The Access Business Group is a contract logistics company that does business in both the U.S. and Europe. Originally built to serve Amway Corporation, the company also acts as a third-party manufacturer for major brand name companies. In 2008, Access Business Group produced more than 185 million units from 398 SKUs for its third-party partners.
Packaging can be a help or a hindrance to production in such volumes, and between 2008 and 2012 the company’s packaging operations in Europe started making the transition from the former to the latter. Its “European Regional Service Center” in Venlo, Netherlands, picks and distributes approximately 7,000 packages per day containing a wide variety of consumer goods—from pet food to cosmetics and household items. The company uses loose-fill packing chips (Storopack’s Pelaspan BIO) to fill cartons into which these items have been placed. These chips are made from vegetable starch.
Access Business Group uses its service center’s 20,000 m² (215,280 sq ft) of floor space to store goods for 15 distribution centers supplying consumers across Europe. In total, the central warehouse has around 21,000 pallet storage spaces available on seven-stories of shelving. This warehouse is located near the European Container Terminal ECT Rotterdam, the largest container terminal in Europe.
In 2008 the company started operating three semi-automatic loose-fill protective packaging lines. An air blower transported chips from a central silo, with a volume of 240 m³ (8500 cu. ft.), through ducts to the individual packing stations where operators used foot pedals to release the chips into cartons via funnels.
By 2012 a periodic analysis of its protective packaging told the company this process was no longer satisfying its production needs. Access Business Group decided that fully automated processes would help it achieve greater productivity. It worked with Storopack, providers of packaging materials and systems, to engineer a solution.
Based on their analysis of key parameters, this vendor’s team of technicians replaced the conveyor belt and increased the mouth of the funnel from 180 mm (8 in.) to 250 mm (10 in.) so they could speed up the filling process. This new technique was operational by the summer of 2012.
Now packages travel by conveyor belt to the packing station, where the two side flaps of cartons are folded down automatically. A photoelectric sensor detects the position of the package and triggers the filling process, which is always set to the same volume. An air blower reduces overfilling to the desired level. Any packing chips that do not fall into the carton are caught and fed back into the supply of packaging materials.
The conveyor belt transports the carton to the sealing machine at the end of the packaging line, which closes the carton flaps and applies adhesive tape.
The entire protective packaging process is now carried out without people and handles approx. 75 percent of the company’s yearly shipments. And Access Business Group still has two of the previous packing stations available for use during peak periods.
As a result of this project, the packing line now is able to process up to 14 shipments per minute. Throughput has increased by 133%, and along with labor efficiencies, Access Business Group’s annual cost savings total around 40,000 Euros ($54,000).
“We are now faster, more efficient and have lowered our running costs,” summarizes Chris Werner, operations manager of Access Business Group.