Automated packaging upgrades e-commerce efficiencies

Pet care products marketer/shipper reduces labor, packaging materials, and delivery costs, while increasing output speeds.

The finished, easy-open cases are aesthetically pleasing and include precisely positioned die-cut holes to view/scan internal product barcodes.
The finished, easy-open cases are aesthetically pleasing and include precisely positioned die-cut holes to view/scan internal product barcodes.

PetCareRx®, Inc., Lynbrook, NY, is a full-service pet pharmacy and pet supply provider. The e-commerce mail order company can deliver a broad range of branded pet medications and health care products promptly and nationwide.

For its shipping operations, PetCareRx associates had been erecting the corrugated shipping cases, printing out barcode labels, manually applying the labels, and stacking the empty cases for conveyance to the production line. The associate would take an invoice/pick document, scan the document, and case label barcode, manually pick the corresponding products, and load them into the shipping cases. Further down the conveyor line, the shipping cases were packed with paper dunnage to cushion the products. Then an automatic taper and label print/apply system would seal the cases and apply the customer shipment location information. From there, the cases would be routed to the proper shipping lane, based on the designated shipping method.

The company’s business growth required a revamping of this system to handle greater volumes and be less labor-intensive. As with all e-commerce, PetCareRx customers want fast order turnaround. So the company’s objectives were to minimize the time between order received and order shipped, increase productivity, reduce the manpower resources required, and also reduce packaging material costs and shipping costs.
After evaluating several options, PetCareRx COO/CIO Tom Scott and his team decided to implement Secure Pack™—a patented case design from Systems Technology, Inc.—and marry it with a highly automated and versatile packing solution, also from Systems Technology, Inc. The system incorporates high-speed, high-volume, low-cost wraparound casing technology and is adaptable to a variety of specifically designed protective corrugated containers. It’s a pick-and-pack system that also offers a full range of integrated products to collate, insert, weigh, label, stack, and palletize or sort to downstream distribution channels.

Packing sequence

With the new automated system, the packaging associate takes a preprinted, barcoded card stock invoice/pick document, scans the barcode, picks the corresponding product(s), and scans each product in that order. The customer ID barcode is positioned face down so that it can be properly aligned to be read through a die-cut hole in the case.

For heavier products, PetCareRx safely secures those items to a corrugated pad using shrink film or rubber bands, depending on the weight, shape, and size of the products. The shrink-wrap film and Model 2215L Spartan Automatic L-bar Wrapper are from Texwrap. The pad with a die-cut hole interlocks securely into the shipping case that has a corresponding die-cut hole in it to allow the customer ID barcode to show through.

The packaging associates place the orders onto the Systems Technology Series 1000 Secure Pack™ Cartoner infeed conveyor, and the order automatically is married to a brand-identifying, cost-effective corrugated shipping case supplied by Arjay Co. Literature inserts and product premiums also can be automatically placed in the order as it proceeds through the casing line at up 50 cpm. For these insertion functions, PetCareRx uses a Streamfeeder Series 1250 Friction Feeder from Thiele Technologies, a Barry Wehmiller Co., and a Model IPP-170 Pick & Place Feeder from MGS Machine. Then each case is automatically glued closed using a ProBlue® hot melt gluing system from Nordson.

The customer ID barcode is automatically scanned as the case passes over a weigh-in-motion scale from Mettler Toledo. The weight reading is captured for shipping manifest purposes as well as for order weight verification check.

The cases then proceed through the Model 3600-PA Print & Apply Shipping Labelers from CTM, which are equipped with S8408 print engines from Sato.

Scott notes, “We use two of the labelers to keep up with the processing speeds. Each labeler applies labels to every other case. If one of the labelers runs out of labels or printing ribbon, the operator is alerted, and the casing operation automatically slows down so that the remaining labeler can keep pace until the labels and ribbons can be replenished. Then the labeling operation ramps back up to pre-set speeds.”

After the shipping label is applied, the customer ID barcode printed on the shipping label and also showing through the die-cut hole on the bottom of the case is scanned. Scott explains, “This is a quality control check to make sure everything is synchronized. If a shipping label is missing, wrong, or not readable, the case will be rejected in the shipping sorter (STI Series 610 Bi-Directional Shipping Sorter from Systems Technology, Inc.). If there are several sequential rejects, the machine will stop and alert the operator.”

After the shipping labels are scanned and verified as accurate, the cases are automatically sorted by shipping method. When a shipping gaylord (pallet skid) is full, the cases proceed to a secondary gaylord position, and the operator is alerted regarding the full gaylord condition. If the automated inspection system records a “No read” or “SKU not found in database” or “Package under weight,” the pallet skid is sent to an operator for review.

Basic benefits

According to Scott, PetCareRx, Inc. has reaped some very important benefits by implementing the new casing solution. He says, “We’ve experienced significant labor reductions and huge increases in productivity. Maximum throughput has increased by a factor of three times.

“Our ability to process orders more quickly allows us to more efficiently meet daily shipment requirements, improving customer satisfaction. We’ve also reduced packaging material costs and postage costs by being able to downsize the cases to more compact dimensions. And, as far as shipment accuracy, this automated system gives us many checks and balances in the process to ensure order integrity and verification. And the finished cases are aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly with easy-open features. The consumer simply places his/her fingers into the die-cut hole in the bottom of the case and pulls the die-cut tab. The perforations in the case make it easy to open, while still providing a durable and secure shipping container.”