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Motorola trims packaging, plastics

Three molded pulp trays and new generic corrugated cartons help Personal Communications Systems establish global standard and save big.
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Motorola has already won an AmeriStar a Molded Pulp award and a WorldStar award but the full story of the new global packages for its Personal Communications Systems products is still being written. The awards were made for Motorola’s three new molded pulp trays that replace about 80 previous thermoformed trays. The new trays hold an astonishing variety of phones and pagers along with accessories and manuals.

But that’s only part of the story. As innovative as the new trays are the company has also developed five generic folding cartons that overpack the trays. And these corrugated paper cartons are now loaded and labeled at Motorola distribution centers around the world using manual labor that in some cases replaces automated packing lines.

Because the electronics giant sells in virtually every market worldwide developing global packaging standards with a minimum number of packaging components was a Herculean effort. Under the direction of John O’Connell manager of PCS packaging the company assembled a team of about nine packaging specialists that worked on the project over the last 18 months.

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In the end the project is estimated to save the company millions of dollars each year although the company declined to make public the full amount. Here’s an itemization of just some of the cost savings:

•The trays produced in Denmark save about 30% compared to the previous 80 plastic molded trays. And the transport costs to receive the pulp trays only adds about a penny each.

•The E- or F-flute corrugated folding cartons printed in a generic Motorola graphic will be less than half the cost of the previous process-printed boxes.

•The company saves approximately $100/ month in corrugated costs by going from double-wall to smaller single-wall shipping cases because of reductions in the sizes of the primary cartons.

•At its distribution centers the cycle times for its packaging lines were cut from 6 sec/package to 2 sec/package and labor costs were halved. Plus the previous changeover time required for each tray with robotic loading has been eliminated.

•Pallet loads of shipping containers have doubled the payload to up to 660 units/pallet depending on size.

•The new packaging is substantially “greener” than before. So it’s likely the company will incur reductions in fees although unrevealed in those countries that assess charges for packaging collection. According to Mark Woodger of tray supplier Brodrene Hartmann (Lyngby Denmark) the disposal fees for molded pulp are the lowest for any packaging material while those for plastics are typically the most expensive. Plus he says “consumers strongly favor those products [and packages] that comply” with the Green Dot packaging system.

Team PCS

O’Connell assembled the PCS global packaging team by assigning two engineers from the paging product line one from cellular phones and then hired six new packaging specialists just about two years ago. Altogether the team brought a wide variety of structural graphic and protective packaging experience to the project.

“The goal was to come up with a global packaging standard” says packaging engineer Angela Mooradian one of the new hires for the team who was responsible for global package design and implementation. “We examined all Motorola packaging globally and found that we had no consistency. Every single package was different and we found we had to design a new thermoformed plastic tray for every single new product that was coming out. Carton artwork was completely different for each product and there was no uniformity in sizing.”

At the time Motorola packaging was totally decentralized. The PCS products are packed in nine different distribution centers around the world and each bought its own packaging and sourced it from its own suppliers. Also different materials were being used and this lead to different carton styles and shapes.

Although the team looked at a variety of package options one objective was to move away from plastic trays for environmental reasons and because they weren’t considered acceptable in many European countries according to Mooradian. “So we were looking at corrugated paper or pulp trays while we also looked for different ways to print the unit cartons” she says. Paperboard tray designs were ruled out because of cost poor ergonomics and high cycle times.

Danish trays first

As Motorola evaluated its current sources for packaging it discovered Brodrene Hartmann a manufacturer of molded pulp trays. “These were the best quality trays we could find and at the best price” says Mooradian. “We couldn’t find any domestic sources that were competitive. Our team determined that using a global material with a single global supplier would help us save money.”

Eventually a Hartmann designer came to Motorola and worked closely with John Sics Motorola senior packaging engineer to develop the designs for the trays.

“The trays are fairly complicated in design because we needed them to be able to work with all of our accessory mixes” says Sics. “We have our small accessory mix which is generally just a battery battery door a charger the phone and the manual on top. With the medium-sized tray we can add a belt clip or a headset or a boot for the phone. In the larger tray we can pretty much add any extra items we offer.”

Sics explains that because there are still differences in accessories and market demands in certain parts of the world the packaging program has some flexibility. For example the battery charger needs to be larger in Hong Kong so the Asian folding carton is about 3mm taller than the standard box. However the tray size remains the same.

While Hartmann uses a conventional molded pulp fabrication process for the trays it also adds an extra step it calls “afterpress.” This is a process Hartmann has patented according to Sics. “Once the part is formed and dried it receives a misting of water and is then subjected to heated pressure in another mold” he says. This produces a part with a smooth interior surface largely free of dust and loose ends.

In the first drying step explains Woodger “fibers move and distort the geometry creating a rough surface. Our afterpress process corrects the geometry while it smoothes out the surface.”

Although Woodger handles the Motorola business from his office in England Hartmann has since established a U.S. sales office.

Protection not vital

Although molded pulp is often used with electronics because it conforms well to products and offers cushioning protection that wasn’t a consideration for Motorola’s products. “Each of our phones is tested by a five-foot drop onto concrete” Mooradian points out “so we know the product is durable. The prime objectives of the tray are to keep all the parts secure in the package and to convey well on our packaging lines.” Still she says all packaging was tested by a laboratory that’s approved by the Intl. Safe Transit Assn.

However those “packaging lines” are interesting as well. Each is located in a Motorola distribution center only one of which is in the United States. Until the new packages were developed the North American packaging lines employed automation devices like robots to load the various components into the former trays. With the new trays Motorola has shifted to completely manual tray loading!

This move away from automation might seem strange for a technology company such as Motorola but Mooradian explains that the former robots had really outlived their usefulness. “Before we made the change we found we had to have a person next to each robotic device to make sure the component was seated properly” she says.

Sics explains that the previous thermoformed trays had separate cavities for each of the components. Although this made it easier for the robots it also created larger tray “footprints” than with the new designs.

Saving labor

The automation worked well for the set-ups that Motorola had used when the robots were originally installed at least five years ago according to Mark Herbert senior packaging engineer and lead developer of the carton. “They’re dinosaurs now. Our technology has changed so fast they couldn’t keep up.”

The other issue with automation was line changeover. “Because these lines had to run so many different packs we had a lot of downtime between packs while we reconfigured the automation steps for different components” Mooradian explains.

Mooradian says that with the current manual tray loading the packaging lines have permitted the reassignment of half of the workers. The removal of packing equipment permits the manual stations to be closer together so that one person can now load two components instead of just correcting the placement of a part loaded by robot. Even more important with fewer workers the tray loading time has been slashed from 6 sec/tray to 2 sec/tray.

Although the company wouldn’t permit Packaging World to observe the packing operation the Motorola engineers did describe it. Once the trays are manually loaded with all the appropriate components the new folding carton is set up. Before the tray is inserted into the box a bar code on the phone itself is scanned. This triggers a label printer from Zebra Technologies (Vernon Hills IL) to produce the appropriate p-s label. Then the tray is loaded the box is tuck closed and presented to the applicator pad that holds the label by vacuum and the box is loaded into a 10-count corrugated box that’s sealed with tape and palletized.

The new individual carton and graphics for Motorola’s worldwide markets will be covered in more detail in a Marketscope story in a future issue.

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