated board and BCT of a corrugated box – while designing a box helps in predicting optimum specifications necessary for the given application.
3. Pallet overhang leads to BCT loss. We have observed that columnar stacking retains more BCT than brick method of stacking. While columnar stacking can be unstable, experts recommend the use of a combination of columnar for initial layers and brick for top layers.
4. In most cases, strapping box damages the box edges and walls. In manual handling, labour tends to use these straps to lift the boxes. Therefore, select appropriate case-sealing methods for the purpose, instead of blindly going for BOPP tapes.
5. Educating people across the supply chain and creating awareness about instructions on the box and best practices is one essential thing to reduce transportation hazards.