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Bundlers shrink Price Pfister's material expenses

By shrink bundling boxed faucets rather than packing them into a corrugated master shipper, Price Pfister saves on material costs, while increasing efficiency and freeing up warehouse space.
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One sure way to management's heart is through its ledger. At Price Pfister hearts are beating stronger since the company installed three shrink bundling machines at its Pacoima CA headquarters facility to wrap boxed kitchen and lavatory faucets. In the past year the company has added one automatic and two semi-automatic in-line shrink wrapping systems from Great Lakes (Chicago IL). The equipment was purchased through Kent H. Landsberg's (Montebello CA) Integrated Systems Group. The equipment wraps groups of three four or six individual faucet boxes in 4-mil low-density polyethylene film made by Armin Plastics (Jersey City NJ). Designated the 1000 Series the unprinted film is also acquired through Landsberg. The film provides clarity and the necessary characteristics to accommodate shrink wrapping. The bundles are sold to both retail and wholesale outlets who discard the outer packaging and sell the faucets individually. Shrink wrapping has phased out manual packing of the boxes into master corrugated shipping cases. Economics justified the change. According to senior packaging engineer Al Lackland Price Pfister pays 5¢ for the shrink film necessary to wrap the group of boxed faucets. That's 80¢ less than the master shipper that had been used to do the job. Price Pfister would not divulge specific total savings but Lackland says "the wrappers paid for themselves in three months." Efficiency also factors into Price Pfister's justification for the switch to shrink bundling. The faucet manufacturer added its first Great Lakes unit in December '95. That semi-automatic Model 737-2 Band-O-Matic machine is equipped with Great Lakes' new HVP4/488HP hot-plate tunnel. A second semi-automatic system was added about three months later. Both operate at speeds of eight to 10 bundles/min. A third unit an automatic Model 1737 Band-O-Matic was installed this past spring. All three are used to wrap different Price Pfister product lines. The automated system which also includes the hot-plate unit produces 10 to 14 bundles/min. It also is equipped with an assembly table at the infeed that hastens prestaging of product. Extra spindles accommodate additional rolls of film compared with the semi-automatic units. This helps speed roll changes. The speeds of both the semi-automatic and automatic machines are considerably greater than the two or three master shippers/min that an operator could pack with individual boxes then close with tape. That translates into better efficiency though Lackland says it does not generate labor savings. What the switch does generate is warehouse space savings. Lackland says that each year the company had to order 1 pallet loads of knocked-down master shippers to meet production demand. With shrink film 60 pallets provide a one-year supply. Added together the material and warehouse space savings and increased efficiency are pretty serious gains for a company that bills its products as "the pfabulous pfaucets with the pfunny name." "We believe that packaging represents up to 30 percent of the cost of the final product so packaging is looked at as a means of improving quality and cutting costs" Lackland states. Three-step process At the 500 sq' Pacoima facility operators pack faucets and related product components into the individual unit boxes on 16 separate lines. Boxes are transported to staging areas just upstream of the three shrink wrapping machines. Boxes range in size from 7" L x 7" W x 6" D to 18" x 9" x 3". Kent Landsberg manufactures and distributes many of the 200#-test B- and E-flute cartons. Retail-bound box labels are litho-printed in four process colors plus a fifth matching color and an aqueous coating. The label is then laminated to the box. Wholesale outlets receive boxes printed flexographically in one or two colors. Service Container (Compton CA) also distributes the boxes used by Price Pfister for wholesalers. At the infeed side of each wrapper an operator groups the appropriate number of boxes for each bundle. For the two hydraulic semi-automatic machines an operator stacks boxes in the desired pattern and pushes them onto a conveyor that carries product into a curtain of film within the machine. This curtain is formed by sealing a top and bottom roll of film together. With the touch of a "palm button" sealing jaws are activated. The jaws heat-seal the film behind the trailing edge of the first group of boxes and cuts it. The seal also forms the "curtain" for the next group of boxes. The overwrapped bundle discharges to the downstream shrink tunnel. With the pneumatically operated automatic machine the group of boxes is simply positioned on the infeed conveyor which indexes the group through the machine. As the group contacts the film curtain a powered unwind delivers enough film to accommodate the length of the package. Dancer bars maintain film tension during the process. The 1737 automatically seals the film. A horizontal seam is created at the leading and trailing sides while the two opposite sides have bullseyes. Photoeyes sense leading and trailing ends of the product group to initiate sealing and cutting. The machine then discharges the bundle to the shrink tunnel. The shrink tunnel is equipped with a hot plate positioned underneath a belt. Heat transfers through the belt to the bottom of the film creating a tight esthetically appealing appearance. Blowers at the top of the tunnel recirculate hot air to shrink the film. As the bundle discharges from the tunnel it passes through a 6' area where fans cool the warm film allowing it to set. Downstream an operator stacks bundles onto a pallet. Pallets are transferred to a separate warehouse area for stretch wrapping and distribution. Minimizing changeovers With literally hundreds of faucet stockkeeping units Price Pfister schedules products requiring the same film web width to run in succession. This method helps minimize the need for changeovers on the shrink wrappers. "We order film in different web widths and we try to have only one or two web width changeovers a day to maximize production" Lackland explains. "But with these wrappers changeovers take only about 10 minutes. It requires changing the steel bar that holds the film removing the old film roll and replacing it with a new roll then reattaching the steel bar into position." Additionally the bundler's sealing jaw can be adjusted via a simple hand crank that raises or lowers the jaw to accommodate varying package heights. A better way When Lackland joined Price Pfister in late '95 the company determined that master shippers were an unnecessary expense. "We took a close look at our packaging situation" he recalls. "We used a 200-pound-test corrugated box for each faucet then loaded boxes into a 275-pound-test master shipper. "The unit box itself maintained the internal structural strength we needed to protect the product so we weren't gaining any advantage in terms of protection from the shipper. Besides that corrugated prices were especially high" he adds. With that in mind the company sought an alternative. "Before coming to Price Pfister I spent 18 years with Baxter Healthcare" says Lackland. "Baxter had success using Great Lakes shrink wrapping machinery. Also Price Pfister's parent company Black & Decker uses a number of Great Lakes machines so we already had a warm fuzzy feeling about shrink wrapping. We looked at some different equipment manufacturers but the thing that drove the Great Lakes equipment home for us was our familiarity with their machinery." Economics sold management on the idea. "When we looked at the cost of a shipper versus shrink wrap [the decision] was a slam dunk" states Lackland. The ultimate decision to switch to shrink wrap depended upon customer acceptance. Samples and questionnaires were distributed to customers 75% of which are based in the U.S. The undamaged condition of these sample shipments earned customer approval. "Management was so pleased with the potential dollar savings for Price Pfister and customer questionnaire results they gave the go ahead to purchase the Great Lakes systems" says Lackland. Additional benefits Beyond efficiency gains and material and warehouse savings the switch to shrink wrap "benefits us and our customers in warehousing" Lackland says. "Previously we used small labels on the pallets of master shippers. The labels identified the product on the pallet but when pallets are stacked three or four high those labels were hard to read. With film you can see the product on the pallet. That allows warehouse personnel to pick and choose the items they need more quickly." Another benefit he says is that customers don't have to deal with old corrugated container disposal issues. For Price Pfister new product or package configuration introductions no longer need their own master shipper. The various film web widths accommodate all box configurations. Further bundles continue to be grouped in the same product configurations with shrink film as they were within master shippers. Lackland concludes "We've found that our fixed allocated cost for film is more consistent than it was with corrugated. We've been so satisfied with the machinery that we recently installed another wrapper at our plant in Mexicali Mexico. And we're looking into purchasing additional machines for the plants in Pacoima and Mexicali."

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