A customer of mine reached out to me regarding a packing process they wanted me to take a look at. They were looking to increase productivity, modernize their equipment, and utilize lean methods to streamline process. The allure is multi-faceted; lower costs and satisfy customers by increasing productivity and lowering labor costs – keep management happy by lowering your unit cost; impress potential customers with modernized pack stations & equipment, as well as begin venturing into the age of ‘lean’, which so many companies are doing these days.

After spending a few hours watching the process and doing time studies, we had some ideas on how we could increase productivity.

First thing we did was reach out to our friends at Dehnco to get some ideas on what ergonomic packing stations they had to offer. Our observations showed that the packers were leaving the station quite often to get supplies, boxes, tape, etc. Reducing the footprint of the area can drastically increase productivity. We added lots of shelving to hold the various decorative papers they used to pack out with, above station storage for cardboard boxes, shelves for printers and equipment, and moved the computer/monitor to be mounted on the workstation.

Check out the before & after of the packing station:


Once we got that out of the way, the fun was just starting to begin. We called our friends at Sealed-Air and brought in a Fasfil dunnage machine. The time studies & analysis showed that packers were spending nearly 10-20 seconds (15-23% of total pack time) on filling dunnage into the boxes! With the Fasfil, we’ve been able to reduce that time down to 4 to 12 seconds (5-7% of total pack time), nearly a 60% reduction. Check out how the Fasfil works here.

From there, the next biggest opportunity was taping the boxes. Packers averaged anywhere from 6-10 seconds per package on taping the box (12-17%). To get around this, lots of companies are implementing automated tape dispenser; the client did not like the look of the paper tape, so we got creative and sourced a Tach-It SH400 mechanized label dispenser – (Video demo here) to dispense 3″ clear tape wafers. The look is nice and clean (see pics below), and the productivity increase is great; 10 seconds down to less than 4.


After taping the box, we noticed that packers were spending an inordinate amount of time fighting with a small silver label that is applied to every package to keep the decorative paper closed. To get around this, we implemented another label dispenser, this time from our friends at Start International – the LD3500 automatic label dispenser. Check it out here. The label dispenser reduced the time spent placing the label on the paper from 5-6 seconds down to 2.

To address packers leaving the station so frequently, we installed an andon light, to indicate to the packing supervisor when the packer has an issue. 3 different colors (red/yellow/green) plus a flashing ability per color, allows us 6 different combinations to assign a status to; green, good to go. Flashing red – big problems. We’ve already implemented a yellow and flashing yellow to let the team know when the packer may be running low on supplies, have an issue, etc. A light that is turned off is an empty pack station, 1 less thing for the supervisor crew to have to bother with. We sourced our andon light from Signaworks – check them out.

A few other things we did that didn’t require automation but impacted process positively were;

  1. Place decorative paper into boxes during assembly process.
    • This was a major win (saved 4-10 seconds/package). We noticed that when the boxes were being assembled, we had an opportunity at that time to place the decorative wrap paper in the boxes at that time vs. requiring the packer to add it at the time of packing. Yes, we just moved the process up-stream, however the box assembly process is streamlined to produce 1 single type of box (there are 4 different sizes) vs. having the packer do this at time of packing which required bending down, getting paper from the shelves, and placing it in the bins.
  2. Place assembled boxes into large vinyl basket trucks that reduced packers leaving the station and reduced over production of assembled boxes (1 of the 7 wastes in Lean manufacturing for those lean buffs out there!)
  3. Relocation of printers to fall in line with actual packing process. Moved the zebra printer to the last step of the packing process, since that’s when the shipping label is applied.

In summary, this project has been extremely successful – we’ve taken a packing operation that averaged 67-84 seconds/package (small vs. large box), and reduced it down to 33-50 seconds/package – over a 40% reduction on average. What was the cost to do so you ask? The ROI period on this project was less than a year! Pretty great if you ask me!

Looking forward to the next endeavor with this customer – WMS streamlining!

Let us know how we can help you streamline your packing, increase your productivity, and lower your labor costs!