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Planning for peak 2021 and beyond: how to manage the shortages

08 Sep 2021 —
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John Garner

With labour and materials in short supply, planning for peak packaging has never been more important. Here, Antalis’ Head of Business Development for Packaging, John Garner, explores the issues facing packaging and logistics operations and shares his insight and experience on how to keep your business on track during peak 2021.

With labour and materials in short supply, planning for peak packaging has never been more important. Here, Antalis’ Head of Business Development for Packaging, John Garner, explores the issues facing packaging and logistics operations and shares his insight and experience on how to keep your business on track during peak 2021.

If you thought peak 2020 was challenging, 2021 is throwing us even more curveballs, plus the Plastic Packaging Tax is looming ever closer, so it’s vital to ensure that any decisions made are mindful of this too. During 2020, packaging and logistics companies had to adapt and step up their operations to cope with the huge acceleration in the switch to online ordering. This year, shortages in labour and the raw materials needed for the production of packaging are adding to the challenges. With peak 2021 just around the corner, we have all the ingredients for a perfect storm. However, with careful navigation and the help of supportive and knowledgeable suppliers – ideally with reliable stock levels – most businesses should be able to ride it out and have a successful peak.

What’s causing the shortages?

Labour

In the three months to July 2021, there was an average of 953,000 job vacancies in the UK, 21.4% higher than the pre-coronavirus level (January to March 2020) [source: Office for National Statistics]. Many of those vacancies were in the warehousing and logistics sector, largely due to a significant fall in the number of migrant workers who typically took up many of these roles. This shortage of labour is putting pressure on a smaller number of existing staff to fulfil an ever-increasing number of orders.


Raw material

Several factors are contributing to the shortage of raw materials required for the production of paper-based packaging. The rapid growth in e-commerce – caused by the pandemic – has coincided with hampered manufacturing capability – also caused by the pandemic – all of which has put huge pressure on the supply chain. Consider also, that for many years, the pulp and paper industry has been in decline as the world shifts to digital. Despite a renewed focus on paper-based packaging over recent years, as concerns around the use of single-use plastics grow, the forced shift to online shopping has accelerated demand far faster than anyone could have predicted. It means that the production of the pulp, starches and glues used in the manufacture of packaging materials is all having to be stepped up. Hold-ups at ports, caused by increased paperwork post-Brexit and the driver shortage, are all adding to delays. It’s important to remember that pressure on paper supply is likely to increase still further once the Plastic Packaging Tax comes into force in April next year.

 

mobile shopping

The solutions

Fortunately, there are solutions. At Antalis, we have been working hard to help customers update and adapt their packaging operations to meet higher demand against a backdrop of a smaller workforce and logistical challenges – and the need for packaging with a smaller environmental footprint. And for those who have yet to take action, there is still time to make some positive changes in time for this year’s peak.

 

Overcoming packing labour shortages

The most effective way to reduce the impact of staff shortages is through the introduction of packaging machinery. Over the last year and a half, we have worked with lots of businesses to identify and implement time and labour-saving devices, such as:

 

  • Automatic case erectors, packers and sealers – we recently helped a global wholesaler to maximise throughput while keeping workers safe. We redesigned their packing line to include two Lantech C1000 case erectors and two CS300 sealers – both capable of handling up to 30 cases per minute and far quicker than is possible by hand. They were connected by a series of conveyors for moving filled boxes to the palletising station. Case erectors can also be combined with automatic packers for single or multiple rows of fixed form products in cartons, achieving packing speeds of up to 10 cases per minute.

 

  • Automatic pallet wrappers – our customers have made extraordinary savings by switching from manual to automatic pallet wrapping. They are great labour-saving devices, capable of wrapping speeds of up to 180 pallets per hour and eliminating health and safety risks affecting workers needing to continually bend and lift while wrapping. Plus, they offer the advantage of creating loads that are better contained and evenly wrapped, improving stability in transit. In addition, the high levels of stretch on the film and a consistent wrapping process delivers materials savings.

 

  • Automated packaging systems – last year, we helped a leading UK retailer cope with the rise in online ordering by installing the PACjacket automated packaging system. Designed to create on-demand bubble mailers for high volume e-commerce applications, it’s the ultimate smart automated packaging system, capable of producing 20 bags per minute.

 

For smaller packaging operations, it’s worth considering some of the compact and portable void fill machines, such as the FillPak range by Ranpak, that create an environmentally-friendly crumpled paper void fill; they can add some serious oomph to the packing process compared with using more traditional void fill materials.

 

Overcoming the shortage of drivers

For businesses concerned about how a lack of qualified drivers is affecting distribution, one of the best ways to minimise the impact is by maximising load sizes and reducing the number of vehicles required in the first place.

 

  • Minimise pack weight and volume - using less packaging, particularly bulky void fill and cushioning, means smaller cartons can be used and therefore more cartons can be loaded onto a pallet. Also, consider retention and suspension packaging; not only does it eliminate the need for void fill and cushioning, reducing weight and space, it also looks good and minimises the amount of waste the end customer has to recycle or dispose of.

 

  • Right-sizing cartons - machinery that automatically matches the box size to the contents can improve speed and efficiency, as well as reduce the use of materials and save money. After measuring the height of the box contents (placed manually), the box is folded to size before glueing the upper flaps to seal it. The resulting boxes can then be neatly stacked.

 

  • Bespoke packaging design - our Smart Packaging Centre can create bespoke packaging designs to solve a whole range of challenges, including reducing transport costs. Packaging that has been designed to fit snugly around a product takes up less space, which means more packs can fit onto the truck – as well as reducing transport costs it also helps cut carbon emissions.

 

Changes made now will deliver long-term benefits

While preparations for peak will be at the forefront of the minds of most people working in the packaging and logistics industry, it’s important to remember that well-thought-out changes and investments made now will deliver benefits long into the future. Your packaging supplier should be able to advise on the best solutions for your business. At Antalis, we offer free audits whereby we will come in and review your operation and make recommendations on the kinds of improvements that can be made.

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