Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2015 Pack Expo Las Vegas Recap

Recently Chainalytics' packaging engineering team attended the PACK EXPO trade show in Las Vegas.  This year's show featured more than 1,800 exhibitors and 30,000+ attendees. Our team of packaging consultants canvased the floor for the better part of three days to find all things new and cutting edge in packaging industry.

While I've attend several Pack Expo shows in Chicago, this was actually my first year attending the packaging industry’s west coast version.  General impressions on Las Vegas vs. Chicago are the following:

1. Still a huge show, but much more manageable then Chicago, you can cover in 2 full days without sprinting the aisles.

2. Vegas is definitely a little less equipment and machinery intensive.  You get a better mix of materials, new technologies and material handling supplies.  So if Chicago turned you off in the past because of being overwhelmed with giants exhibits of fillers, wrappers, and conveyors, give Las Vegas a try.
3.  In my opinion, September in Las Vegas is so much nicer weather wise then the Windy City in October or November!

Lastly I leave you with our three top finds from this year's expo:

1. CogitoCan - One of the few short comings of the long-standing aluminum can is the lack of resealability.  Seeing the CogitoCan at the show was very unique and an exciting proposition for the beverage markets, especially if it as cost effective as they claim it to be.
New Resealable Aluminum Can Technology

2.  Easy Fold Fixtures - In our line of work as packaging consultants, we see tons of labor and time spent folding up two sided rollover corrugated cartons, a.k.a. Pizza Boxes.  Walking down one of the last aisles of the show for me, this immediately caught my attention.  Based on a few minutes in the booth, this seems like a great and affordable way to reduce labor and repetitive motion injuries as well asimprove productivity and tact time for many companies.  To see how it works, check out this 20 second video.
EZ fold fixtures

3.  WestRock Meta E - The newly formed WestRock had very large and impressive exhibit showing off their newest auto case and tray erecting Meta series.  For me the coolest offering they had was their Meta E which is focused on the E-commerce sector.  They have a unique system that auto erects an RSC corrugated case that is lined with cohesive paper.  You load the box upside down and place your product inside the top sealed lid of the case.  An operator then folds over the cohesive paper onto itself that creates a false bottom of sorts that cradles the product and holds firm to top of box.  When the consumer receives their shipment and opens the top, the product is justified to the top and creates a clean out of box experience with no loose fill, air pillows or shipping dunnage.  While this technology does nothing to solve for shipping air or reducing dimensional weight, it does potential reduce labor and packaging materials used.
Example of the customer "Out of Box Experience" with Meta E
Hopefully you have found this info helpful and you feel inspired to check out a future Pack Expo show.  If you have questions about something you want to know more about or something you found at Pack Expo, leave a comment below!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How Innovative Product Packaging Solutions Can Save Money

By Rob Kaszubowski, Packaging Engineering Manager
damage reduction specialist

Who knew you could actually damage a product while placing it into its protective packaging? But that’s the exact problem Chainalytics packaging engineers recently tackled for a construction materials client.

The company’s heavy vinyl lined products were being scuffed and scratched when slid into their secondary packaging for shipment—creating significant costs from damage returns, warranty repairs, and service calls.  But abrasion during loading wasn’t the only problem: Products were often damaged during unloading from sliding the product back out of the box.
abrasion damage
Abrasion damage created from sliding product into box

To add to the packaging failure complexity, the product came in multiple sizes and weights and was manufactured on multiple lines. The tact time for the packaging operation was less than 20 seconds, leaving little time to physically add any extra protection components. 

A streamlined solution to a multi-layered packaging problem

The Chainalytics’ packaging team developed a unique testing method to replicate the vinyl product sliding into a box using a variable speed conveyor-like system (think of a treadmill). Only in this case the process was reversed: The vinyl was placed in a fixed position with a determined weight applied and a strip of corrugated material was run across the vinyl at a speed that matched loading speeds on the line. 
corrugated damage reduction
Customized abrasion test created to solve for multiple damage solutions.

The test enabled the team to establish baseline damage that was replicable to typical damage seen at the packing line. From there, they were able to test multiple packaging attributes to determine the severity levels of any single variable including:
  • packaging substrates
  • materials from multiple corrugated vendors
  • various board weights
  • liner board combinations
  • environmental conditions
  • corrugation direction
  • vinyl colors
  • abrasion reducing coatings for corrugated

Solutions testing helps us create the optimal packaging system
After establishing the baseline damage of the current state, engineers ran the same test looking at possible concept solutions. Again, the unique test setup enabled testing multiple possible solution variations in a short amount of time while using minimal sample product for testing.

Following the solutions testing the team identified multiple solutions and was able to obtain quotes and perform costing analysis to determine the most feasible solution that would balance reducing the damage while not increasing packaging costs significantly. 

packaging costs vs. supply chain damage

Ultimately, the innovative test setup and customized test protocol expedited the time it took to solve for damage, balanced extensive damage/returns costs with new packaging costs and created a net savings benefit.  The packaging team was able to identify a cost effective solution that was able to significantly reduce the abrasion damage from loading the product into the secondary packaging and was a transparent change for the operators at the manufacturing line.

If your team is struggling with a packaging issue and in search of a customized solution to help solve a customized problem, contact Chainalytics’ packaging professionals at or give us a call at +1 612 260 7845

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How McDonald’s Rides Package Design into New Market

Recently, McDonald’s announced a new McBike packaging initiative, aimed at making bike-thru traffic possible at their 36,258 restaurants worldwide (Statista). Launched in Copenhagen, Denmark—one of the most cyclist-dense cities in the world—McBike is also scheduled for launch other global cities known for their cycling populations.

The McBike package is relatively simple; a little folder with two pockets for a meal, a hole in the bottom for a drink, and a looped hook at the top to go over handlebars. What the package has created is a bit more complex - an entire new market for the fast food chain.

A quick look at commuter biking

Source: The League of American Bicyclists
According to The League of American Bicyclists, biking to work in the United States has grown 62% from 2000 to 2013. Although a mere .25% of the U.S. population bikes to work, the McBike program might be introduced to active, bike-friendly cities like Portland, Oregon where upwards of 6% of the population bikes to work, or in small cities, like Davis, California, where 24.5% of commuters bike.
In the United States, Millennials increasingly live in urban locations; are “multi-modal,” choosing the best transit mode (driving, public transit, bike or walk) to reach their location; and are a likely demographic  for the McBike initiative.

Even if the new packages don’t make it to the states, they could still have a substantial impact elsewhere. Take Copenhagen, Denmark for example, where over 30% of the population bikes to work. If this package succeeds in countries with large cycling communities, then McDonald’s stands to gain quite a lot of business volume.

 Figure 1. Method of Commuting Trips (City of Copenhagen, 2008-2010)  
Source: Average 2008-2010 TU Data, Danish Annual National Transport Survey

It all comes down to knowing your demographics and experimenting with ways to capture a broader array of clientele. A bicyclist demographic could include active and health conscious adults, adults that don’t have a car, children, and people in communities where biking is the norm.

The McBike is certainly an interesting packaging concept and a great attempt to bring cyclists to McDonald’s. However, I’m not completely sold on the new McBike package. I have a hard time believing that the package actually makes for an easy ride.  My primary concern is with how deep the carton is: It appears the bottom of the beverage container hangs well below the top of the front tire.
If you’ve ever ridden a bike while attempting to carry packages on your handlebars—and instead chosen a bike basket or panniers to carry groceries or other items—you know that anything that interferes with your front tire’s turning radius can create a handling problem.  In the case of the McBike package, there is nothing within the package to keep it from swaying, which could potentially create problems with the beverage container striking the wheel, possibly making a mess or instigating a crash. It also looks like the package might sit a little too close to the center of bike depending on the cyclist’s handlebars. Overall, it is a unique branding and packaging idea, and if it works, the McBike program could potentially bring in a lot of drive-in business in places where bikes are the primary vehicles on the road. As someone who lives in a urban area, this seems like a realistic idea for my shorter rides, but it seems like a bit a hassle if you want to go a few miles or more with.

McDonald’s is proving that innovation is key to meeting your customers’ needs. More business is good business and an innovative packaging program can be an important part of broadening your company's reach and creating growth. But on first glance, a bit more package engineering may make sense.

By Noah Rabinowitz | Packaging Designer


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not Enough Product in that Package? Blame It On Slack Fill

By: Rob Kaszubowski, Sr. Packaging Engineer

Food manufacturer, Perfetti Van Melle, was recently handed a hefty $5 Million law suit for a slack fill violation on their Mentos gum (50 count container).  

Essentially, the firm was accused of committing slack fill deception--putting a small product, inside a much larger container to make the product packaging look much bigger and ensure it takes up a bigger spatial/visual footprint on a shelf. 

What Exactly is Slack Fill?

Slack fill is the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of product contained within the enclosed container. While federal laws administered by the FDA regulate slack fill on behalf of consumers, states also weigh in on the issue. 

In California, a slack fill violator is a package that is filled to “substantially less” than its capacity for other than any one or more than the applicable exceptions (California Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 12606(c) (1-15)).

Wherever they originate, slack fill laws are aimed at protecting consumers from being duped into buying a packaged product that is misleading. A container that does not allow the consumer to fully view the fill levels is deemed deceptive and misleading unless it contains “functional” slack fill, there are six exceptions which are outlined here. 

A Closer Look at the Mentos Slack Fill in Action

Oftentimes, articles in the business and trade press mention the offending product packaging and the amount the company was penalized or fined, but fail to show exactly “how bad” the slack fill was or exactly what the ratio of product vs. packaging was in these law-breaking products.

We were curious ourselves, so we bought a few containers of this Mentos gum to take a deeper dive.  

Take a look at what we found. Does this packaging deceive you?
Mentos product fill level

Upon opening the container, it looks to be approximately 2/3 full.

Further analysis shows this container to be 72% full by weight (28% empty or non-functional slack fill). This is gathered from the ratio of product currently in the container compared to the maximum weight it can hold of the same product.

How You Can Measure the Immeasurable

These images above might make the everyday consumer feel deceived upon opening their new purchase and lead them to think “I can’t believe there isn’t more product in this package.” 

The lack of a hard and fast number as to what fill ratio qualifies as “substantially less” than full obviously makes California’s slack fill standard a difficult one to follow. Consumer goods manufacturers must make the judgement call on exactly how much product is enough to meet the minimum requirements—and avoid being penalized. One could argue that the lack of any parameters to define fill levels in a package is similar to driving down the highway with no speed limits posted--only a sign that simply warns “Just Don’t Go Too Fast.”

As a team of packaging engineers, we are focused on optimizing packaging and improving cube efficiencies throughout all supply chain distribution channels—from manufacturing all the way to the retail shelf. We couldn't help ourselves... 

We shortened the Mentos Gum container by 1/2" inch. The original pallet could only hold 3,120 containers. The newly optimized, shortened container allows for a total of 3,744, or 624 more units per pallet - a 20% improvement in pallet utilization! 
Optimized Pallet Packaging Slack Fill MentosBefore Packaging Pallet Slack Fill Mentos

With proper packaging, the amount of air space in these individual canisters could be reduced to allow for greater than 20% improvement in pallet counts simply by adding an extra layer of product to the pallet. An incremental change in a package this small can lead to a cascading effect of material savings, logistics savings, warehousing improvements, less out of stocks at retailers, and so on and so forth.

So after reviewing the Mentos packaging dilemma and how much product is actually in the packaging, would you consider 72% full to be bad? What about 28% empty? 

If you feel your products may be a slack fill risk, it’s often a good approach to perform an internal audit and slack fill review. Aside from taking a preventative step to avoid any slack fill penalties, there may be additional cost savings tied to some of those incremental packaging savings. 

The Chainalytics Packaging Optimization practice is a seasoned team of packaging engineers, dedicated to addressing risks and opportunities end-to-end throughout the supply chain.

Questions? Contact us at or give us a call at +1 612.260.7845.

Rob Kaszubowski is a Manager in Chainalytics Packaging Engineering practice. His track record of success ranges from delivering packaging cost savings and damage reduction projects to optimizing packaging throughout clients’ entire supply chains.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Do You Need More Warehouse Space? Think Packaging!

I was recently reading an article on how to optimize your warehouse without increasing space.  It got me thinking that most people see a warehouse space as a constraint, having limited options.  

The warehouse optimization options in this article I read were to broken down into 3 basic features;

1) Inventory/sales information; know what you have (take inventory), know what you need (revise re-supply / safety stock quantity), know what you don't need and get rid of it.

2) Inventory management; basically implement WMS (and connect to pick & put-away operations) and then run a slotting exercise.

3) Expand the warehouse; after implementing 1 & 2 from above (this one is not very helpful).

Expanding Warehouse Space

Most of the operations I have observed (primarily for packaging assessments) have done a pretty good job of tracking inventory, understanding stock quantities and are usually running one of the very good WMS systems available. Slotting exercises are only slightly less common.  Assuming your operation has completed the above two options listed above, does this mean that expansion is the next logical option?

I don't think so.

Making the Most of Your Existing Warehouse Space 

There are many options for the constrained warehouse environment not listed in the article I read, but almost all of them require some type of fiscal outlay and operational disruption; detailed justification is required and capital budgets need to be allocated.  

Here are some of the other options for maximizing your constrained warehouse space:

  • Reset the steel for narrow aisles (typically requires different lift trucks).  This can be done in stages and can result in a lot more rack spaces.
  • Use vertical landscape; many warehouses are not using all the vertical space possible.  This also means you may need new lift trucks and you may need to replace some steel, but this can also be done in stages and or combined with the reset for narrow aisles.  You may not need to buy all new uprights - some rack manufacturers can provide extensions to increase upright height.
  • Implement a high density storage area for smaller products and or non full-pallet quantities; another option for these products is a high density vertical carousel.
  • Change the layout of the space for better utilization (usually less common and less effective).
  • Install mezzanines.
  • Track guided very narrow aisles; again this will require new lift truck equipment.
However, the real game changer which is often overlooked and often can make the BIGGEST impact is to optimize packaging and palletizing for maximum density.  

Optimizing Your Packaging 

The result of a packaging optimization project is not only that the packaging is right-sized, but packaging costs generally go down overall, warehouse space allocation is reduced, better trailer utilization is achieved, resulting in lower logistics costs, and a boost to your sustainable metrics.  The ripple effects of these cost impacts are especially high if you are manufacturing in Asia and shipping to the Americas or Europe.

Packaging Optimization Case Study 

Below is a packaging optimization example from a client that was importing telecom equipment from Asia into a warehouse in the central USA for shipments all over North America. 

This particular example accounted for only a few SKUs as a part of a larger annual cost reduction initiative outlined for the business. When we started the project, we conservatively estimated a savings of $2MM in logistics and materials costs. When all was said and done, the cost savings and material reductions actually ended up totaling almost $4MM in efficiencies gained.

packaging optimization case study

This Packaging Optimization project's cost savings calculations didn't include the cost savings from their 3rd party warehousing partners by way of the reduction in the number of rack spaces needed, trailer unloading times, and pallet handling charges. 

These simple packaging changes effectively reduced warehouse space by 2/3 for these SKUs

It cost virtually nothing to implement from a capital investment standpoint, and the best part, this caused no disruption to the business or daily warehouse operations! 

Just think of what a packaging optimization program could do for your constrained warehouse space problems, AND your all-in packaging & logistics costs. 

Have more questions? Chainalytics' Packaging Consultants can help. Simply email us at

Eric Carlson ChainalyticsBy Eric Carlson, CPP