Materials Handling

Air is the last thing you want in your shipment

By Gian Schiava

March 2020

Increase packaging efficiency for lower-cost logistics

Transporting air only makes sense if you are flying a zeppelin. In modern logistics, managers leave no stone unturned to reduce costs and boost efficiency. In this article, Gian Schiava looks at how you can make your shipment packaging more efficient whilst seeking to minimise expenses.

Early last year, Eureka’s Mark Nicholson wrote a great article* about greening up the packaging side of your logistics. He showed that improving its sustainability can actually make good business sense and described various ways in which you can achieve a reduced carbon footprint. Today we will dive into packaging from another angle: how can you optimise your packing and loading process?

Transporting air within the packaging

Perhaps the first question to ask should be: is the primary packaging ‘made to measure’ for the product inside? Many companies have added an e-commerce sales channel to their operation, resulting in an incredible increase in shipments, but package volumes have diminished considerably. Take just one country, the Netherlands: last year saw delivery of 250 million packages by e-commerce players alone! Transporting air can then become very costly, hence use of standard boxes with filling materials or wedging no longer makes sense.

The simplest option is to invest in smart packaging machines. Manufacturers like Sealedair, CMC and Savoye (see boxout illustrating how a machine can adapt the box to the contents) see a growing number of competitors entering the market. This in itself demonstrates the recognised need for these solutions. However, for such a machine you need to be shipping in volume, otherwise the ROI (Return On Investment) can become challenging.

Working smarter could lead to wins, even without a machine. Choosing flexible packaging is a step forward. The Dutch e-commerce organisation recommends first designing the whole fulfilment process, including choosing the right boxes. You may find that manual height adjustments can work just as well. Working with a limited number of fixed base sizes (with variable height) also has a positive effect on stacking and filling in the rest of the supply chain.

The manual packaging process can be supported with smart software tools like the eBox Range Optimiser (eBro) from DS Smith. This calculates the ideal number of different boxes, determines the best box sizes and shows the effect on costs and durability of various alternatives. There is also software to help determine how best to stack products in a package (Stack Assist from FPC). Another software solution works out how your products can fit into each other within a package (PackNet.DIM). It seems there is already a great variety of tools out there to help companies fill their boxes more smartly.

Naturally, packaging needs vary from industry to industry. When it comes to clothing, for instance, we see products being rolled up. Boxes are replaced by plastic bags, or products are vacuumed to reduce their size to an absolute minimum. If vacuuming becomes too expensive, or a product is too vulnerable for this, sealing combined with use of a pressure roller is an alternative.

Pressure from the large players is also forcing the industry to reduce the transportation of air. For example, when Amazon wanted to get rid of unnecessarily large packaging it prepared special guidelines for sellers. Those who do not adhere are now fined!

Transporting air in the lorry

It’s not only the boxes that need to contain as little air as possible. The same is true for the lorry or any container. How can you reduce the amount of space that sits above and around the pallets? Common sense tells us which pallet sizes fit our lorries best and how many are needed to fully utilise the floor, but we have to look further.

As with optimising the packaging, there are smart software tools to assist in optimally filling a truck or container. The programme Cape Truckfill asks you to enter details of the products, pallet loads and container sizes into the appropriate database. It then analyses the possible arrangements and gives you an optimal filling plan. Another app, from start-up Value Engineers, seeks empty space from other companies to arrange combined shipments – bringing demand and supply of extra cargo capacity together. There are various other software solutions that can help, and you may even engage with consultants to design the perfect process.

Taking a step back, we can see that physical tools may also be used to optimise the filling rate. Pallet load optimisers are devices which allow you to stack loaded pallets on top of each other with minimal space in between. Some lorries can be fitted with sliding aids, adaptable intermediate flooring or mechanised solutions resembling drive-in racking.

Save the planet to save the bottom line

It seems many industries have already found their way of reducing empty space in their packages or are well advanced in tackling the challenge. If the argument of sustainability is not compelling enough, then the potential to reduce costs considerably should make any logistics manager want to look into this.


Savoye adapts boxes to fit their contents with its Jivaro closing machine.

French-based Savoye is a logistics system integrator that has built its solutions into more than 1,000 warehouses all over the world.

When it comes to packaging efficiency, Savoye believes that sizing the parcels to fit the products is essential. Incorrect sizing of parcels results in a need for extra pallets to be handled in the warehouse and extra space to be bought for additional transport. It also means insufficiently protected products, which bang into each other in the unused space. Perhaps most importantly of all, it leaves a bad impression with the customer.

Savoye’s Jivaro (the name is derived from an ancient South American tribe, ill-famed for its habit of decapitating enemies) is a closing machine which adapts the height of boxes according to product dimensions, to reduce the size of shipments.

In the picture below you can see the various steps:


In this way, it is possible to place more parcels in the same lorry and reduce the number of lorries on the road. The French company claims that this machine can save up to 30% on the volume shipped.

See our article ‘Wrap up green for healthier profits.’